I write for young readers, not uptight adults

In September of 2008, believing it to be “inappropriate” reading material for students, a staff member at New Hampshire’s Plymouth High School lodged a complaint with the school’s library in an effort to have John Irving‘s novel, The Hotel New Hampshire, removed from their shelves. Thankfully an internal investigation quickly followed, and an overwhelming vote saw the book reinstated. On a positive note, a decision by the school’s librarian, Pam Harland, to subsequently inform the author’s agent of the situation resulted in the following response from Irving himself.  

Transcript follows.

(Source: An anonymous employee of the library; Image: John Irving, via.)


John Irving
P.O. BOX 757

Pam Harland, Librarian
Plymouth Regional High School
86 Old Ward Bridge Rd.
Plymouth, NH 03264-1299

November 4, 2008

Dear Ms. Harland:

My wife and agent showed me your letter, and I commend your efforts to keep “The Hotel New Hampshire” available to young readers at the Plymouth Regional High School Library. Thank you! Thank you, too, for contacting me; it’s often the only way I hear about efforts to ban my books. To my knowledge, only three of my novels have been successfully banned—”The World According to Garp,” “The Cider House Rules,” and “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” (All for different reasons.) I recently spoke at a school library in Massachusetts during Banned Books Week, and I will speak this coming Sat., Nov. 8, at a public lecture for the Nashville Public Library in Tennessee—once again on the subject of banned books.

I enclose five other books of mine, signed to the Plymouth Regional High School Library. I feel they are in good hands!

I know that you already know this, because you read my novels, but in my stories there is often a young person at risk, or taken advantage of; many of my stories are about how innocence fares in the adult world. I take the side of young people, but I am also a realist; it is especially offensive to me when an uptight adult suggests that my stories are “inappropriate” for young readers. I imagine, when I write, that I am writing for young readers—not for uptight adults.

I thank you for having the courage to stand up for a novel that is utterly sympathetic to young people. As you know, the last so-called Hotel New Hampshire (at the end of the novel) is, in reality, a rape-crisis center, a place to counsel victims—most of whom are young. I wonder if the staff member who found my novel offensive actually read that far, or if the incest issue—or the sexual explicitness, of the four-letter words in the dialogue—was sufficient to impede their progress. (Real readers finish books, and then judge them; most people who propose banning a book haven’t finished it. In fact, no one who actually banned Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses” even read it.)

With my heartfelt best wishes,

(Signed, ‘John Irving’)