It is unfathomable to me that there are people who walk among us who still try to ban books. And yet, just this past month, someone-whose-name-doesn't-deserve-another-Google-hit tried to ban Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson because he thinks rape is akin to pornography. (Remind me never to go on a date with that guy, by the way.) Ms. Anderson eloquently responded to the matter here.
This dirt bag caused the literary world to shake its head in annoyance, anger, and a little bit of laughter since, after all, the irony of trying to ban a book is that the minute you state your intentions, that book immediately becomes more widely read than it would have without the extra attention. He also has good timing because what better time to pick up a copy of Speak and other banned books than this week, the beginning of Banned Books Week?
There's a good NY Times article about ways to celebrate this week, and of course reading books that cause controversy are worth reading any time of year. Banned books are more than just sex scenes, even though the people who try to ban them are often too dense to understand that. Books that are questioned by the "authorities" are those that speak to a larger truth. Truth, obviously, is something that should be kept hidden from young minds so they grow into the world unprepared and, as a result, end up just as closed-minded and ignorant as book banners.
Banned books not only spark conversation and debate, but they are also the ones that usually go down in history labeled "classics." You can support these important titles by buying them and reading them, but as writers, you can support what they stand for by producing them yourselves. It should go without saying that no one sits down to write a novel with the intention of getting it banned. Scenes of violence or sex might cause controversy, but gratuitous or heavy-handed devices won't get you very far. Plus, readers see right through those flashy "look at me" tricks.
Instead, focus on the heart of these books. Don't shy away from topics that are difficult to write about and don't sugarcoat life's harsh realities. Sexual identity and orientation, racial tension, religious conflict (internal and external), domestic violence, and degradation are all important issues that teens and adults face. Use your words for issues that matter and support others who refuse to adhere to simply what is safe. If you can write, then you should speak.