Fuse #8

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Take a Trip Back In Time To February 13th

I just remembered this today. Once upon a time, roughly 2 and a half weeks ago, there was an article that I commented on entitled 2007 Newbery winners follow familiar themes. I would just like to point out my supreme amusement at this statement regarding The Higher Power of Lucky which once raised my ire, and now strikes me as quaint:
The Newbery selection committee is instructed not to look to the past, not to look to the accomplishments of authors, and not to judge current fiction by past benchmarks. That said, the 2007 committee has made a solid but safe selection, one that turns away from the bold choices of past years.
Oh yeah? Who's bold now then? Eh? Eh? Ha ha ha!

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At 6:57 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry Fuse, if it isn't all right for me to say so, but I think the pick this year was white bread in the extreme. It was however, superficially flashy. Look, the word Scrotum! But we all agree the THE WORD really wasn't what the book was about. Now that I've had time to read Lucky, I can say, I don't like your choice. Just like some minority says EVERY year, right? You just can't please everyone and this year you didn't please me. I'm sure I'll live.

Scrotumgate bothers me more. Am I the only one that think it was faked for PR? That there might have been a few librarians who lamented on the web about possible reactions in their communities, but that it was all blown up to get buzz? We all rose to the bait, but where's the bad guy? The NYT managed to find a whopping 2 people with a shadowy claim of "dozens" more. I think it was all manipulated to sell books.

I asked you earlier if you saw any reality to the claims of censorship and you responded essentially . . . i dunno, they don't do that kind of thing in NY. But can you ask around? Are they doing it ANYWHERE? as far as I can see, they aren't. but i'm not a librarian, and i don't have access to your cool-librarian-insider-info. i'm just an outsider who thinks we've been had.

At 1:34 AM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

I'm intrigued. Which P.R. department in particular do you blame? The New York Times? Entirely possible, as it probably gave rise to book sales to some extent. Still, the original article came from Publisher's Weekly and was based on only a couple comments from a listserv. The librarians, in turn, retracted their comments. So while I don't doubt in the least that the whole business was blown out of proportion, the idea of being "had" suggests that someone had something to gain from the hooplah. Who was that exactly? Which is to say, who benefits from the excitement the NYT stirs up?

And as I may have mentioned before, if not that particular post, OF COURSE they are censoring Lucky. Look. Say you're working in a small town library. You, for whatever reason, do not like to make waves. You receive this book and decide you don't want to deal with some irate parent throwing it in your face. So you just don't purchase it based on a single word. Is that censorship? Of course. Is it reported or even mentioned? No. Is it part of your library's collection policy? No, since you made your decision based on a word rather than the book itself. So there is no clear cut way of determining how many people are simply not buying Lucky. The people who commented on my earlier postings (there were two) were rare beasties indeed. Most of the people who won't be buying the book won't be making a big fuss about it. So how, I ask, am I to determine exactly how many people are avoiding the newest Newbery?

Mind you, I'm writing this at 1:33 a.m. on a Sunday morn. This may seem a big foggy when I get up tomorrow, but they're questions worth asking. Censors don't usually wave big banners saying BOOKS NOT AVAILABLE HERE when they avoid controversial purchases.

At 4:19 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who benefits? Well, the publisher if it increases sales. NYT if it increases readership. And all the icky people whose egos benefit from thinking that they are movers and shakers when they call up PW and NYT and say "I have a hot story for you!" or when they get quoted and can show it to all their friends. It only takes a few people like this to make a big deal out of not much.

And if librarians look at Lucky, and they don't like it, should they trust your judgement over their own? Well, that's why they should have a collection policy of course, but if they don't have one, if they think, "I wouldn't have bought it before it won the prize, and it isn't going to be anything but a pain in the neck, I'm passing," is that censorship? Or is that the judgement of a professional doing his or her job? They didn't want the book before, they don't want it now.

I would never argue that there is no censorship based on this silly word, I am just saying that I see no evidence that it is widespread. When you say OF COURSE they are censoring Lucky, you are assuming the worst, as if it is widespread. As if all across America the book is being shunned. Why? These are your fellow librarians you are condemning, not just anyone, but LIBRARIANS. what makes you think so poorly of your peers that you would assume they would do this?

At 8:37 PM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Goodness me, I'm not saying that hundreds of thousands of librarians are shunning the book. I'm not saying that the BULK of librarians are shunning the book. For all I know there is one single solitary librarian somewhere shunning the book without having read it. My point was essentially that you can't say that the problem isn't widespread because you cannot KNOW if it's widespread or not. You can't know if it isn't widespread either. You simply cannot know. I don't think it's ridiculous to guess that someone somewhere is going to censor the book for the word "scrotum" because that is the state of the world we live in today. It happens. There were many things wrong with the New York Times article. Tons of things wrong with it. Obviously it made a mountain out of a molehill. No one is contesting this. But it does happen, if in a manner far more quiet that the Times was giving voice to. Still, no one can say how often. Not you. Not me. Nobody. No poll is going to be taken on the matter.

And who benefits? The New York Times isn't going to sell a lot of newspapers because of a hot Newbery story, as much as I'd like that to be the case. The publisher will like the sales, but I doubt that they see all publicity as good publicity in this case (though I could, again, be wrong). And the problem with the NYT article was that it only quoted the librarians who didn't like the book. They've all pretty much retracted their statements since then so I can't imagine any of them felt they benefitted.

I have no issue with someone who didn't like the book before the award saying they don't want to buy it after it won. That, as you say, is library collection policies at work. But I DO have a problem with people who glimpse a word, shudder, and make snap decisions on the spot. You don't want to buy the new Newbery winner because you read it cover to cover and didn't like it? That's fine. That's your right. But you cannot defend anyone who reads a word on page one and makes a snap decision on the spot because of it.

As an afterthought, could you leave an initial or something when you post? Anonymous postings are always difficult since I can't know if I'm debating the same person over and over or someone different. If you're going to take issue with a blogger, please distinguish yourself from the fold. Especially if you accuse them of thinking "poorly" of their peers.

At 11:04 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry for not appending a name earlier. I just thought we were deep in the backlog of your blog and it was pretty much just the two of us here. Both of the above comments were, as you rightly assumed, me.

I guess I am disturbed at what I see as a smearing of the reputation of librarians in the US. Everybody jumped on the bandwagon to condemn librarians en masse without much evidence. I don't necessarily mean you. I mean the bloggers who started posts with comments like, "Well it looks like librarians in the US are banning Lucky . . . and I just want to say how stupid and evil I think censorship like that is." Well, der, it's stupid and evil, but it also sounds like prejudice-- all librarians have been judged and found wanting. Of course, they might say they don't mean their own personal librarian, because she's cool. they mean all those librarians "out there" somewhere.

I know you said that evidence was hard to come by, and I think you are right. I just would have preferred a rational discussion to a feeding frenzy. People were quick to criticize the NYT piece because it didn't offer the other side a chance to defend Lucky. I really wanted to see someone defend Librarians. . . and I haven't seen it.

I think there are real issues about censorship that need to be discussed, and they can't be because every time the subject comes up, people have hysterics. You have crazy people who want to shut down public libraries and in an effort to balance that, people go crazy in the opposite direction. You get libraries savaged by the self-labeled protectors of family values and nailed at the same time by the ACLU. (re Neil Gaiman's blog)

And the feeding frenzy really just upsets good people and feeds the american appetite for stupid scandal. So I think a call for facts, and restraint and critical thinking is a good thing for a blogger to make.
That's really why I wrote to you, because you are in the profession and in a position to access information. I really thought you might be able to post some of the comments you've read by people who admitted that they support the censorship of the book based on a single word, and whether there's a kind of censorship that might be warranted, like keeping the graphic novels in the adult section instead of the children's section. Or if some censorship battles are worth fighting and some aren't. I mean, if a patron came in and complained that a child could see Pumba's scrotum in "The Lion King Encourages Girls to Wear Pink", would you use it as an excuse to get rid of book you didn't like anyway?

This really is going on too long. I'm sorry. I wouldn't have taken up so much of the bandwidth here, except that, as I said above, we are in your backlog and I didn't think anyone would mind.


At 11:20 AM , Blogger Saints and Spinners said...

In the interest of full disclosure, I've been lurking around this conversation.

At 12:11 PM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Well, I totally agree with you about the sudden condemnation of librarians. I was listening to an old podcast of "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" yesterday, and the amusing panelists just went off on "librarians." Nobody's noticed that librarians chose the award. There's been some mention that a librarian wrote the book, but from all the press you'd swear that Ms. Patron was the exception rather than the rule when it came to librarian clear-sightedness. It bugs me as much as it bugs you. We are in total agreement.

And by the way, I like hot n' toasty debates like this one. I don't usually read the comments in my backlog since I'm lazy, but your comments kept me coming back every day. Ever considering starting a blog of your own? You've a clear voice and more opinions of this sort need to be heard.

At 12:53 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Errr. I spend too much time on the internet already. I am supposed to be doing something else entirely, but blogs are like little bits of crack cocaine scattered in front of me. It's hard to stay away. If I had a blog of my own, I'd never get anything else done.



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