UPDATE 10/21/08 -- I just ran across a blog that demonstrates this precise behavior. Yikes! Might one such teen die as a result of his misadventure? It is entirely possible. In another book, No Limit, I tell the story of a teen who discovers in himself a talent for high-stakes poker. In that book, I describe the dangers—and the attractions—of gambling. Will No Limit cause some kid to start playing poker, and go on to develop a life-destroying gambling addiction? It is not only possible, it is likely. Will it cause some other teen to think twice about wagering his money in a poker game? I hope so! Several months ago I was talking with a group of teens, and asked what it is they look for in a book. One girl said, "I’m, like, fourteen, and my life is really boring. I want to read about a girl just like me who goes out and, you know, steals a car or something." That’s one of the reasons we read books. We want to know what it’s like to do things we would "never" do. We want to read about climbing Mount Everest, robbing a bank, killing a dragon, having passionate sex with a forbidden partner, capturing Osama Bin Laden, eating magic mushrooms, ruling the world, playing professional football, living on Mars, or facing down a charging rhinoceros. Most readers—nearly all, in fact—are able to read about such ill-advised adventurers and risk-takers without being tempted to emulate them. But there will always be a few fools who opt to try some of the crazy stuff they read about in books. Some of them will get hurt. Some of them will die. And that’s okay. We don’t stop manufacturing automobiles because people die in traffic accidents. We don’t stop having children because women die in childbirth. We don’t prevent people from swimming, boating, or bathing, even though some of them will drown. As a species, we are engaged in a constant game of risk management. That many activities entail the risk of injury or death does not necessarily make them unacceptable. Reading books is one such risky activity. You take your chances. To assert that a particular book can do no harm is akin to promising that a knife will not cut. Books are dangerous. They should be. Treat them with the respect they deserve.
Friday, April 18, 2008
An old post revisited...
Books Are Dangerous! About a year ago, as I was participating in an “author panel” a member of the audience asked a question about censorship—both about the extent to which we authors self-censor our work, and about how librarians can and should deal with censorship and/or book challenges from parents and school administrators. I can’t remember the precise phrasing of the question, but I do remember that one of the other authors on the panel responded by vigorously defending her work, asserting that her books would never encourage self-destructive behavior in their teen readers. I’ve heard that before. The argument usually goes something like this: Questioner: "Do you ever worry that your book about teens sticking needles in their eyeballs might cause some kids to indulge in self-destructive behaviors?" Author response: "Absolutely not! My book is a realistic account of eyeball-stabbing, and it makes perfectly clear that such behavior can only lead to misery and blindness. I cannot imagine any teen reading my book, Needle of the Eye, and wanting to pierce her tender young corneas!" The implication here goes like this: "Banning a truly dangerous book might be acceptable, but my books are safe as a padded placebo!" Let me state here and now that I am opposed to censorship, book-banning, book-burning, and author-lynching. Most authors, including myself, admit the possibility that inappropriate teen books might exist somewhere, but we like to insist that our own books are entirely appropriate. Nevertheless, to claim that books describing dangerous behavior never encourage such behavior is self-serving crap. Books are powerful. Books are dangerous. Teens (and others) read things in books that may sometimes cause them to do things they would not otherwise have done. If books could not affect the behavior of readers, no one would bother to write them. And any author who believes that his or her book will encourage only intended behaviors is operating under a delusion. It is no more credible than for a shotgun manufacturer to claim that his products will be used only for hunting ducks. Once the gun is in the hands of consumers, anything can—and probably will—happen. I wrote a novel in 2004 called Godless. In that book, a group of teens climbs a water tower. I make it quite clear in the book that climbing a water tower can lead to injury, death, punishment, or all three. I also mention that the view from the top of the tower is spectacular. Will some teen somewhere read my book and decide to climb a water tower and check out the view? It would not surprise me in the least.