Gatekeeper vs Censorship


Rachel Seigel

This week we celebrate the 30th anniversary of Banned Books week, and I find myself once again pondering the fine line that we (meaning booksellers/buyers/teachers/librarians) walk between being a “gatekeeper” and censoring. Thousands of books are published every year, and as much as I’d love to simply select anything that looks interesting for my showroom, I have limited space and budget, and I have to carefully consider each book that I choose to stock and sell to my customers- and particularly in the teen area. Don’t get me wrong- I have a high school/teen fiction area, and I’m generally not offended by a bit of raunch, or by teens doing what teens do. On the other hand, there are certain subjects (such as incest) that I know are a bit too risque for school customers, and as much acclaim as some titles might get via social media & blogger reviews, I just have to give it a pass.

When I wear my bookseller hat, I often find myself steering customers away from books with content that are a bit too mature for their students, or at the very least, alterting them to potentially problematic content. (ie gratuitous violence, sex or swearing) While on the one hand I recognize the necessity of these kinds of cautions, (particularly with younger children) I cringe at the question “is this clean” or is this “safe”, because to me, that sounds dangerously like censorship. Deciding, as the reviewer for the Wall Street Journal did last summer, that all YA books are too dark and disturbing and thus inappropriate for teens, is just scary. As soon as we judge the quality/appropriateness of a book based political/religious/social views, we move beyond steering, and into full-out censorship.

How do we put an end to book banning once and for all? By familiarizing ourselves with and championing these books that are being challenged, and using our power as readers to let would-be banners know that they have no power to take away our freedom to read! Below is the link to a list of the most frequently challenged books of 2011-2012, and my challenge to you is to select as many books from that list as you can to read and share!

Rachel Seigel is the K-12 buyer at wholesaler S&B Books in Mississauga, Ontario. She also maintains a personal blog at and can be found on Twitter as @rachelnseigel.

2 Responses to Gatekeeper vs Censorship

  1. Jennifer Hoffine Oct 5 2012 at 1:10 pm #

    I’ve often wondered if this kind of subtle censorship happens at the query/agent level too, before a book is even bought by a publisher.

    I did have one agent tell me they were passing on one of my manuscripts because she loved it but thought it was too mature.

  2. Rachel Seigel Oct 8 2012 at 8:03 pm #

    I think that comes down to personal preference- maybe the agent doesn’t represent more mature titles, and while she enjoyed it, it just didn’t fit what she does. But, that’s why it’s good to query several agents- one person’s refusal could be someone else’s gain!

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