Sunday, February 13, 2011

Controversies regarding Looking for Alaska

Hello Library friends!

On the last episode of The Library Show we discussed Looking for Alaska, by John Green. We touched briefly on the fact that this book is often considered controversial. I wanted to give us some space here to discuss such controvery.

The website frames Looking for Alaska as pornographic, supposedly alerting parents to the dangers within its pages. It counts the number of times inappropriate words are used within the book, not distinguishing any sort of gradient for the level of inappropriateness – so words like “hell” and “fuck” are counted as the same. Thus has calculated that Looking for Alaska has 1.3 inappropriate words per page. (Of course personally, that just makes me proud of this book) The website then goes on to list a few passages from the book – the two sex scenes that it contains. Of course these scenes (just like the inappropriate word list) are given no context at all. Out of context, I can see why these scenes might scare some parents… sex seems to be treated so flippantly.

However! Anyone who has read the book knows that these scenes are quite different from each other – one is decidedly unsexy (that is the whole point) and the other, while being significantly less explicit, is quite a bit sexier. This brings me to my entire point of this post – context matters. All of the pages and words surrounding these passages and the words listed in the inappropriate word list make it so that we can see, and understand, why these elements are in this book. We can see why it is necessary to tell this story with these words – why it matters that Pudge’s friends at Culver Creek drink, smoke and talk about sex all the time. We can see how a book that uses the word sex 28 times, apparently, is not actually about sex at all, but about emotional relationships and coming to grips with love and loss. Without these elements the story, and the wonderful themes that we can draw from it, would not be possible.

With that said, were you surprised at the content of this book? Did it ever make you feel uncomfortable that a “Young Adult” novel would contain characters that drink and smoke and talk about sex? Or rather did you feel as though these things grounded these characters and made them more real for you?

Also, for your viewing pleasure, I feel like it is appropriate to share John Green’s video blog regarding this subject. Personally, I feel he is well spoken and inspiring as ever:

Soooo, what do you think?


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