Is It Perfectly Normal? Shhhhh! We’re Speaking of Sex!

Reporting Live from Sweden: Bill Taverner (Where in the World is Bill Taverner?)

On Sunday I visited a local Swedish library in search of some free wi fi. It was difficult to find an open table where I could work, since the library was packed. I was surprised, because it was a Sunday. Now that I think about it, I suppose I am surprised that a library was even open on a Sunday. Ever find a library open on Sunday in the United States? Religiously influenced “blue laws” carried from previous centuries still prevent many public facilities in the U.S. from operating on Sunday.

Not a problem here! I plugged in and fired up my laptop, my complicated set of international electrical adapters signaled “tourist” to anyone who was watching. My Swedish colleagues weren’t watching, though — they were immersed in their own work. Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful in hooking up to wi fi. I received a full page of Swedish instructions, presumably for signing up as a library member, which would entitle me to use wi fi. It was a Catch-22 of sorts. I needed to access Google Translate in order to figure out what the instructions were asking of me. And, in order to access Google Translate, I needed wi fi. With my brain spinning from this paradox, I decided to go explore the library.

My first thought was to look up what Robie Harris’ book It’s Perfectly Normal — the wonderful book about puberty —to see what it might look like in Swedish. I’m pleased to say I successfully navigated the Swedish version of the Dewey Decimal system, and, in fact, found several titles by Robie Harris. The one that had the same cover as It’s Perfectly Normal was titled Pä Tal om Sex. Of course I was able to translate that last word pretty easily, but then it struck me…hmm…there’s no “sex” in It’s Perfectly Normal. I walked over to a librarian and asked, “What does this title mean?”. She replied, “Speaking of Sex.” It seems the Swedes need no convincing at all that puberty and sex are perfectly normal — it’s a given here. The American title would not have made any sense, even if translated.

But that wasn’t the only thing that was different about this book. There were hundreds of nicks and tears on the cover. It looked like it had been checked out a bazillion times, much in contrast to the pristine copy in my local library. Some libraries don’t even have a copy! It’s been on conservatives’ list of banned books for years, despite the innumerable awards and accolades the book has received from leading book journal reviews. In Maine a few years ago, a patron stole the library’s copy, and refused to return it, declaring that she was saving children from the book’s “sexually graphic, amoral, abnormal contents”. I suppose she thought she was doing the ethical thing by sending the library a check for $20.95 to cover the cost of her book banning spree. But the library returned the check, and demanded the return of the book. See the story here:

I told the librarian, “You know, this book is controversial in the United States.” She replied, “Not here. Here it is very popular.” Later, I told my Swedish colleagues about the controversial nature of the book, and the story of it being banned in some places. They sat in stunned silence. You see, it’s perfectly normal here.