Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Deseret Book Refuses to Carry The Scorch Trials

by Julie Coulter Bellon

It was announced last week that Deseret Book has declined to carry James Dashner’s new book, The Scorch Trials, saying that the book, “contains language that some of our customers would find offensive.” The book is geared toward teenagers and contains the word “damn,” and also the phrases, “this sucks,” and “shuck it.”

The article brought up several issues that I have been discussing with my writer friends. Some have thought that Deseret Book is dabbling in censorship for readers, but I disagree with this premise. Deseret Book doesn’t carry the book in its stores, but you can special order it there, or you can go to any Barnes and Noble, or Borders, or wherever else to pick it up. In my mind, it’s not censorship at all when the book is still available to be read. There aren’t any book-burning parties here (although that might be a cool launch party premise since the title of the book is “The Scorch Trials.”)

Some also are of the opinion that this is just a publicity stunt to garner more publicity for the book and give it a “I have to read it since it’s got banned book status,” now. I don’t think management at Deseret Book is interested at all in publicity stunts. I believe they sincerely want to be careful of what they stock and how it is perceived. For example, I once met a woman who believed that the LDS church approved each book in Deseret Book so it must be okay to read whatever was on their shelves. While this is not true, I think there is a heavy responsibility placed on the bookstore because of its connection to the church.

Which brings me to the third issue that was brought up---are faux swear words as bad as real ones? When we say “shuck it,” are we really saying something else? Does our mind call up another word even if we’re saying “darn,” or “shoot,” or “fetch,” or “freak?” One of the phrases in “The Scorch Trials,” is “I’m with shuck face,” and one of his fans made a t-shirt with that emblazoned on it. (All I could think of when I heard that was the shirt having a picture of an ear of corn being shucked with a face on it. I know I’m weird. It totally wasn’t like that.) So is it better to say a faux word? And if that is the language that is the reason for it not being carried in Deseret Book, is that some sort of statement on what is or isn’t appropriate in shelved books and in regard to faux swear words?

No matter your opinion on Deseret Book refusing to carry James’ new book, the book itself is doing well. (And the publicity from it not being carried probably helped out a bit as well). The books that have been released in the Maze Runner trilogy are New York Times bestsellers and are being sold throughout the world. It is going to be made into a movie. I think James Dashner is a talented author who has earned incredible opportunities in the writing world because of his hard work and perseverance. I’m thrilled with his success. I might just be one of those in line at my nearest Deseret Book to order Scorch Trials. Or, I might just go to Barnes and Noble and buy one same day. Whatever method is chosen, I know I’m going to read it so I can see what happens in the story. Here’s a blurb on the Maze Runner, the first book in the trilogy:

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade—a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every 30 days a new boy has been delivered in the lift.

Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up—the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers.
Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets buried within his mind.

Now do you see why I want to read The Scorch Trials?

To read an excerpt of the book, or to read more about The Scorch Trials you can go to James’ website here

If you want to read the article on Deseret Book’s decision and see a picture of James hanging out in a Barnes and Noble writing, then go here.


At 12/16/2010 5:37 PM, Blogger Tamera Westhoff said...

It's one thing to use words to replace swear words, but when you use words that close to the swear word, I think it's just like saying the swear word. I think it's great that Deseret Book put their foot down. Maybe it will help those that are writing the books realize that we don't want to read those words. Are they really necessary?

At 12/16/2010 5:38 PM, Blogger Steve Westover said...

Julie, I agree. I appreciate the DB is cautious about what they carry since it does reflect on church standards, and NO, it is not censorship.

"Shuck face" does conjur another phrase in my mind. In my personal life, I try to avoid alternate swear words. But most people think I'm a bit strict. Oh-- my poor kids.

At 12/16/2010 6:07 PM, Blogger Michael Knudsen said...

Congrats to James. The truth is, he doesn't NEED DB to continue his success at this point, so he shouldn't sweat it too much.

I just heard today that my novel The Rogue Shop (reviewed so graciously by Stephanie Black yesterday) was approved for DB. That's a huge win for me, because the book (100% written for the LDS market) would be next to dead without that shelf space. It's also mildly surprising, since the text contains the word "crap", the phrase "old fart", and a scene of underage drinking (portrayed, of course, in a very negative light). Is that pushing the DB envelope?

At 12/16/2010 7:54 PM, Blogger James Dashner said...

Thanks for the nice words, Julie!

I have the utmost respect for DB, as well as their decision. They can do whatever they feel is best for their customers. And it IS true that there's no such thing as bad publicity. haha

One thing I think is interesting to think about:

Generally speaking (not in relation to the DB decision), why is it bad to use colorful language, within reason? It doesn't mean the author condones it in any way. Lots of people are murdered in my books. Does that mean I condone murder? I'm just a storyteller who creates fictional but hopefully believable characters, and sometimes people use words other than "golly."

I also base it on my audience. I would never use such words in The 13th Reality, but they are perfectly acceptable in a young adult/teen book. And if i wrote an adult novel, I would probably use even harsher language.

I guess I'm just always bothered by the whole notion that extreme violence is okay, but language is not. I would much rather my kid say a bad word than slit someone's throat.

Now, I'm just being facetious, mostly. But it's something to think about.

Thanks for the post about my book, and Merry Christmas!

At 12/16/2010 10:43 PM, Blogger Taffy said...

While the word "shuck" bothered me in both books, the violence and death bothered me more.
And that it's a trilogy drives me crazy! :)

DB is a business and they made a business decision. It had to be a hard one too because of the money involved!

Good luck to James! He is a hard worker and a great writer.

At 12/17/2010 12:36 AM, Anonymous Th. said...


I don't know. Murder doesn't generally become habit-forming but bad language does, so I think I might have to vote for murder. But that's just me.

At 12/17/2010 10:18 AM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

To Th's point, I once heard a movie critic explain why Americans (and the MPAA) tolerate lots of violence in movies, but are much less tolerant of nudity: when you see gore and blood in a movie, that's fake gore and blood, but when you see a naked woman, that's a real naked woman. So, one is fake immorality and the other is real immorality. I can see (to a lesser extent) the same philosophy applying to language.

That said, my upcoming book has a little bit of language in it (though very mild). I don't generally mind a few swear words in a book.

At 12/17/2010 6:20 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Thanks for everyone's thoughts and comments and especially to James for dropping by! Lots of food for thought.

At 12/17/2010 6:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting. If you’d ever feel safe about staying anonymous, it might be worth going on and mentioning that the Lord’s name is taken in vain in the book, too. That’s the real sticky point for us, to be completely honest. That’ll get a book declined everytime.

At 12/17/2010 6:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suppose most on this site view the DB decision on James' book from an authors point of view. He writes stories. Sometimes his story demands a colorful word.

Some have put on the DB management hat and wondered what it would be like to have to balance the business with the expectation that DB won't sell stuff the customer can't trust.

What about the customer? When I walk into deseret Book, I want to feel safe. I want to feel like I've left the rest of the shopping world behind and entered a special shopping district. There aren't any shelves I have to avoid. There is a sense that wherever I roam, wherever I cast my eyes, where ever I let my mind wander, I'll be uplifted, inspired, humored, educated, and enobled. I assume that no matter what I purchase and take home, it can be trusted.

I don't want to have to read a DB product from cover to cover to make sure its okay for my teenager. And when my teen points some shukster language or tells me that hey, they killed this guy with hook and ripped him apart, I'm thinking, I went to DB to get something that didn't have shukster language or hooks tearing people apart and I ended up giving it to my kid. So then I'm a little miffed or maybe even ticked. Especially if I have a teen who I'm trying to maybe influence to stop using profanities or to give up the violent video games for more peacable things. And even worse, if I have a teen I'm trying to convince that there really are people in this world who don't swear and don't glamorize immorality and violence. People you can trust. Really. There are. And then I give them a book with less than trustworthy stuff in it and I'm back at sqaure one, defending the indefensible.

So forgive me, the faceless father in the crowd at Deseret Book, if I happen to stick my head into the manager's office and offer a few comments about the stuff they're selling. Maybe even tell the manager that hey, when I buy from you I don't want to have to read cover-to-cover just to make sure this is a product I can trust. I have to keep my guard up twenty four seven out here in the real world. Is there no place where I can let my guard down? Just for one gift?

At 12/17/2010 8:07 PM, Anonymous Carl said...

While I haven't read the book in question, I'd like the anonymous commenter to address the bigger issue. One person's "safe" is another person's "puritanical".

I think it's a bit disturbing that your reason for wanting Deseret Book to be "safe" is so you can abdicate your responsibilities as a parent. Don't rely on the business to tell you what's safe, and don't push the business into conforming to your narrow definition of "safe". I wonder what other great works of literature you'd care to shield your children from.

At 12/18/2010 9:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So saying "oh, shucks!" is a bad thing? Who knew?!

At 12/18/2010 4:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I’m not convinced that I'm abdicating my responsibilities as a parent because I'd like to believe that the stuff I buy from Deseret Book is without profanity, and without gratuitous immorality or violence. What’s the basis of your argument for such a comment?

And though you're tight to point out that one man's safe is another man's puritanical, I think that profanity, and gratuitous immorality or violence is a line in the sand that I, like a majority of Mormons, choose not to cross. It's also important to note that I'm not a lone. It just so happens that crossing those lines is something a majority of Mormon parents choose not to promote to their kids. I’m having a hard time figuring out how that could be considered censorship or over protective.

Forgive me if I'm puritanical to say there are books that are not worth reading. Lots of them. There are books that drag your mind through gutters, sometimes endlessly, while still possessing terrific pros, great plot lines, thought provoking ideas, and a killer climax. There are lots of terrific, talented authors who produce stunningly great novels. I'm not advocating for any censorship standard (CS) or board of literature purity (BLP) beyond personal agency (PA), but agency functions on a foundation of gospel truth. Not all of the stunning novels written by talent-laden authors are worth the rubbish that ruminates in your mind long after the story line fades. They just aren't. And I’m not witch hunting to point that out, nor am I an overbearing parent to gift to my children a sense of those values in the books I read and the books I recommend.

Or the ones Santa places in their stocking.

At 12/18/2010 5:13 PM, Anonymous Carl said...


My point about you abdicating your responsibilities as a parent comes directly from your previous comment, where you said: "I don't want to have to read a DB product from cover to cover to make sure its okay for my teenager." In other words, you want a store to make the decision of what's morally okay for your kids. How is that not abdicating responsibility?

When you say you're not advocating for a censorship standard, I don't know how that correlates with everything else you've said. You've decided what you think a moral book should exclude, and you've told Deseret Book to only carry books that fit your standard. How is that not a censorship standard, with you making the censorship recommendations?(You've also made the completely impossible to prove claim that the majority of Mormons agree with your standard. The fact that all of us commenting on this blog are also Mormons and parents doesn't seem to strike you as possibly contradictory?)

And doesn't it strike you as odd that works that don't fit your moral standard ("without profanity, and without gratuitous immorality or violence") are consistently quoted in General Conference? Don't you think there's a little bit of graphic violence in Hamlet or MacBeth? A little profanity in the books of Charles Dickens? And don't forget that in the last conference President Monson himself quoted both Aldous Huxley and William H. Davies' The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp. So, should the prophet not be reading such things? Or should he just not be buying them at Deseret Book? (You've already stated that "terrific pros [sic], great plot lines, thought provoking ideas, and a killer climax" do not redeem these types of profane, violent and immoral books.)

At 12/18/2010 8:41 PM, Blogger Steve Westover said...

This is getting a little heated. It is too bad we can't have disagreements without getting personal. The bottom line is DB can carry what they want and as readers we all draw our own lines for what is acceptable and what isn't. My line will be different than yours.

I am reading Dashners books and will continue but it doesn't mean I expect DB to carry it. And while I'm not thrilled with the swearing alternatives he uses, I am glad he avoids foul language.

By the way, if you think you need to sign on as anonymous, you might need to reconsider your comment

At 12/19/2010 12:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is NOT abdicating your responsibilities as a parent to look for a bookstore that sells cleaner books!!!! I seriously can't go around reading EVERY SINGLE BOOK my FOUR children read before they read it. That might require more than eight hours a week and if you add it to the idea that I would have to watch every single program on TV before they did and monitor everything else in their life so I'm not oblivious to their social life and their homework life etc.
So I have to:
1. Help them learn to choose for themselves.
2. Read some of what they read and discuss it with them.
3. Buy them appropriate types of books so that they know that they exist.
I am VERY happy that Deseret Book is trying to keep a standard. I'm sure there are things that might squeak by that some people object to and things that might be declined that some people think should have been let through. I'm not interested in quibbling about the exact standard. I'm interested in there being a place where there is an expectation of a standard.
Thank you to Deseret Book.
And thank you to authors everywhere that try to write good stories and try to write with themes and subjects and characters that are worthwhile for children or adults.

At 12/19/2010 12:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

btw I'm a different anonymous

At 12/19/2010 12:58 AM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

I've really appreciated this discussion and all the opinions expressed. As the mother of eight children I try to be very cognizant of what my children are reading, but the reality is, I can't read every single book they read. We do have a family book club, however, and we discuss the books they are reading, themes, plots, things they like and things they don't. I also usually look for reviews online (I love Goodreads) so I have some idea of what each book is about. But honestly, I don't expect a bookstore to set a standard for our family's books. I am just as careful about books that we buy at Deseret Book as we are about books we buy at Barnes and Noble. I know that there are books that I don't want my 12 year old to read, but that would probably be okay for my 14 or 16 year old to read. I think that a parent has to make reading choices with their children and no one knows what an individual child can or can't handle except for that child and their parent.

In my opinion, no bookstore policy, no matter how strict or "good" will ever substitute for a parent's guidance and interest.

At 12/19/2010 2:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course a bookstore policy is not a substitute for a parent's guidance or interest. However, it Deseret Book tries to have a basic "filter" that is helpful to many people.
They know who their customer is and try to please the customer. There are many other bookstores that make everything available. Deseret Book tries to cater to the Mormon readers.
When you go to a bakery you expect to have the menu items be bakery things. If you go to a butcher shop you expect to have certain things there. That is what we are talking about.
Someone perusing DB shelves expects to find shelves lined with what DB usually tries to sell.
I believe this can be a "helpful tool" for parents, I don't think most parents think it absolves them of responsibility.

At 12/19/2010 10:21 AM, Anonymous Carl said...

While I continue to strongly disagree, I would like to apologize for getting hot-headed earlier. I know we're all trying to do what's right, both for ourselves and for our children, and I apologize for my personal attacks.

At 12/19/2010 12:15 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

As I said in my blog, I know that Deseret Book tries very hard to have standards when it comes to books because of their association with the church. The bottom line is they are a business. They carry what makes them money.

And, of course, their "filters" don't catch everything. They sold the Twilight series through until the end even though there were many complaints about sensuality and morality issues. Of course they eventually pulled them off the shelves after the last book came out. Why trust someone else's filter?

All I'm saying is that you can't think Deseret Book will filter everything for you. They try, it's true, but even they don't catch everything. You have to be actively involved yourself, whether as an individual or a parent.

At 12/19/2010 1:56 PM, Anonymous Moriah Jovan said...

I usually lurk, and I was going to leave this alone, because I wanted to say something sarcastic about violence versus language, but this caught me:

This is getting a little heated. It is too bad we can't have disagreements without getting personal.

I think is important. It's heated because it's ALREADY a deeply personal topic.

The fact is that many, many members see DB as an arm of the church and don't want to see stuff they can get in any B&N. I get that.

As for wanting a safe place to shop, well... Being a parent is exhausting enough. DB seems like an oasis of peace in a chaotic world where parents can set their harried, exhausted psyches down so they can rest.

it might be worth going on and mentioning that the Lord’s name is taken in vain in the book, too. That’s the real sticky point for us, to be completely honest. That’ll get a book declined everytime.

Ah, well... That's a different kettle o' fish altogether. I would EXPECT a book that did that to be excluded from DB's content, even faster than an F-bomb (or faux F-bomb).

In any case, I've been watching this debate with some interest for a while now and while I can see both sides of the equation (and have my opinions on each), it comes down to this:

a) people are tired of being on guard all the time and

b) DB is seen as (if not directly marketed as) an arm of the church, thus

c) the feeling of being "safe" is its raison d'etre.

Nobody wants to be ambushed in their reading.

And it works the other way, too: My mother (the Queen of Clean) won't buy books from DB because she never found one that was well-written, so she gave up years ago. In some members' minds, DB retains the image of clean, but badly written morality tales and they don't want that any more than they want well-written tales of hedonistic mayhem.

In my case, I don't shop at DB for the express reason that (writing quality aside) in everything I've read from DB, everybody always makes the right choices and are perfectly obedient and are blessed for it OR (what really peeves me) people's grievances and sorrows are blown off as if they were a minor head cold.

(There, now I've given everybody some more sweeping generalizations to jump all over. Have fun!)

At 12/27/2010 12:55 PM, Anonymous Chas Hathaway said...

I only got about halfway through Scorch Trials. Extremely entertaining - which is why I made it halfway. But the violence and gore became too much for me personally. I don't like the way that stuff makes me feel. It's too bad, too, because James is an amazing author!

Oh, well.


At 1/04/2011 5:27 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

Wow, did I ever miss out on the debate.

It's all been said, so I'll just reply to Moriah on one thing--I don't know what books you've read, but characters always making the right decisions doesn't sound *anything* like the LDS fiction I know (and I read a lot of it, thanks to the Whitney).

Not remotely. For that matter, in my last novel, a lot of people make a lot of stupid decisions.


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