Showing posts with label book banning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book banning. Show all posts

Monday, October 9, 2023

A Case For Book-Banning

Maybe Florida and Texas are actually advancing education in the U.S. in spite of their Know-Nothing education policies. It may be a canny plot to advance literacy the Alice in Wonderland way — by walking backwards.

For my entire there have always been people agitating to remove allegedly pernicious literature from the library shelves, or preventing it from getting there in the first place. When I was a child, Nancy Drew books were not to be found in the library because they weren’t ‘literature’ according to the eminences of the Brooklyn Public Library. Neither were comic books on the list of acceptable literature.


Another less high-minded reason was that money and space are constrained resources, and these books were widely available at low prices — Nancy Drew books were a dollar and comics were 12 cents — so it wasn’t as if they weren’t easy to get. They’re like bodice rippers and airport thrillers today; which, in my opinion; aren't the public library’s responsibility to stock. (But don’t get me started. I also don’t think 3-D printers, cosplay conventions and craft vodka tastings — I am not making this up — are within the mission of a public library, either.)


The fact that the library didn’t stock Nancy Drew didn’t stop me — nor anyone else — from reading The Mystery of Larkspur Lane. As soon as a new Nancy Drew came out, I could be found combing the neighborhood dime stores and candy stores.* If the books couldn’t be found within my childhood radius of operations, I would torment my parents for field trips further abroad. My brother had a similar devotion to comic books.


My parents view of it was that everyone had the right to read whatever they wanted, and reading was our principal family activity. We discussed books over dinner. Every night. We always read, or were read to, before going to sleep.


My parents were iconoclasts who dismissed the keepers of public virtue and social pieties as non-considerations in one’s reading choices. It runs in the family. My grandfather was once informed that a book my father was reading was on the Catholic Church’s banned book Index. His response was, “so what?”


My father smuggled a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses — then banned in the U.S. — into the country on his return from WWII in 1946. Along with the works of Henry Miller.


Where was I?


Nancy Drew wasn’t in the school library, either, because P.S. 107 didn’t have a library. The branch public library was five blocks away, and the main Brooklyn library was about a mile away. We walked it regularly on Sunday afternoons. And it wasn’t because my parents were educated that this was a regular part of our lives.


Generations of immigrants and their children have found their way to the public library, and in the process became literate and educated. That was the fundamental goal of Andrew Carnegie's national library-building program. While today’s suburban sprawl and car-centricity changes things, perhaps that’s an argument for more public libraries and better transportation, instead of fights over school library shelves.


Now, you might say that we’re not talking about Nancy Drew today; although, given that Nancy had a tomboy “chum” named ‘George,’ I’m not sure our various Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda** would allow it.


One member of today’s regarded-to-be-pernicious literature Index that was in the library is Huckleberry Finn. I’ve read it several times, starting when I was six, when my father read it to me. It also used to be required reading in high school along with The Scarlet Letter.


Since the 1970s, partisans have been agitating to keep anyone from reading it, or to at least to bowdlerize it if they can’t eject Mark Twain from the world’s canon of great literature.


It used to be the Left agitating for Twain’s masterpiece to be canceled. Their reason was, first, its prolific use of a Word That Cannot Be Said. Second, it wasn’t an overtly anti-slavery novel like Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Third, that young readers might prefer Huckleberry Finn to improving works like Click Clack Moo where Farmer Brown’s cows get a printing press and go on strike (I am not making this up).


Unlike left-wing critics of Huckleberry Finn, today’s right-wing critics want to ban Huckleberry Finn for its truly subversive message.


Language isn’t their problem. They like the prolific use of the Word That Cannot Be Said. Ron DeSantis would likely say that it’s an important English noun, describing people whose great success in life began in the slave cabins of Alabama, and that was cancelled by vaccinated woke transgender drag queen abortionists who want to drink our children’s blood.


What they object to is, first, a hero who embodies a direct attack on “good” society and its pieties. Second, this anti-hero evidences far more moral behavior than the pillars of good society. 


Third, Huck treats Jim as a human being; thereby attacking an economic system built on treating people as agricultural property, like plows. Reading this could lead impressionable youngsters to think that the wretched of today's earth that reach the U.S. border are also human beings deserving of compassion and humane treatment. And the next thing you know, they might start thinking that gay people should have the same rights as straight people.


They’re right that Huckleberry Finn is a dangerous book. It may cause young readers to question the accepted pieties and immoralities of their own times, and “light out for the territories,” both intellectual and geographic.


They might decide to blow off the SATs and not give rat's ass about going to a "good" college. They might regard immigration as a complex problem not amenable to walls, slogans or easy solutions, or question the wisdom of needle exchanges.


Getting back to the main point: How does this advance literacy?

Quite simply, there is nothing more attractive to children and adolescents than something adults forbid them to do. My mother strenuously objected to my eating candy as a child. Hence, a part of my allowance was always devoted to penny candy. Artificially colored and flavored candy. The kind with red dye #40. Candy that incarnated all my mother’s objections to junk food. If I had enough for a coke to go with it, so much the better.


A surefire way to get young people to read may be to forbid them to do it. They will put all their juvenile ingenuity into acquiring the Forbidden Book, thereby learning useful research methods and improving their critical thinking. There are important lessons here beyond reading the book.


In any case, they’ll be well-prepared for battle when leftists try to ban Pride and Prejudice for portraying the lives of England’s landowning gentry instead of the horrors of emerging industrialism, and rightists want to ban it because one of its characters elopes with a soldier without getting married first.


I predict that would cause an explosion of interest in Pride and Prejudice, and every teenager would have a copy on their smartphone.


* “Candy” stores in New York used to be newsstands under a roof that additionally sold penny candy, cold soda, cigarettes, cigars, and, sometimes series books like Nancy Drew and The Bobsey Twins.

**Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda