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UPDATE: The Depew School Board voted unanimously to keep "Looking for Alaska" in the curriculum; more than 99% of parents allowed their kids to read the book, and it was taught without incident or complaint. Huzzah!

In which John argues that his novel "Looking for Alaska" is not pornographic and should not be removed from the curriculum at Depew High School.


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A Bunny
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Good morning, Hank. It's Wednesday, January 30th and today's video comes to you in one part. Part one: I am not a pornographer.

Hank, you may remember that almost three years ago my first novel, Looking for Alaska, was published. I just found out that Looking for Alaska is about to be taught to 11th-grade English students at Depew High School, outside of Buffalo, New York. Alaska is taught in a lot of English classes around the country, but it's still pretty awesome to hear that someone is gonna like, teach your book in a regular English class, and people are gonna read it closely and think hard about it.

So here's what happened. Because there are a few scenes in Looking for Alaska that some people find controversial, the Depew High School administrators and English teachers got together, and they wrote a letter saying, "We're gonna teach this book. We think it's pretty good. If you're okay with your kid being taught this book, please sign this permission slip, otherwise the kid will read some other book." So parents who are cool with their kids reading Looking for Alaska get to have their kids read Looking for Alaska, and parents who aren't cool with it get to have their kids read some other book.

But there were a few people who weren't happy with this solution. These people didn't actually have kids who are in the 11th grade... but no matter. They think my book is pornographic and that it will cause immoral thoughts and actions in children. These people believe that no one should be allowed to read the book, even those people whose parents signed the permission slip. 


Now Hank, it's no secret that I like for things to be about me, but this really isn't. Still, I have to tell you that when you're told that the novel that you wrote for teenagers is pornography, you start to feel a little bit, mmm... mad. I don't know exactly what it is that bothers me about that characterization. I mean, it's not the -ography. I wouldn't be mad if someone was like, 'We must get this book out of our classrooms; it's full of geography!' Or, 'No teenager should ever have to read this disgusting work of lexicography.'
   No Hank, it's not the -graphy that bothers me. It's the porn. Pornography is designed to titillate. Hank, I don't think there's a single halfway-normal person in the world who would find a single thing in my book in anyway arousing. There is one very frank sex scene. It is awkward, un-fun, disastrous, and wholly unerotic. Hank, the whole reason that scene in question exists in Looking for Alaska is because I wanted to draw contrast between that scene, when there is a lot of physical intimacy but it's ultimately very emotionally empty, and the scene that immediately follows it, when there is not a serious physical interaction, but there's this intense emotional connection.

The argument here is that physical intimacy can never stand in for emotional closeness. And that when teenagers attempt to conflate these ideas, it inevitably fails. Hank, it doesn't take a deeply critical understanding of literature to realize that Looking for Alaska is arguing against vapid physical interactions, not for them.

Now, Hank, some people are gonna say that kids don't have the critical sophistication when they're reading to understand that. And I have a message for those people. Shut up and stop condescending to teenagers. Do you seriously think that teenagers aren't able to read critically? When they read George Orwell's Animal Farm, do they head out to the pig farms to kill all the pigs because they're about to become communist autocrats? When they read Huck Finn, do they think that Huck should turn Jim in because the demented conscience of the community says so? When they read Waiting for Godot, do they think that it's cool to just sit around and do nothing? Well, probably they do actually; that one doesn't really work toward my point.

Now obviously, Hank, I don't think that a few parents should get to decide what the kids of other parents read in school. Those parents are qualified to sign or not sign that permission slip as they see fit. And to speak frankly Hank, it also pisses me off when small groups of well-organized would-be book banners try to take over America's public school systems. Now fortunately, in Depew, there are a lot of teachers and school administrators and school board members who are standing up for my book and for the right of teachers to teach it, and for the right of parents to choose to have it taught to their kids.

But Hank, sometimes these people who make stands for intellectual freedom can feel like they're going it alone. Which is why I'd like to ask from the bottom of my heart that any nerdfighters that live in or around Depew go to the school board meeting on February 5th. (Info in the sidebar.) Also, I've written a letter in defense of the teachers who would like to teach my book. If you'd like to write a letter, send it to sparksflyup at Gmail dot com and I'll be sure to forward it on. Hank, thanks to you and all the nerdfighters in advance for your emails.