Monday, September 20, 2010

Speakloud - banning books from a Norwegian perspective

First of all I have to say that I'm quite shocked after reading all the well put posts in the book blogging community about Wesley Scroggin's article in and Laurie Halse Anderson's young adult novel Speak. Obviously I had to read it and I was left speechless. I haven't read Speak myself but now I just ordered it to support the author and the case in general.

I think it is very important that young adults has the choice to read about life and banning books who addresses serious subjects like drugs, alcohol or sex is only done for the sake of the adults. Do these people really think that banning these books will make bad things go away? Will it help young adults in any way? Isn't it better that young adults learns that condoms is used to keep them from getting pregnant or getting sexual-transmitting diseases than knowing nearly nothing about sex and having it still but unprotected? I wouldn't want my young adults to go out and have sex with someone but it is impossible to watch their every step. A novel might actually make the young person think twice before making a bad decision.

A book is a great source of comfort for many and I'm sure that books like Speak might be of help to girls who has experienced abuse. Reading about a person that has had the same experience might lessen the feeling of shame and guilt and let them know that when they are ready there are people out there to offer their support, listen and help them get through a difficult situation. I cannot find one good argument to keep young adults in the dark, bad things happen to people all over the world every day and if they don't read it in a book they will hear about it from one place or another.

A Norwegian perspective
I live in country that isn't in the habit of banning books, that is in no way meant as an offense to those of you who live in countries were that happen, and I'm very grateful for that. I do think that the definition of freedom of speech varies a bit from country to country when it comes to legislation, for all I know many Norwegian titles might be banned if they were published in another country. As far as I know no young adult novel has ever been banned in Norway and almost no adult books (no novels banned here now as far as I know). In 1957 a book by the Norwegian author Agnar Mykle was banned due to the sexual content, which was the first ban in Norway in over 70 years. Mykle and his book were acquitted already in 1958. A lot of books were banned by the Germans during World War II, but that was not under normal circumstance.

For those with a special interest I'm quoting a section about this subject in Norway, the quote is from an article about banned books in Norway on Beacon For Freedom of Expression:

Selected cases of freedom of expression versus blasphemy and pornography

The most noteworthy challenge of religious tolerance occurred in 1933, when the prominent poet Arnulf Øverland held a lecture on "Christianity - the tenth plague" ("Kristendommen - den tiende landeplage") in the Students Society at Oslo university. The trial against Øverland remains one of the most outstanding trials on freedom of expression in Norwegian history in peace time. Even though Øverland was acquitted, Parliament tightened the penal code on blasphemy a year later.

The public notion of decency was most notably challenged in the late 19th century by two authors; Hans Jæger ("Fra Kristiania-Bohêmen" 1886) and Christian Krohg ("Albertine" 1887). Both novels were confiscated, though only Jæger was sent to prison. 70 years passed before the authorities once more took penal action against authors on behalf of public decency. In the 1950s and 60s the authors Agnar Mykle ("Sangen om den røde rubin", 1957)(2), the American author Henry Miller ("Sexus" (Danish edition) 1957-59 )(3) and Jens Bjørneboe ( "Uten en tråd", 1966)(4) were all subject to criminal prosecution and the novels confiscated. In each case the sentence of the County Court was appealed to the Supreme Court. In Mykle's case, the majority of Supreme Court voted for acquittal and lifted the confiscation. In Miller's case the majority of the Supreme Court sentenced the booksellers to accept confiscation of the novel, and for the first time in 70 years a novel was prohibited in Norway. From USA Miller wrote a "Defence of the Freedom to Read: a Letter to the Supreme Court of Norway", published in English and Norwegian by J.W. Cappelen Forlag. In 1995 "Sexus" was published by the Norwegian publisher Den norske Bokklubben as part of the series " Library of the Century". In the case of Bjørneboe and his publisher, the majority of the Supreme Court ruled to uphold County Court's sentence of fines for both author and publisher and the order of confiscation. J. Bjørneboe's novel "Uten en tråd" thus became the second - and last - novel in the 20th century to be prohibited.
Today, these mid-20th century criminal trials against outstanding and internationally renowned novelists may seem like tales of the dark ages. At the time and long thereafter, these cases created heated public debate, thus contributing to extend public tolerance, and also helped shift the authorities and judicial system's focus of prosecution from fictional artistic expression to the vastly more serious crimes of child pornography and speculative violent adult pornography.

If you got this far I would like to thank you :) I'm sorry for this long, ranting post but as you might understand this is a subject that makes me want to speak up.