Saturday, April 30, 2011

When They Come After Us

When I was a kid, my parents never filtered what I was allowed to read. The deal was, I was allowed to pick whatever I wanted off whatever shelf of the bookstore, and they trusted me to get what I could handle. As I got older, the agreement included a provision that I had to buy any non-school book myself; I was spending a lot of money at that point on books, and we were pretty damn poor. My mom kept trying to convince me to borrow more books from the library, and I did, for older books that I wasn't sure I would like anyway. But most of the time, I wanted my own copies of my books, simply because I was the kind of reader (and still am, to this day) who doesn't read a book just once. I'll go back, again and again, reading different sections, finding favorite quotes, and highlighting points I want to find quickly. And when a new book comes out that I want to read right away, it's usually impossible to get a copy from the library--they've got a waiting list a mile long. The only way to get your hands on it is by buying it.

I have the same policy today with my kids. They are allowed to get whatever they want to read, period. I trust them to pick books that aren't beyond their understanding, nothing they can't 'take,' and so far, they've never let me down or betrayed my trust. I don't shirk my responsibilities as a parent; I keep an eye on what they're reading. But I don't censor.

Amazon, however, has decided it needs to be the Big Mommy in people's lives, and for a while now, it has been censoring books and stories, taking them off the (online) shelves and making them unavailable to readers. All this in the name of "violation of content guidelines." What are they removing, you may ask? Works of erotica. Works that include sexually active teenagers, or have the words "gay" or "lesbian" in the titles, or hint at incest...but really, anything they decide is too dirty to have on their site. They get to decide. Sometimes they put it back up, sometimes they do not.

Of course, it's pretty vague what "violation of content guidelines" means, and what warrants removal. They sell video games that include rape, assault, murder, and gore, and they don't bother making sure they're selling it to adults only. But that's okay. They sell books with tons of violence, racism, sexism, books that promote murder and genocide, books that call for ethnic cleansing and another holocaust; but that's okay. It's books that talk about teenagers having sex that's not okay.

And I would go so far as to say that they target books of graphic erotica that include sex scenes with teenage girls. Because, you know, we should not let people know that teenage girls have sex. Not unless it's sex that's described in purple-prose, all flowery and innocent. And involve regency romance. In period-correct clothing.

Joe Konrath touched on this issue back in January, when he interviewed Selena Kitt, author of works that include fantasy incest. You can read the first part of the interview here, and the second here.

Recently it came to my attention that another erotica author I read, Kendall Swan, has had at least one short story and one story collection taken down by Amazon. Thankfully, I already own the story that has since been banned, "Naked Cheerleader," in one of the story collections I bought months ago. And the story by itself, and the collection, are still available on Barnes and Noble.

But not only has "Naked Cheerleader" been taken down by Amazon, her blog has been taken down, too, and she's been forced to start again. I can't help but be suspicious that the two things are related.

I am sickened by all of this. Amazon has no right to pick and choose what people should be allowed to read, and certainly not by such shoddy, vague, and ridiculous double standards. Authors, and readers, must let Amazon know that what they are doing over there is wrong, it is pointless, and--to put it in a way they can understand--it is contrary to good business practice. People will still find a way to buy the books. They can buy it from a different site, like Barnes and Noble. But what Amazon is doing makes authors angry, readers angry, and, most importantly, customers angry. We don't like to be told what we can and can't buy, what's good for us and what's not. We get to decide that, not them.

We don't need Amazon telling us what kind of kink is okay, and what crosses a line. Our lines are our own. I think authors and kink-lovers need to stand together on this, and get the point across.

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