Banning Bapsi Sidhwa

In turbulent times like these, it's good that people remember what really matters: passing references to oral sex in critically acclaimed novels.
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In turbulent times like these, it's good that some people in DeLand, Florida, are remembering what really matters: passing references to oral sex in critically acclaimed novels. But before you judge: This one involves children. Specifically, 16- and 17-year-old high school students, who, as you know, are delicate and innocent and must be shielded from even the most innocuous sexual references. God knows they've never heard about this stuff on TV, or from their friends.

The book in question is Cracking India, Bapsi Sidhwa's 1991 novel about the Indian Partition. Vikki Reed, whose daughter is a student at DeLand High School's International Baccalaureate program, is trying to ban the book from the school's reading lists. Why? Mainly, it
seems, because of a scene in which an adolescent boy asks his young cousin to perform oral sex on him. She starts to comply, but quickly rejects him. ("'Suck it yourself!' I say, standing up.") The school offered Reed's daughter alternative reading assignments, but Reed is still pushing for a districtwide ban.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal has an odd editorial on the controversy, noting: "International Baccalaureate requirements are stringent, but they're not so specific that one title must be read over another, and the literary canon is not so wanting that there aren't piles of worthy alternatives to choose from (Salman Rushdie's "Shame," also about the violent birth of Pakistan, would be a nifty substitute)."

Shame really is a brilliant book, and it's completely inoffensive, unless you take umbrage at sentences like "Fuck me in the mouth, pimp, go suck your grandson's cock" (page 251) and "I shit on your words. Your balls dropped too soon and you got the hots, no more to it than that" (page 23). If you eliminate every book with "offensive" material from a school's reading list, you're left with a pretty shallow pool.

How can someone overreact so insanely to a brief sexual reference in a 300 page book? The News-Journal, perhaps unintentionally, offers a clue: "Reed, who has not yet read the entire book, said she has been researching reviews of it on the Internet to prepare for today's meeting." I usually read books before I embark on batshit crazy crusades to ban them, but hey, vive la difference! As long as we have Internet reviews, serious discussion about literature will thrive. I've never been so proud to be a blogger.

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