On Reading: Do you Censor Yourself?

September 27 – October 4 is National Banned Book awareness week. The ALA (American Library Association) website has some interesting information on why books are challenged or banned (and the difference between the two terms). It was eye-opening to me to delve a bit more into what this term means.

Of all the books challenged by far the most cited reason is that they are “sexually explicit.” I have to say that I agree certainly that these books should not be assigned in class. A movie that has a steamy love scene will earn an R rating. Those sex scenes are nothing compared to sexually explicit writing in novels, even something as “mainstream” as Danielle Steele. A child who is under 17 is not allowed to buy a ticket to an R rated movie. That is because the movie contains material that should be filtered for a child. I think it’s perfectly reasonable for me to expect as a parent that a book containing a graphic sex scene or even explicit sex talk would not be expected reading for my child in high school, no matter the literary merits.

I’ve read some of these books. I read the Judy Blume books in high school, like Forever, which is still on the top 10 most-challenged list because of sexual content. I honestly wish now that I had somehow been protected from that exposure. But did I check out that book in the school or public library? Did I buy it in the Young Adult section in the local bookstore? No. It was passed around from friend to friend. Two years ago, I read The Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger, because I’ve never read it, and it is still one of the most challenged books, and is considered by many to be a “classic.” I wanted to get my own take on it in the context of it being a banned book. You can read my review HERE.

As a mother, my initial thought is one of thanksgiving that certain books might not be made available to children, say in an elementary or even a junior high library, or certainly assigned as Junior High or High School reading for a class. There are books that I don’t want my daughter to read (at 8 years old and able to read at a higher level than that). There are books that I probably won’t want her to read in high school. There are books that I avoid reading myself for certain reasons. But honestly, I think that books are windows–sometimes to different codes of conduct, involving drug use or sexual promiscuity; sometimes to different times, when offensive racial slurs were used freely because of a different accepted standard of thought; sometimes to completely fictitious worlds that transport us to a make believe place and time with an entirely new code of conduct. I think that by supporting the banning of books, we are in some way trying to pass off our parental charge. It is my responsibility to know what my daughter is reading and know about the books that her friends read and talk about. It is not the duty of the library system or bookstores to prevent these books from being circulated at all.

It got me to thinking about what I read and why I read it. I do censor myself, and there are some times that I intentionally do not ban certain books from my reading pile. I do not always shy away from books that might present a different kind of lifestyle than the one I lead or endorse, because I think that reading about it is a way that helps me either understand it or develop compassion for people living it. As a Christian, I often find myself in a bubble. Reading books helps break into that bubble.

That said, I do try to avoid explicit sexual content. Bad language doesn’t bother me as much, but if it is entirely superfluous, I grow tired of it, so I set it aside as bad writing if nothing else. Does that mean that these books shouldn’t be published or shouldn’t be available to those who choose to read them? I don’t think so.

So, tell me — what do you avoid reading and why? Is there any area in which you intentionally try to stretch your borders? What about for your children?

Managing Editor Jennifer Donovan is a contributing editor at 5 Minutes for Mom. She has been blogging at Snapshot for over two years. You’ll almost always find her holding either a book, a fork, a child’s hand, her laptop, or some combination therein.


  1. says

    Great post. I’ve seen a lot of posts about Banned Book week. I checked out one of the lists and I’d read quite a few of the books that were banned or challenged. Many I’d read in high school.

    Yes, I censor myself. Moreso now than I did when I was younger. I don’t like books with profuse profanity. I don’t like reading books that are sexually explicit. I don’t see R rated movies, why should I read an R rated book? Does that mean the book shouldn’t be available for someone else? No.

    Do I think sexually explicit books and others should be banned? No. Should we as parents and educators be discerning and cautious about what we have our children and students read? Yes. I don’t think that every book is appropriate for every age group. I was exposed to books as a teenager that I wish I hadn’t seen or read. There are books that I don’t want my children exposed to at all, or at least until they are old enough to have discussions with my husband and me about them.

    We have had an instance in our city where citizens have tried to get The Joy of Gay S*x taken off a shelf where it is available to children. They only want the book placed where it’s not accessible to children, but not removed from circulation. The library board finally agreed to do this. But then someone notified the ACLU and they threatened a lawsuit against the city if the book wasn’t put back on the shelf, because “it could cause someone embarrassment to ask for the book.”

    I really struggled with this, because I don’t believe in censorship, but I also don’t want my 7 year old stumbling across a book like this in the library because it’s been left on a table either. Can I shelter him from everything? No. However, I was in favor of the book remaining in circulation but being off the shelf. Does that mean I favor banning books? No.

    Terrific post.

  2. says

    I bought the book Forever for my daughter when she was an older teen. It was passed around at camp when I was younger and I read it. I gave it to my daughter because I wanted her to see the message the grandmother gave to the granddaughter, that once you have sex you can’t just go back to being just boyfriend and girlfriend, that now it centers around having sex. It’s a little explicit, but I also told my daughter she couldn’t pass it around because not everyone’s parent would approve.
    Do I censor myself, yes, I only choose books I want to read, but it’s not just about sex or foul language, it’s about content. I won’t spend my money or waste my time on things I don’t want to read. It doesn’t mean that I set the same rules up for the rest of the world though.

  3. says

    I censor the books my son reads because that is my parental duty. There are certain things I don’t want him exposed too. So I agree that the banning of books is trying to take the place of parental duty. You impress upon your kids what you don’t want them to read.

    I do censor my own reading in that I choose not to read horror books. They gross me out. Language and sexual content don’t bother me as long as it is part of the story, not gratuitous. Same goes for Movies. Stories that include lifestyles different from mine don’t bother me as long as they don’t get graphic in nature.

    My choices have changed over the years as I got older, got married, and had a child. As life shapes and changes you, your idea of what is acceptable also changes.

    No, I don’t favor banning books.

    Great post, Jennifer


  4. says

    Jennifer I think you are right. It is the parents responsibilty to ensure what their children are reading. I don’t think peopje can make that decision for other people. I’m reviewing three books that have been banned or challenged this year. So stop by my blog.

  5. says

    I wrote about this very topic yesterday. As the parent of a 6 yr old, I had to consider my desire to educate him alongside my desire to protect him … it’s a fine line in my opinion.

  6. says

    I don’t censor what I read myself at all. I honestly try everything and anything that I can get my hands on. I may not like a book if it has a lot of sex or slurs in it or whatever, but I consider it my obligation to my children and to others to be well-read. If my child is reading a book or wants to read a book, and I haven’t read it, how can I make a good, well-reasoned decision about whether they are ready to read it or not?

    I have a hard time with towns or states or school boards censoring and banning books. I don’t think that it jives with the First Amendment all the time. While the First Amendment doesn’t allow for obscene material, books like Catcher in the Rye don’t necessarily fall under that definition, according to the Supreme court. I think that schools, towns etc. get into too much mud and hot water by doing that. And I agree that we, as parents, cannot simply “trust” that the State gets it right everytime. I don’t like abrogating my duty as a parent to the parens patrie power of the State. And I don’t like the feeling that the State is there, knocking at my door, coming into my home and doing my job as a parent for me…just my two cents.

    I really enjoyed this post because it got me thinking…thanks!

  7. says

    Interesting question. I do censor my own reading, knowing that I don’t deal well with horror or gratuitous violence. Explicit sex or language doesn’t bother me in a book or a movie for myself. My 11 year old censors himself, also. He likes high action books and movies, but not gore, so with our help he limits what he watches, plays, and reads. In some instances I do censor for him. I won’t let him play Grand Theft Auto at his friends’ houses, for example–in explaining to him why, I’m educating him about our values. He reads some YA books but I don’t pass along books to him that have sexual content because that’s not where his head is right now, “relationship” books don’t interest him, though I’m sure he’d be curious about the “good” parts, LOL. Plenty of time for that in a few years.

  8. says

    I rarely “censor” my own reading, but I don’t often read books that I think are likely to have a lot of explicit sex because I don’t find that appealing in a book. Looking back, I think I read some books at an age where I would not want my daughter to read them. That said, I hope to be more involved and in the know about what my daughters are reading than my parents were. I think the best approach is not to ban books (not ever!) but to open up a dialog with our children about the ideas expressed in books, and how our own worldview does or does not mesh with the one in the book. I think people lose a powerful chance to educate and engage with their children when they reject certain books as “bad.”

  9. says

    I don’t really consider it censoring my reading to stop reading a book because I find it too violent or sexually explicit or not to begin one if I already know ahead of time it won’t appeal to me because of the content. I read a variety of books and genres, but I don’t feel at all compelled to read something I’m not at all interested in—for any reason.

    I’ve included several challenged/banned books in my Fall Into Reading list and do not support efforts to ban materials from libraries and schools. Many such efforts (as in the case of the Harry Potter books) are based on fear and ignorance, not actual knowledge of a book’s content. I support a parent’s right to determine whether their own children may or may not read a particular book (and that includes if it’s required reading in a class), but they do not have the right to make that determination for anyone else.

    My daughter is 7, so I still pick out most of her reading material and will continue to guide her reading choices as she grows. When she picks up a questionable book later on, I would rather read and discuss it together to help her learn to read critically than forbid her from reading it.

  10. says

    I just can’t seem to read any more Stephen King books. I used to read him all the time, as I do enjoy the genre, but I can’t get through his books anymore. It becomes too much, his language and explicit detail, and the dozen or so of his books, I have either never picked up or never finished.

    I wouldn’t ever ban a book, but I sure would put a BIG FAT RED STICKER on it to ‘warn’ others. I too think there ought to be books they just don’t put in school libraries, much less classrooms. It’s not banning a book, it’s just being careful about what we put in our child’s hands…just as any other potential harm.

  11. says

    I guess I should add that, since some folks might see “leaving books out” as banning, I ought to explain. It’s not that I would throw a fit about it being in a library and demand it being taken out. I just wish there was a rating system on content…that they be labeled as such…like music stickers/labels and like movies in the rental stores. Ah, I don’t know.
    I do know that every Harry Potter book that ever entered this house, I read first before my ds did. I read the books and then decide if my kids are ready for them. I do not decide what other people’s kids read, but I sure would like to think that most parents do the same and also read them first. But hey, that’s just wishful thinking. 😉

  12. says

    Do I censor myself? Absolutely. I know which subjects turn me off, upset me, give me mightmares, or I’m just not interested in. Like food choices, I like to make my own. Do I think parents have full rights when it comes to what their children read. Absolutely, they know the child best and are responsible for what shapes their minds. After that, what someone else reads is none of mine or anyone else’s business.
    I’ve posted a banned book survey on my blog if anyone is interested. I haven’t figured out yet where to find the source for the origin questions in these circles. Glad you wrote this.

  13. says

    I should first say that I am an avid reader. I love books and I have passed that love on to my 8 year old son. I take him to the library and book store. We choose what he reads together. I only interfere if I feel his choice is too difficult or inappropriate for his age or his personality. You see I know my son. I know that a book (or movie) about dinosaurs, no matter how detailed in nature, will never frighten him, but a book about ghosts, no matter how juvenile, will keep him awake for weeks. The first time he watched Jurassic Park (and sequels) he was cheering on the dinosaurs and I was cowering in a corner but Jack’o’lanterns terrified him at the same age. Someone else can’t decide for my son because they don’t know him, I do. So it is my responsibility as a loving parent to help him make those choices until he is old enough to make them himself. Now that he is getting older, I explain why I think a book or film is not appropriate for him and he accepts my explanation.

  14. says

    I’m not in favor of “banning” books from public libraries, book stores and etc… I do think books should be rated – I love to read a wide variety of genre’s and am always looking for new-to-me author’s. I do a “book scan” checking for the things that turn me off – excessive foul language, excessive explicit sexual scenes, excessive violence, gore, horror, etc… it would be nice if there was a “rating” system to let us know what is in a book…

    As my daughter gets older, I will censor her reading and as she gets older I’ll let her read books that might promote values, lifestyles and etc… that we disagree with – but that will be a launching point for discussion and a way for her to decide what her values and lifestyle are going to be. That’s how my Dad did it with us and it worked :)

  15. Michelle says

    Great post. As a librarian this is near and dear to my heart. I just wanted to respond to those who believe that there should be a rating system for books just as there is a rating system for movies. The problem with that is, who does the rating? The MPAA is a PRIVATE organization who rate based on what a few people have to say about movies. It is also biased on what they believe should be given a certain rating. It feels like censorship to me when an X rated is given to a movie because it has as woman mastrubating (Boys Don’t cry) vs. an R rated for a male masturbating in American Pie.

    I use that example because it really scares me that people think warning labels should be put on books. The other thing to think about is, if you label something dangerous, it is going to be much more enticing than otherwise.

  16. says

    I don’t think book banning at all replaces or is passing off parental responsibility. I think it supplements parental responsibility. When I was in a Christian high school, we had a bookmobile come by periodically. Once one student picked up a book (whether by accident or on purpose, I don’t remember) the school administration would not have approved, and the person overseeing the bookmobile told him if he wanted that book, he’d check it out for him and keep it secret from the school. With people like that working against family and Christian values, yes, I support keeping certain books out of availability for certain ages. Then a parent can take the initiative in whether to go over that book with her own children rather than having to deal with it after they saw it somewhere else.

    We have to remember that the world’s idea is “anything goes,” but a Christian should filter everything through Philippians 4:8. I don’t think that means we only read Pollyanna-ish books. But I do think it means we avoid gratuitous violence and sexuality. Even the Bible has violent and sexual scenes, but they are handled in a completely different way from most modern writers.

    I wished someone had banned Pl*yboy and its ilk when it first started. It is not doing any good for anyone except the people who are making money off of it. But it is probably too deeply ingrained in society now. But if there was ever a case for banning, that’s it.

    I grew up in a non-Christian home, and there were “dirty” books around which I picked up with a child’s curiosity. I am sad to say that some of the scenes from those books enter my thoughts even now 40 years later. We do need to be careful what we put into our minds.

    I did read To Kill a Mockingbird before I had any idea that it was banned. I would not want a child who was too young to understand it to read it, but a mature older teen or young person could understand filter through it. While parts of it are wonderful, it does have language in it I don'[t normally read, and I do wrestle with where to draw the line. More thoughts on this book are here.

    One problem with banning is that not everyone has the same yardstick whereby they make evaluations. But I would support a rating system of some kind for books.

    For Christians, though I do believe in self-censorship via Phil. 4:8, and I support the banning of some books from children, ultimately what people need are hearts changed by the gospel of Christ. We’re never going to be able to cage in every avenue of temptation, but as we present the gospel and some believe, as they go on to read the Word and grow, they will develop discernment.

  17. says

    I think that regardless of one’s profession, as someone who is a parent or/and someone working with children, one has the responsibility to protect children. If there is a rating system, people of age can discern whether they take it to heart, or take it lightly, a rating given a book. But for those who do want to look at a book before their child does, it will do the public good, more than harm. We’re not asking to take it out of the library; we’re asking to take the book into a certain part of the library. I think it’s more scary for kids to get ideas they shouldn’t quite be having than it is for a rating system to be ‘inflicted’ on adults who don’t ask for it. IMO, most children don’t asked to be given explicit material they can’t even understand; and even if they do ask for it/want it, it doesn’t mean they should have it. :)

    JMO, of course, and with all do-respect of those who don’t agree. :)

  18. says

    One problem with banning books is that generally makes kids (and adults) want to read them more out of rebellion or just out of curiosity. Another problem I see is some people have different standards than I do…some higher and some lower. I would much rather censor the books I read myself than have someone I find fanatical censor the books I can read.

  19. Tiffany says

    I am not for banning books. If parents don’t want their kids to read certain books they can see to that. They cannot expect government or other institutions to do their job for them and it takes away CHOICE for other people. If Christians feel it is their “duty” to save people from themselves I think they need to get a life. Books are a matter of opinion and choice and we have no rights IMO to be limiting the choices of others…save our own children, until they are 18.

    I do not censor myself either…I cannot think of any genre I wouldn’t at least try to read. If I quit reading I would attribute

  20. says

    A sure-fire way to get a kid to read a book is to tell him/her that it’s forbidden. We really ought to make lists of books we WANT our kids to read and tell them these are banned.

    Censorship? Absolutely not. Common sense? Definitely. Unfortunately, people who lack sense often rely on lists made by censors, and too many parents who don’t read, themselves, use such lists instead of picking up the book and checking it out for themselves. Bad, bad parents.

  21. says

    Mamacita above summed up what I was thinking as I read through these posts.

    ” …We really ought to make lists of books we WANT our kids to read and tell them these are banned….. Censorship? Absolutely not. Common sense? Definitely. ”

    It is our responsiblity as parents to watch and teach our children good values. Even if they were to choose to read a book that we think questionable- that is our time to step in and teach.

  22. says

    Maybe rating systems and lists would work so parents can make more informed decisions. Also nowadays it is nice how you can look up any book’s content on line. Even if your child reads books that would harm them, you can figure out which ones you have to read so you can talk with them about it, to put things into perspective and discuss the writers, teachers, friends… motivations.

    It certainly is a full time job to turn all the lead that is out there into gold – but that is a loving and wise parent’s power in the face of all the junk out there – even when it reaches our children – which has become pretty unavoidable.

    I am not for censorship but not because I believe in unlimited freedom without responsibility, but because I think not censoring will clearly expose what is out there. Open discussions like these will create “good lists” of books, or movies, or foods, etc that will get a lot of power. Then the ACLU will hopefully protect that freedom of speech as well.

    You can’t slip a kid a book in school anymore without parents googling it in ten minutes to find out what it is about and writing on line about it. I love freedom! May what’s good for our children win out over the bad by discussing it freely and openly.

  23. says

    I’ve enjoyed reading through everyone’s comments. I only ban myself against subject matter I can’t handle – and that can vary.

    I DO agree that parents should decide what books their kids should or should not read. Most parents are smart enough to know what their kids can handle and should be reading about. I think we (parents) can cope, thanks!

    Of course, knowing what is out there and being educated about it (i.e. reading widely) helps in knowing what is good for your own kids and what isn’t.

    Great post (and comments)!


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