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UHV and VC take on banned books

By KBell
Sept. 28, 2011 at 4:28 a.m.

Kayla Boyd-Robertson reads an excerpt from "Quran: The Final Testament" at the University of Houston-Victoria and Victoria College library's third annual Read Out. The event seeks to bring attention to banned books.

SOME OF THE MOST BANNED CLASSICS

"The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

"The Catcher in the Rye" by JD Salinger

"The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck

"The Color Purple" by Alice Walker

"The Lord of the Flies" by William Golding

"1984" by George Orwell

"Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck

"As I Lay Dying" by William Faulkner

In front of caution tape stretched across bookshelves and behind a shirt that proclaimed, "I read banned books," local author Diana Lopez shared her personal experience with censorship.

The University of Houston-Victoria English instructor read an excerpt from her latest book, "Choke," which describes in no small detail the sensations - seeing spots, feeling faint, and inability to speak - of a teenage girl who participates in a choking game.

It was Lopez's intent, she said, to capture both the negative consequences and feel-good sensations of the choking game, which was inspired by accounts from her former middle school students.

From there, it is the reader's responsibility to sort through the dramatization, Lopez said.

"The reader has to meet the writer halfway, and the reader has to make his or her own judgments about what is presented in the book," she said. "When we censor a book, we're denying the readers the choice, and we're denying them the opportunity to think critically. When we censor a book, we're saying to the readers, 'You're not smart enough.'"

Lopez's book was ultimately rejected by a panel at the publishing company with whom she had been working. The panel sought to change the idea of the girls getting involved with a choking game to the girls becoming involved in cheating.

She turned the publishing company down, sticking to her belief that her art was imitating real life.

Lopez shared her experiences at the third annual Read Out at the UHV and Victoria College library. The event, which is part of National Banned Books week, aims to shed light on banned books.

Uppinder Mehan, interim chair of the University of Houston-Victoria School of Arts and Sciences Humanities Division, was the keynote speaker at Read Out. He gave the crowd of at least 50 a little history about banned books.

"The common good is certainly part of this impulse to ban. However, the common good for us comes up smack against the freedom of expression," Mehan said.

In the United States, books are mostly banned because of concerns about morality and sexuality, Mehan told the crowd cramming the entrance to the library.

And it's usually parents in a community who decide to ban the books, he said.

"As a father of an 8-year-old, I can identify with the impulse to keep unpleasantness away from my daughter," Mehan said. "I know I cannot sanitize the world for my daughter. But what I can do, and what all of us in education do, is give my daughter the critical awareness and tools necessary to help her understand the world."

In loud defiance of censorship, students, faculty and staff filled the normally quiet library with voices reading commonly banned books.

The excerpts were sometimes explicit, sometimes used offensive language and touched on taboo subjects.

Samantha Bell read with animation from "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." The book contains several mentions of the "n word," which more recent publications have replaced with the word, "slave."

Bell said she thought it was important to not censor Twain's historical depiction of race in the mid to late 1800s.

"I particularly like reading this book because I think fear of a word is a bad thing. As uncomfortable as I am ... I think it's important that it be said," she said.

Libby Rhoades, a UHV psychology professor, read from "To Kill a Mockingbird," and said she makes it a point to give students diverse readings that challenge their thinking.

"It's important to examine all of our beliefs and ideas," she said. "This is a college. This is a place of learning and questioning, so it's especially important to do that here."

Scholastic has since picked up Lopez's book "Choke," and will publish it next summer. The choking game premise remains in tact, and the story line still focuses on how girls form friendships and manipulate those friendships, she said.

"Will my book be banned? I don't know," she said. "Will I get to wear a shirt that says, 'I write banned books?' ... I will if it gets banned," she said.

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