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Forbidden Mail

A couple weeks ago, I received my first e-mail from a concerned parent about More Forbidden Knowledge. Honestly, with a title like that, I’d have figured on more outrage in my inbox by now, but I’m happy to be wrong on that point.

The woman had some real, if misguided, concerns, and I did my best to answer them. You can read the entire exchange below. I’ve only removed the e-mail addresses and last names. The text of the letters is intact.

Dear Matt,

I came across your book, More Forbidden Knowledge, in my office at a junior high school. It was found in the hands of one of our 7th grade students. I must say that I am extremely concerned about the content in this book, particularly for this age group.

I read on the back cover that you are the father to five children, and my jaw further dropped. I am the parent of two children myself, and would not want my daughter reading about how to become a stripper, nor my son reading about how to find a G spot. I realize that this book is certainly not intended for children/early adolescents. However, many kids gravitate (at light speed) towards anything “forbidden.”

Just from one parent to another, I ask, why would you have any involvement in this sort of book whatsoever? Our society is sadly messed up as it is, with children looking for advise, role-models, a “how to” manual for daily living. This book could severely harm many of our young minds

I have never in my life attempted to contact an author, but felt compelled to do so today. I work daily to try to reinforce good decision-making in children so that they can hope to be able to obey our laws and be able to take care of themselves as adults. I see this book as counterproductive to the work of any person who cares about children and young adults.

My hope is that you will read this and seriously consider how your actions, as a published author will affect readers of all ages. It looks as though you have an incredible opportunity through your readers. Are you doing your best as a person to make our world a better place?

Sincerely,

Eileen

Hi Eileen:

Thanks for your note. I’m sorry that you feel that More Forbidden Knowledge isn’t a worthwhile book. Admittedly, it’s only purpose is to perhaps satisfy the reader’s curiosity and to make people laugh. While that’s not bound to change the world, it can at least bring smiles to a few faces.

If you’ve read the book, you’ll see that it’s written very tongue-in-cheek, with only about 300 words devoted to each topic. This is not a how-to manual but a rough and humorous overview of a variety outrageous topics. As you note, it’s not meant for kids, and it is filed under “Humor” in the book store.

I do understand your concerns. I voiced them myself when I was approached to write the book, as the title and subjects are provocative. I have several young children, and I wouldn’t let them read such a book at their ages.

Just because I’m a parent, though, doesn’t mean that I’m not an adult or that I don’t or shouldn’t write books for other adults. I write a wide variety of different sorts of books, ranging from fantasy tales for 8-12 year olds to how-to-draw manuals to over-the-top action stories for adults. Each of them is meant to entertain a particular audience.

I’m fairly protective of my own kids, and I don’t sometimes feel comfortable about what many parents allow their children to read, watch, or play. Just as often, I don’t agree with what other parents teach their kids about the world, whether by example or word. However, those parents know their kids better than anyone else, and I respect their right to raise their children as they see fit.

For my kids, I encourage them to read widely and to be inquisitive about any subjects that pique their interest. When the day comes that they wish to read this book—or any other book they might pick up—and I feel they’re ready for it, I’ll hand it to them, talk to them about it, and ask them to let me know if they have any questions.

As for whether or not I’m doing my best to make the world a better place, I can’t say. I’m politically active. I mentor a high-school student. I support my wife in her work as a school social worker. And I love my kids and try to raise them the best I can. In the meantime, I help feed my family by entertaining people, taking their minds off their problems, and sometimes even getting them to think. For me, at least, that’s enough at the moment.

Take care,

Matt

Hi Matt,

Thank you so much for taking time to respond, and now I dare to ask if you will kindly read just a few more points.

I know that you are not in control of the hands/minds that the content of your books go into, and that it is the responsibility of the parents to make those choices for their children. I’m sure you must hear similar stories from your wife’s work with children–stories of those children who are not parented well or parented at all. Those are the kids for whom I am most concerned each day. My students are 11-13 years old, and some would take the content of your book for gospel (stealing credit card numbers, build and use a beer bong, get hit by a car and survive, etc.). They are the type of children that are at-risk in every way, and seem to be always looking for more trouble to get into.

From one parent to another, and one person to another, I am asking you to consider what you are “putting out there” when you write. I know that I have absolutely no business telling you these things, yet I am totally stepping out of my own comfort zone to do so because I felt so strongly about your book as I paged through it. You have a gift and an audience (either intended or not). When you voiced concerns upon being approached to write this book, that may have been a sign to pay attention to (sorry, the counselor in me cannot ever overlook any references to personal insight).

I know that you read my first email, and gave thought to your response…I honestly didn’t know if you’d even read it. My purpose for replying this time is to let you know that there is at least one person out there who is concerned about the words that you put on paper (I know there is a whole industry out there doing things I am greatly opposed to). I promise that I am not a crazy, stalking, unstable person who is trying to give you a hard time. I am a wife, mother, counselor, and a woman of great faith, who believes strongly that we each have a purpose in life. I know this may sound corny, but I truly do strive to do something each day to make this world a better place. Today, I felt as though I couldn’t just read some of the items in your book and not voice my opinion.

I thank you for taking the time to read this email, and wish you and your family well.

Sincerely,

Eileen

Hi Eileen:

My apologies for taking so long to respond. We’ve had quite a week around here.

Thanks again for your note. I do understand your concerns, although I don’t feel they’re warranted. I’m glad that you spend your days striving to make the world a better place. I do too, although my methods differ.

As a teenager, I did plenty of silly things, and I didn’t need an book to show me how. In fact, reading a humorous book that pointed out how ridiculous some of those things can be might have helped me think about the consequences beforehand and avoid them.

As a school social worker, my wife works with a high-risk population of kids every day, and I discussed the book with her before I wrote it. These kids have far bigger problems in their lives than the chance that they might sit down with even the most ridiculous book. If a provocative title and humorous text manage to get them to actually read, I don’t think that hurts them or anyone else around them.

Again, thanks for your note. I’m always glad to know when my writing moves anyone, no matter the direction.

Take care,

Matt

Comments 12

  1. Matt,

    Let me say that your responses to the concerned emails are eloquent and exactly the kind of dialogue that needs to take place in a situation like this. I, like you, understand this teacher’s concerns. They are real and are rooted in a genuine desire to help the children she works with, and that is a wonderful thing.

    I do find myself drawn particularly to one comment that you wrote in your second letter that I think needs some extension, “In fact, reading a humorous book that pointed out how ridiculous some of those things can be might have helped me think about the consequences beforehand and avoid them.” I would add that reading a book that discusses, even humorously, a subject like “stealing credit cards” or “how to get hit by a car and survive” are actually beneficial to society.

    I know it sounds counter-intuitive at first, but hear me out. I own a couple of books, one called “How to Cheat at Everything” and the other called “How to Become a Professional Con Artist.” In point of fact, I own several books about the “grift.” I myself would never use any of the information in these books to take advantage of another person, but I will use this information to protect myself. The point is when you write a book that contains information about how to steal a credit card number, you are also informing honest people how that information might be stolen. The vast majority of people are honest and thus would benefit from reading about this subject. So, the book you have written may very well directly benefit individuals in society.

    That point doesn’t really address the concerns of Eileen in particular, just the broader question of “can this book do any good?” Eileen is concerned with the well being of the young student she found in possession of the book. I actually think that she is writing to the wrong audience here. Whether I agree with all of her points are not, I think she should be talking/writing to the student’s parents. They are likely the ones who purchased the book for the student. If they didn’t, then they might be as surprised as Eileen. This is a chance for a great dialogue with the student.

    Why not say, “[Seventh Grade Student] what interests you most about this book? Is there anything you think is inappropriate in this book?” I think that this is an ideal, “learning moment.” Maybe it’s the Platonist in me, but I think this is the perfect time to begin discussing what constitutes “the Good” with the student. Not from an authoritarian position, that rarely has great results, but from a concerned and mentoring position. Eileen could even offer alternatives to the “More Forbidden Knowledge.” Maybe the student is interested in ciphers and codes, spy equipment, or mentalist magic tricks. Maybe the student wants to know something that others don’t know in the sense that he/she wants an “edge” in life. An age appropriate book on economics might open the student’s eyes to a whole new world.

  2. Matt,

    Let me say that your responses to the concerned emails are eloquent and exactly the kind of dialogue that needs to take place in a situation like this. I, like you, understand this teacher’s concerns. They are real and are rooted in a genuine desire to help the children she works with, and that is a wonderful thing.

    I do find myself drawn particularly to one comment that you wrote in your second letter that I think needs some extension, “In fact, reading a humorous book that pointed out how ridiculous some of those things can be might have helped me think about the consequences beforehand and avoid them.” I would add that reading a book that discusses, even humorously, a subject like “stealing credit cards” or “how to get hit by a car and survive” are actually beneficial to society.

    I know it sounds counter-intuitive at first, but hear me out. I own a couple of books, one called “How to Cheat at Everything” and the other called “How to Become a Professional Con Artist.” In point of fact, I own several books about the “grift.” I myself would never use any of the information in these books to take advantage of another person, but I will use this information to protect myself. The point is when you write a book that contains information about how to steal a credit card number, you are also informing honest people how that information might be stolen. The vast majority of people are honest and thus would benefit from reading about this subject. So, the book you have written may very well directly benefit individuals in society.

    That point doesn’t really address the concerns of Eileen in particular, just the broader question of “can this book do any good?” Eileen is concerned with the well being of the young student she found in possession of the book. I actually think that she is writing to the wrong audience here. Whether I agree with all of her points are not, I think she should be talking/writing to the student’s parents. They are likely the ones who purchased the book for the student. If they didn’t, then they might be as surprised as Eileen. This is a chance for a great dialogue with the student.

    Why not say, “[Seventh Grade Student] what interests you most about this book? Is there anything you think is inappropriate in this book?” I think that this is an ideal, “learning moment.” Maybe it’s the Platonist in me, but I think this is the perfect time to begin discussing what constitutes “the Good” with the student. Not from an authoritarian position, that rarely has great results, but from a concerned and mentoring position. Eileen could even offer alternatives to the “More Forbidden Knowledge.” Maybe the student is interested in ciphers and codes, spy equipment, or mentalist magic tricks. Maybe the student wants to know something that others don’t know in the sense that he/she wants an “edge” in life. An age appropriate book on economics might open the student’s eyes to a whole new world.

  3. All very well put, Christian. I had some of these thoughts when composing my response but thought I should make my point with Eileen and then move on.

    Also, I didn’t have the heart to tell her that when I was younger I did a number of the things described in the book—and none of those events were inspired by anything I read in a book. Although I understand that kids aren’t often ready for some information until they are old enough to properly understand it, I believe that more information is usually better than less.

  4. Post
    Author

    All very well put, Christian. I had some of these thoughts when composing my response but thought I should make my point with Eileen and then move on.

    Also, I didn’t have the heart to tell her that when I was younger I did a number of the things described in the book—and none of those events were inspired by anything I read in a book. Although I understand that kids aren’t often ready for some information until they are old enough to properly understand it, I believe that more information is usually better than less.

  5. Dear Eileen,

    For your son’s [and his future partner’s] sake, I sure hope he learns about finding the g-spot, whether it from Matt’s fine book, Wikipedia, or any other resource that teaches about things necessary for life.

    love,
    Adam
    PS: You may wish to loan your husband the book, too. Just sayin’.

    Your reply was extra-fine, Matt.

  6. Dear Eileen,

    For your son’s [and his future partner’s] sake, I sure hope he learns about finding the g-spot, whether it from Matt’s fine book, Wikipedia, or any other resource that teaches about things necessary for life.

    love,
    Adam
    PS: You may wish to loan your husband the book, too. Just sayin’.

    Your reply was extra-fine, Matt.

  7. I personally can’t remember any kids turning to the dark side from actually reading anything, even Soldier of Fortune Magazine, which was really cool in 7th grade. I must say that we really didn’t read it as much as looked at the pictures.

    Wait! I remember an incident in high school where a book resulted in a kid getting suspended. Not so much for reading or its content but he hollowed it out and used it for his stash…

    Forbidden Knowledge Alert – If you are failing most of your classes. DON’T show up one day with a two inch thick encyclopedia with a fat rubber band around it. Huge red flag…

  8. I personally can’t remember any kids turning to the dark side from actually reading anything, even Soldier of Fortune Magazine, which was really cool in 7th grade. I must say that we really didn’t read it as much as looked at the pictures.

    Wait! I remember an incident in high school where a book resulted in a kid getting suspended. Not so much for reading or its content but he hollowed it out and used it for his stash…

    Forbidden Knowledge Alert – If you are failing most of your classes. DON’T show up one day with a two inch thick encyclopedia with a fat rubber band around it. Huge red flag…

  9. Excellent, well thought out responses, Matt (I would have expected no less).

    It troubles me greatly that someone would rather keep knowledge hidden than make sure a child knows what to do–and what not to do–with it. Ignorance is rarely beneficial. I wouldn’t give such a book to a child either, but to think that it shouldn’t be made public for fear that a child would find it is just… I don’t have the word. Something that means sad and frightening and appalling and aggravating, all at the same time. Her intentions are obviously good, but wow.

  10. Excellent, well thought out responses, Matt (I would have expected no less).

    It troubles me greatly that someone would rather keep knowledge hidden than make sure a child knows what to do–and what not to do–with it. Ignorance is rarely beneficial. I wouldn’t give such a book to a child either, but to think that it shouldn’t be made public for fear that a child would find it is just… I don’t have the word. Something that means sad and frightening and appalling and aggravating, all at the same time. Her intentions are obviously good, but wow.

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