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Our view: Steamy books test Duluth's enlightenment

In Wisconsin, Georgia, Florida and elsewhere, libraries are ripping the "Fifty Shades" trilogy of books from shelves or aren't ordering them at all. Too steamy. Semi-pornographic. Too poorly written. In Duluth, by contrast, "There has not been an...

'Shades of Grey' trilogy covers
This file combo made of book cover images provided by Vintage Books shows the "Fifty Shades of Grey" trilogy by best-selling author E L James. (File / Vintage Books, Associated Press)

In Wisconsin, Georgia, Florida and elsewhere, libraries are ripping the "Fifty Shades" trilogy of books from shelves or aren't ordering them at all.

Too steamy. Semi-pornographic. Too poorly written.

In Duluth, by contrast, "There has not been any talk of pulling it," Public Library Manager Carla Powers told the News Tribune Opinion page last week. "We actually expected a demand for it, and there obviously has been a huge demand. That's one thing we consider when choosing books for our shelves."

The Duluth Public Library ordered 10 copies of "Fifty Shades of Grey," the first book in the series and the one that seems to be garnering most of the attention for its descriptions of bondage, wild sex and more. Our local library didn't order nearly enough copies to meet demand. All 10 copies were checked out the day Powers talked to the Opinion page -- with another 110 readers on a waiting list. Two days later the waiting list had grown to 115 eager readers.

Give the Duluth library credit. It embraced the importance of reading and literacy in the face of controversy. And it helped preserve a basic human right, that to the freedoms of opinion and expression.

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Pulling books from shelves -- banning them -- doesn't make them go away. Rather, demand for and interest in titles deemed inappropriate by some only grows.

Rather than hiding books that address uncomfortable issues we can embrace them -- sometimes specifically because they deal with uncomfortable issues. Rape and anti-white sentiments in "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou; profanity and violence in "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck; and race issues in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain are examples of important community issues that can't be ignored away because the books are banned and made unavailable. The issues persist and demand to be addressed.

That isn't saying the "Fifty Shades" books are necessarily on the same literary level as the works of Angelou and Twain, but the principle remains. And it's a principle an enlightened Duluth, and Duluth Public Library, long has embraced, to the benefit of the community.

"There's a real strong tradition of intellectual freedom here at the Duluth Public Library," Powers said. "We try to make available as broad a variety of materials as we can and then let our library users decide for themselves what's best for them to read and what's OK for them to read."

But what about children? Couldn't they just grab anything from the shelves?

"We like to leave that responsibility to the parents, to monitor what their kids check out from the library and what they read while they're here," Powers said. "Different families have different values. We encourage parents to come with their kids and to monitor what they check out."

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