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Menstruation = Communism?

If you ever find yourself chatting up a librarian and you are looking for a conversation topic that will really clinch it, here’s what you should say:

“So, banned books are the worst. Am I right?!?”

You will be in, as easy as that.

Librarians go absolutely bananas over banned books – we even have a whole week devoted to them. And (coincidence!) this week just happens to be Banned Books Week, which is also timely since I was just saying in my last post that I was overdue for a long chat about Judy Blume.

I say “timely” because, of course, Judy Blume is one of the most frequently challenged authors, like, ever and she also speaks out very eloquently and passionately against the challenging and banning of books.

Typically I wince to use the word “passionate” to describe my own feelings about anything. I am too much like a robot inside to accurately describe my relationship to almost anything as characterized by passion. I also just hate the word in general; it makes me feel icky, like how this girl I went to high school with couldn’t hear anyone say moist without getting the heebiejeebies.

If there is anything I do feel passionate about, though, it is intellectual freedom and the rights of all people (children, teens and adults) to have access to information and to be allowed to read the books of their choice.

Like this one time when I was in library school and I was studying for my comps, I was reviewing the American Library Association’s Freedom to Read Statement and I was so moved by it that I started to cry (in fairness, of course, this was very late at night during a time of high stress). I really BELIEVE in this statement, and there are not a lot of things in this world in which I truly believe.

Still, despite all my strong feeling, I am not a soap box kind of person. I find myself ill-equipped to express my ideas particularly eloquently on subjects serious and important. So instead of waxing philosophic about the importance of promoting challenged and banned books and the danger of censorship to a democratic society, I’ll just talk about Judy Blume and how much I love her.

I love Judy Blume.

So far the best childrens’ literature inspired roller derby name I’ve come up with that isn’t already taken is Judy Doom; I can’t wait until I stop being such a sissy, learn to take a hit and become an honest-to-goodness roller derby girl (this will never happen), so I can take that name for a spin.

She is a cool, cool lady. I mean, regardless of who you are, you have probably read one of her books. I think everyone has read Fudge, right? Or The Pain and the Great One? Or Freckle Juice?

And if you are a female, you have probably read Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret.

The Judy Blume influence on modern young adult fiction is obvious. Sometimes painfully so, as in the case of the book Anatomy of a Boyfriend by Daria Snadowsky, which is basically a scene-for-scene homage to Blume’s classic Forever. I reread Forever right after I read Anatomy of a Boyfriend and noticed the similarities. While I found the latter mildly enjoyable, it was pretty much unnecessary; Forever was better and continued to be relevant without the modernizing efforts of Snadowsky.

And true story – there is even a book called Everything I Need to Know About Being a Girl I Learned From Judy Blume, which is a collection of essays in which numerous lady authors discuss their personal Blume moments. I am actually only just discovering the existence of this book right now while crafting this blog post, but I am officially planning to read it.

Despite her age of….well I don’t know exactly but…old, Judy Blume is on thirty-one-year-old young adult author John Green’s “Guilt Free Three” list. You know, that list of celebrities that every couple has with whom they are allowed to stray from their spouse and it is okay. He says, “I mean, she’s cute. She’s really cute. And one time at a conference she kissed me on the cheek and I liked it and I like her aaaand I’m not going to talk it about it anymore.”

This fact is not exactly relevant to my discussion here, but I find it makes me love both John Green and Judy Blume just a little bit more than I would otherwise.

Judy Blume speaks frankly about teen sexuality (FEMALE sexuality no less!). And okay, maybe she speaks a little too frankly about menstruation sometimes. Margaret’s crazed desire to get her period, for example, always made me uncomfortable and continues to confound me to this day.

I tell you, though, Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret mostly just confused me with all its talk about the crazy apparatus involved in getting one’s period – belts, garters and the like. I love how aspects (like that) of Judy Blume’s book feel so dated. You expect characters to call conditioner “cream rinse” and yet the stories and characters continue to be emotionally resonant with modern audiences.

I find this impressive.

And think about the trailer for the new movie Easy A, in which Emma Stone’s character intones, “I always thought pretending to lose my virginity would be more special. Judy Blume should have prepared me for that.”

That joke gets a chuckle, because we all know what she’s talking about. Judy Blume prepares girls for their journey into womanhood, you know? It’s kind of her job, and she’s kind of fantastic at it, even over thirty years later.

So in spite of all this awesome concentrated in a single individual, Judy Blume books get challenged and banned all the time.

It’s the sex talk, the menstruation talk, the realistic portrayal of the preteen and teen experience. On her website, she relays a story about an angry caller who called her a communist in reference to Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret. She wonders if the caller equates the religion or the menstruation (the predominant preoccupations of the book) with the communism.

It is such a shame that this happens, because I believe everyone has the right to read about Margaret’s first period if they so choose.

Now, if you’re a nerd or a geek or someone who is reading this, you have almost certainly read a lot of banned books:

Harry Potter? Most frequently challenged book between 2000 – 2009.

To Kill a Mockingbird? Huckleberry Finn? The Diary of Anne Frank? ALL on that list as well, my friends.

Also, check out this list, which has 11 books you’d be surprised have been challenged (I mean – THE DICTIONARY? Really?!?)

But you can always get out there and read some more banned books. Read them in honor of free speech and the first amendment and intellectual freedom and, of course, Judy Blume.

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