By a “bad book challenge,” I don’t mean a challenge of a bad book, but a bad challenge of a book. For the ALA, all book challenges are bad. I think reasonable people can disagree.
Somehow I missed the story last month about a book challenge in Greenville, SC. Neonomicon, a graphic novel by Alan Moore, was challenged by a parent after her 14-year-old daughter checked it out from the adult section of the public library.
It’s a weird story. First, the teenager had her mother’s permission to check out the book, and not just the the implicit permission that the mother knew she had a “juvenile adult” card and could check books out from the adult section.
She also had her mother’s explicit permission at the time of checkout itself. The mother is quoted as saying, “It looked like a child’s book. I flipped through it, and thought it was ok for her to check out.” She thought it looked like a “murder mystery comic.”
While familiar with some of Alan Moore’s stuff, I hadn’t seen that particular work. However, a Google image search for “neonomicon” made it pretty clear that this doesn’t look anything like a “child’s book.”
Second, besides the numerous naked people having sex in the book, which should be a clue that this isn’t a children’s book at all, the other clue should have been that the book was in the adult section of the library.
As in that section of the library where they put books for adults so that children don’t arbitrarily stumble across graphic drawings of a woman gleefully fellating a demon (Neonomicron #2 for the tasteless among you.)
If a comic book is shelved in the adult section of the library, it’s probably there for a reason. If you want Archie comics, go to the children’s section. If Archie comics are too simple for your tastes, but you haven’t graduated to real novels, then go to the “graphic novel” part of the adult section of the library.
The astounded mother claims to “feel that [Neonomicon] has the same content of Hustler or Playboy or things like that…. Maybe even worse.” Based on my limited experience, I’d say Hustler is nothing like Playboy, and Neonomicon is nothing like either of them.
Since the mother was unaware of the existence of adult comic books, it’s no surprise that she’s unaware of the way media ratings systems in America work.
“I really think if they’re going to carry this type of material there needs to be a rating on it…. There’s ratings on movies, music, video games. My daughter cannot go to the video game store and get a mature video game without me there.”
The ratings on movies, music, and video games are all created by self-regulating industry organizations that have no power to decide what gets sold or borrowed. Other private organizations – theaters and retailers – use those ratings to decide what they will sell and to whom.
As far as I know, there’s no such organization for the rating of books, probably because Tipper Gore never discovered graphic novels back in the 1980s.
Public libraries have an implicit rating system, which in many libraries is broken into children, young adults, and adults.
Thus, the library in question did in fact have a de facto rating system. It’s called the adult section (in case you’d forgotten from earlier). It’s called that because despite the pleas of the ALA OIF, there are some books that librarians think are appropriate for adults rather than children.
The Greenville County library apparently thought that Neonomicon wasn’t appropriate for children. Hence, it was in the adult section.
Just as I get annoyed by the ALA claiming implicitly that all books are appropriate for all ages, I also get annoyed at busybodies who try to foist their own views on adult library patrons just because they can’t understand how the library organization works.
This is a good test case to draw a distinction between scenarios that the OIF doesn’t want you to distinguish.
If Neonomicon had been shelved in the children’s section (or, as far as I’m concerned, the YA section, but I’m flexible) and some parent had challenged the shelving location of the book, the OIF would go ballistic. Sensible people would shrug, take a look at the graphic demon sex, and conclude that the book should go in the adult section.
But when the book is already in the adult section, and it’s not pornography that the library might have a policy against, then there’s not really a leg to stand on besides the busybody leg.
I sympathize with the woman. If I had a teenage daughter, I wouldn’t want her reading Neonomicon. In fact, I definitely wouldn’t want to read it. But then I wouldn’t have flipped through it and said it was fine to check out, either.
The appropriate course isn’t to challenge the book for other adults, but to start a national campaign to get graphic novels rated and labeled just like video games and music. Then when visiting the library you would have some indication besides the placement of the book in the adult section that the books was for adults.
Everyone else could ignore the “mature” rating and read the book anyway, but at least you would have tried.
P.S. Does anyone know how this particular challenge ended, if it has?