For years now Tigger and I have attended a mother-daughter book club. We both enjoy it, and even though we left Hoity-Toity Private School, where the book club originated, we plan to stay with it.
Admittedly, it’s more of a social event than a meaningful effort at literary discourse. The girls play for an hour while the moms drink coffee and chat. We all come together, have a superficial discussion about the book, and the girls begin shouting out their nominations for the next book. A list is made, a vote is held, and we do it all again the next month, or two months if we’re all too busy.
We have no particular criteria for book selection, though some suggestions are immediately nixed by the moms (teen vampire porn, aka Twilight, for example). We don’t even focus on girl-centric books, as we did in the beginning, when the girls were in 4th grade. Now they’re 6th graders, and we moms give them a lot of latitude in picking books.
At our last meeting, we chose The Boy in the Striped Pajamas as the next book. It’s a short and rather lyrical book, oddly gentle considering the topic: the Holocaust. A young boy named Bruno, the son of the Commandant of a place Bruno calls “Out With,” meets a young boy named Shmuel who lives on the other side of the barbed-wire fence. The innocent and inexplicably naïve Bruno does not know why Shmuel and his family must stay behind the fence, but he talks to Shmuel through the wire every day.
As you might expect, the story doesn’t end happily. However, the book is circumspect about everything and there is no graphic violence. Indeed, it is so oblique an uninformed reader could easily miss the point. And few teens or pre-teens will grasp the author’s paradoxical parting words: “Of course, all this happened a long time ago and nothing like that could ever happen again. Not in this day and age.”
That’s why it needs to be discussed. At a mother-daughter book club, for example.
Unfortunately, one or more moms (I’m not sure which ones) thought the book was unsuitable—too powerful, too scary, too something—for their kids. And though I put up a minor protest, when it comes down to it, it’s a social group and we don’t want to make anybody uncomfortable. So we changed the book selection to Peter and the Starcatchers.
I enjoyed Peter. It’s a great adventure—fast paced and exciting. And entirely unchallenging. We will have a superficial discussion and move on to the next book.
Tell me, friends, where is the line between reasonable boundaries and censorship?