Book Banning in the Age of Pandemic

Pandemic Diary Day 33

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April 26, 2020

School Board removes books from curriculum — The Mat-su Valley Frontiersman

On Wednesday April 22nd, the Mat-Su Borough School District School Board voted 5–2 to remove five books as well as the use of New York Times from their curriculum.

Here is a list of those books, with a synopsis of their premise. Nowhere could I find specific reasons for these books being banned by the Alaskan school district, other than they were controversial.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, a collection of short stories about a platoon of American soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War based upon his experiences as a soldier in the 23rd Infantry Division.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, an autobiograpy and a coming-of-age story that illustrates how strength of character and a love of literature can help overcome racism and trauma.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller examines the absurdity of war and military life.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison addresses many of the social and intellectual issues faced by African Americans in the early twentieth century, including black nationalism, the relationship between black identity and Marxism, and the reformist racial policies of Booker T. Washington.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald primarily concerns the young and mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby and his quixotic passion and obsession with the beautiful former debutante Daisy Buchanan

Ok I am simply gobsmacked. This story has me sitting, mouth agape, in front of my computer and well, there are no words.

We are in the middle of a global crisis and the school boards have nothing better to do than ban books.

If you follow the Pandemic Diary you know I am a voracious reader, but my head is not stuck in the sand, and yet, this threw me for a loop that makes a Blue Angel Left Echelon Roll look like child’s play.

I thought book banning died with the McCarthy era. And yet I find people, most likely who have never actually read the books they want to ban, deciding what I should be allowed to check out of a public library.

Let us begin with something that should horrify absolutely anyone, and that would be recalling the book burning by the Hitler Regime.

The book-burning took place just months after the Nazis took power in 1933. The Sturmabteilung roped off the main courtyard of Berlin’s Humboldt University, stacked up books by Jewish, communist, or ‘degenerate’ authors, and then set them on fire.

Ray Bradbury confronted this in Farenheit 451, where the government banned books because the people decided that knowledge brings pain.

“In the United States, it’s much more about sex and religion, and in other countries it has more to do with politics,”…Laura Juraska, an associate librarian at Ladd Library

Missouri’s HB 2044, is a bill put before the Missouri state House of Representatives in January of this year, that could lead to the imprisonment of librarians for failing to comply with its provisions.

Mind you it does not ban books instead it is intended to jail librarians that make books deemed unfit by the child’s parents accessible to said child.

A parent stated “The main thing is, I want to be able to take my kids to a library and make sure they’re in a safe environment, and that they’re not gonna be exposed to something that is objectionable material.”

Does anyone believe that? I applaud you if you take your children to the library, not enough parents do, but you have the first say in what your children read, and if you find it inappropriate you have the job as a parent to discuss why with your child. Banning books takes the onus off of educating people and simply creates narrow minded sheep whose world is only as big as their government deems it should be.

This smells a lot like fascism to me.

I also find this argument especially disingenuous in these times. Children are given iphones, ipads and computers that have access to Netflix, HBO, Google and daily news that have more sex and violence in them than most any book.

“The Great Gatsby,” “Invisible Man” and “Catch-22” regularly show up on the list of books challenged or banned by schools, according to the American Library Association. I get they are controversial subjects, but these books deal with events that help put where we are and how we got here in perspective for so many. These books force you to look around you and think critically about yourself, your world and your place in it.

In my profession of historical restoration we would often sit with historical boards and ask, how far back do you want to go to stay true to this restoration? Before or after flush toilets?

This same questions applies to banning books. When do we stop? Do we ban The Legend of King Arthur because it refers to magic? The reason many have given for banning Harry Potter. Do we remove Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew from shelves because there is drunkeness and uppity women? Or The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky because it questions tenents of religion? You get the picture.

Where do we stop and who gets to pick that point in history?

In looking up banned books I found long lists, many that had me placing palm firmly on forehead.

“A Light in the Attic,” by poet and artist Shel Silverstein, has been banned because of “suggestive illustrations.” One library also claimed that the book “glorified Satan, suicide and cannibalism, and also encouraged children to be disobedient.”

James Joyce’s “Ulysses” was banned on sexual grounds. The only reason I find this hysterical is has anyone actually read Ulysses?

“A Wrinkle in Time,” by Madeleine L’Engle, is on the Most Challenged Books of 1990–2000 book list — based on claims of offensive language and religiously objectionable content (for references to crystal balls, demons, and witches).

“Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl” banned for “sexually offensive,” as well as for the tragic nature of the book, which some readers felt was a “real downer.”

What a terrific reason to ban a book because it’s a real downer. I understand parents concerns for books their children may randomly find in a library without parental supervision, but throwing the librarian in jail is Fascism putting a toe in the door.

I also agree wholeheartedly that there is a concept of age appropriate, but that assumes everyone matures at the same rate. I read the Cross and the Sickle at 14, followed by Ayn Rand at 16 and understood both. What is age appropriate in this media driven world anyway? You can load the Disney Channel on your TV and most likely your children will be hypnotized, but some day they will find other channels that carry mind rotting subjects that may or may not include sex, violence and any other subject you may object to.

So lets look at a few reasons banning books is just wrong.

  1. You may not like something, but you really have no right to take it away from me.

To quote Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., in Texas v. Johnson:

If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.

2. “Protecting” children from the difficult realities of the world is an exercise in futility — and privilege. Trying to keep secrets around children, no matter the subject, is often an excercise in futility. As far as privilege, Maya Angelou is a stunning example of a woman that used literature to deal with her poverty-stricken, abusive life, she needed those books, removing them from a library may have never allowed her to grow to be one of the greatest authors of our century. The flip side of that coin is that children who have never experienced anything bad in their helicopter mother life, reading about it may open their eyes and their hearts to those less privileged than they.

3. Books are among our best teachers. That goes without saying in my opinion. Open a book, learn new words, history, compassion, science, you get the point.

4. Many of the most frequently banned books are, or go on to become, classics. The Library of Congress has lists of Books that have shaped America going all the way back to the 1700s. These classics often confront the social, political, philosophical, and moral issues of their time giving us an opportunity to study and think.

Maybe Kafka said it best:

I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us. That is my belief.

Kafka is saying get out of your comfort zone. I agree with every word in that paragraph. However, the other side of that is my mantra: Just Read. Just Read. Just Read. I make no judgements as to what you read, please, just read.

Trivial Things

My Horoscope for today: No doubt about it, people and their money can get tricky. Annoying too! A wild card in the hand of an earth sign (possibly a Taurus) won’t help much. Fortunately, you’re a past master/mistress of the arts of charm and diplomacy. Both will come in handy this week.

The NYT Crossword Puzzle: Fun, I love ones with goofy hidden things, but one clue with the answer SID still has me stumped.

San Francisco weather: 61 degrees and breezy

NYSE: closed

Italian word of the day: estasiato (fascinated)

Spanish word of the day: recurso natural (natural resource)

OED word of the day: saturnine (In regard to a person’s temperament, mood, or manner: gloomy, melancholy, dejected, downcast, grim; not easily enlivened, enthused, or cheered) I love eponyms!

Days under Shelter In Place: 44

Reading: The Gay Metropolis by Charles Kaiser

Reading Canto I, II, III of Dante’s Purgatorio

My Black and White Picture of the Day

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Something Silly From the Internet:

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If you liked this please clap and let me know. You can clap more than once if you are so inclined. Thank you!

My travel blog www.PassportandBaggage.com and my www.ArtandArchitecture-sf.com blog are quiet due to the Pandemic. I need to write, so here I go.

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