Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Freedom to Read Week: Clelia Scala Reads and Releases Lives of Girls and Women

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Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro in McBurney Park

In support of Freedom to Read Week, the Open Book team participated in the Book Crossing program. Each person selected a book from the Book and Periodical Council's list of challenged books, read it and released it where it will be found by another reader to enjoy and pass on.

Open Book's Editorial Director, Clelia Scala, writes about her choice, Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro.


In 1976, Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro was banned from a high school in Peterborough for being "immoral." In 1978, in Huron County, where Munro grew up and lived as an adult, a local group pressured the school board to remove Lives of Girls and Women from the grade 13 reading list. In 1982, a group of parents in Toronto unsuccessfully petitioned to remove Lives of Girls and Women from the high-school curriculum because of the "language and philosophy of the book." Lives of Girls and Women has been challenged in school districts across Canada.

In a June 1978 interview with CBC's Harry Brown, Munro spoke of the challenges to her book and to other books that were attacked for their sexuality and supposed immorality: "They somehow think that if we don't write about sex, it will disappear, it will go away. They talk about preserving their 17 year old or 18 year old children. Protecting them. Biology doesn't protect them. They don't need to read books."

Books are invaluable for helping readers to understand their own motivations and to inspire conversations that might otherwise be difficult to begin. Books can help readers find solace when they read about experiences similar to their own. In Lives of Girls and Woman, the narrator, Del, deals with unsettling sexual situations, strained friendships, loneliness, consensual sex, peer pressure, alcohol consumption, family relationships, social expectations, poor choices. These strike me as topics that many high school kids are likely grappling with. When I read Lives of Girls and Women in high school, I fell into it: here was a character I could relate to, who would understand me. I read everything by Munro that I could get my hands on.

In the CBC interview, Munro spoke about the dangers of banning books from schools:

I think that as soon as one step is taken you have to start resisting because that makes the next step easier. Though the people who are concerned say that they are not interested in taking books out of libraries or bookstores. I wonder if it's that they are not at this point interested in doing that. Because they are actually removing books from school reading lists, which their children do not have to read, so they are taking them away from other children.

If seems fitting to close our Freedom To Read Week Book Crossing series with Lives of Girls and Women, since it was the challenges to that book in 1978 that inspired the Book and Periodical Council to form the Freedom of Expression Committee. Each year, the committee organizes Freedom to Read Week to remind us all of the importance of being able to read what we choose.

On a recent visit to Kingston, Ontario, where I first read Lives of Girls and Women, I released my copy in McBurney Park (aka Skeleton Park) on a clear-sky February day. Children were in the playground, high school students were gathered in large groups, people walked their dogs.

Clelia Scala, Open Book’s Editorial Director, has been with Open Book since 2007. When not reading CanLit or reading about CanLit, she makes art. She recently illustrated Stephen Cain’s poetry collection, I Can Say Interpellation (BookThug, 2011).

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Thanks to Penguin Canada for donating a copy of Lives of Girls and Women.

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