Note: I’m tidying up the mulch pile, finishing perfectly good musings I never got around to posting on TLV. Waste not want not. Besides, it’s too cold out to go gallivanting around the countryside taking pictures.
Back in October 2012 I trotted into the Elk Rapids Library and was brought up short by swaths of yellow crime scene tape. That will get a person’s attention every time.
Naturally I had to investigate. It turns out that the display–well, “celebrated” isn’t exactly the word–“recognized?”–Banned Books Week.
Other people were curious too. Really? This one too? Why????
Although actual banning has been rare in this country, lots of books have been listed on somebody’s Thous Shalt Not Read list (especially in schools) or excised from public library shelves for a host of reasons, most of them having to do with sex. In a few cases (notably with respect to the Pentagon Papers) the specified reason was national security; in other cases we can thank Political Ideology of every stripe.
I long ago staked out my territory on the First Amendment. I’m for it. All of it, even for ideas I don’t like. So imagine my surprise when I read a story about parents who objected to the inclusion of a particular book on their daughter’s required reading list for a 9th-grade advanced English class–and felt ambivalent. There is a big difference between being allowed to read and having to read. Or is there? There are a great many books that everyone ought to read in school–aren’t there? Conversely, should we not be allowed to opt out of material we find repugnant? (Political robo-calls spring to mind.) While I thought about all of this I decided to read The Glass Castle, the book the parents wanted removed from the list. I dislike arguments about books among people who haven’t read the books. It turns out that I am behind the curve (this happens a lot). The Elk Rapids Library book club read the book in 2009. Lots and lots of other patrons have read it since then. I had to put my name on the wait list, but eventually I got hold of a copy.
It was, in my judgment, a good book: well-written, thought-provoking, moving. It was also full of unflinching depictions of extraordinarily inept and abusive parents. Against all odds, their children (including the author) survive. Mostly they thrive. Thus the claim that this is an inspirational book that can help other youngsters trapped in such circumstances to make good lives for themselves. The trouble is . . . the book doesn’t show how the children managed that transition in nearly the detail that is devoted to how they were traumatized.
Make no mistake, I stand by the First Amendment. The book should not be banned. But should it be required reading? Dunno. That seems to me a judgment about literary quality and cultural importance–judgments I am disinclined to make for other people. Surely a reading list can be rigorous and diverse and leave room for choices? Surely the freedom to read has an implied corollary: the freedom not to read? I leave you with the classic answer from my distant youth.
The answer my friends, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind
That is Louan Lechler, who is not singing Blowin’ in the Wind, but Leelanau County, a song she wrote that is so good we even let her sing it in Antrim County, which deserves its own song but doesn’t have one yet. I digress.