It’s Banned Book Week! And I haven’t written anything about it yet! You must therefore read my Blume babbling! Let’s get started, eh?
So I recently wrote about a new cartoon, Human Kind Of, produced by Facebook. I love that cartoon in part because the pilot takes on the topics of periods generally and menarche specifically with anything but subtlety and sideways reference. Although I was happy to share the cartoon, and happy as well to be informed my link led to pop-up madness (something I’d missed from having 3 ad blockers in constant use), I was disappointed that no one seemed to comment on the ambiguity in the post’s title An Unholy Pit of Horrors Coughs Up Something Amazing.
Vaginas have been seen as unholy holes since before vagina dentata was a thing. And yet, they spit out amazing things all the time. More than 74% of my readers, for instance, were pushed into the world through a vagina. Despite their importance and their wonder, they are rarely invoked publicly as a source of anything other than sex or sin. Judy Blume dared to write otherwise. Among other things, she wrote of the vagina as a source of blood. And she got absolutely hammered for it. Barnes and Noble’s blog says of the efforts to ban Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret:
They called it “sexually offensive,” “immoral,” and “profane,” but let’s be honest here: the real answer is “TOO MUCH PERIOD.”
But AYTGIMM is hardly the only Blume book communities have banned or attempted to ban. In the list of the top 100 banned/challenged books of the most recent decade (2000-2009, as compiled by the American Library Association), Judy Blume authored four. Forever is #16. Blubber comes in at #43. Tiger Eyes (with which I’m not even familiar) is #87. AYTGIMM barely makes the list at #99. I remember reading AYTGIMM as a child which was a good but not transformative experience, but I never read Forever all the way through, and probably didn’t read Blubber at all. (I have only the vaguest memories of it in the library.) Nonetheless, I can say that Blume dramatically affected my childhood, not least because of the way that the debates about banning Judy Blume changed the way my mother thought about which books were appropriate for her kids. Many of my friends, both then and today, are people who either were reading or had read more than one Blume book, so there’s that as well.
Given the positive effects, why exactly were people attempting to ban Blume’s books? As mentioned, AYTGIMM had primarily to do with the discussions of menstruation, though the quotidian blasphemy of a girl praying to her god to give her breasts of just the right size – neither too big nor too small to cause negative social attention – played a supporting role. Vaginas were and are a constant source of irritation to the theocratic and hypochondriac book-burning crowd, but that wasn’t all that sparked their hyperventilating: Ralph also got his share of attention.
In long and short, no one has come in for banning quite like Judy Blume. Make no mistake: Rowling is a more frequent target these days, but not for providing us realistically depicted thoughts about the things that actually occupy a child’s mind. No, that’s Judy Blume. Of all the authors we’ve been banning lately, no one else is consistently targeted for merely telling the truth the way that she has been. However, a day after the Kavanaugh hearing you might be surprised to hear that this isn’t true in every country: FreedomToRead does not even have Blume in its database of authors challenged in Canada. Oh, USA. What are we going to do about you?
This is Banned Book Week, and I couldn’t think of anyone better to write about than Judy Blume, but if you have a favorite banned book, talk about it in the comments. But before you comment, call your senators!