Sex, violence and reading

Henry Miller is off the approved list for student research projects at a Dallas high school after a 17-year-old girl complained about the explicit sex in Tropic of Cancer.

Many books approved for New York City classrooms include sex and violence, notes NYC Educator. If students are reading, does it matter what they’re reading?

A student who does service in our office regularly comes in with novels entitled Bitch, or Blood on the Sidewalk, and various others of this ilk. She says her aunt has a collection, and she seems to finish several a week. The list must be endless. Is it doing her any good? Who knows? But at least she’s reading. I have to admit I like that.

NYC’s readers say there are books they’d never assign but don’t mind if students decide to try on their own. (To my surprise, a number of teachers said they’re not allowed to assign and teach novels in class.)

I tried to read my parent’s copy of Tropic of Cancer when I was in junior high or high school. I thought Miller had managed to make sex boring. Of course, if Miller had written about a brooding hawk-visaged loner carrying off a young woman to his lonely castle . . . Well, I didn’t read those either, unless you count Jane Eyre, which is a great book for adolescent girls.

About Joanne


  1. Independent George says:

    I thought Miller had managed to make sex boring.

    That was pretty much my reaction to ‘Lady Chatterly’s Lover’; it’s the literary equivalent of ‘Showgirls’. I’ve never forgiven DH Lawrence for that; anyone who manages to make sex boring to a fifteen year-old boy has to be a finalist for the ‘worst writer in the history of the English language’ award.

  2. Let’s face it: writers don’t write about happy, well-adjusted people leading happy, well-adjusted lives. Literature and drama are filled with drama, drama requires conflict, and conflict often involves people dealing with some of the more difficult or unsavory aspects of life. Writers have been writing about sex, violence, struggle, and death since…well, since the Epic of Gilgamesh, at least, and that’s as far back as writing goes. But that’s not appropriate for school?

    If schooling has to become so disconnected from life that the issues of utmost importance in life can never be spoken in school, then let’s cut the schooling years short: teach kids to read, write, and calculate, then send them on their way.

  3. I think that having almost any work with recognized literary merit, and Henry Miller, Nabokov, and Lawrence’s works do, as a choice for independent reading and research is fine, but that parents and teachers should have to approve the student’s choice.

    If the parents are cool with it, the work is regarded as a good book, and the teacher is comfortable with the topic, why not let the kids choose?

    (Personally, I don’t want to read papers from high school kids about literary sex for a lot of different reasons, but maybe some folks wouldn’t mind.)

  4. Walter E. Wallis says:

    I have always felt that Catcher in the Rye would have never sold were it not for the bans.

  5. I agree with the idea of differentiating between core (required) novels and independent or choice novels. We should be doing that anyway, regardless of a work’s level of controversy, to better reach students at different ability levels and areas of interest.