You Can’t Read That!

You Can’t Read That! is a periodic column featuring banned book reviews and news roundups.

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YCRT! News Roundup

This news roundup leads off with prison book banning:

  • The draconian New York state prison book ban I described in the previous YCRT! turns out to have been a limited test program, shut down the minute controversy erupted. The media, eager to peddle a story, buried that important nugget of information, witness the feeble update tacked onto the end of this blistering New York Times editorial condemning the ban.
  • Banned in Pennsylvania prisons:
      Book: The Nude Female Figure (A Visual Reference for the Artist)
      Author: Mark Edward Smith
      Reason: “This book was originally permitted; (1/5/16) however, it was re-reviewed and shall be DENIED. Inmates are not using this material for artistic purposes.”
  • ACLU fights New Jersey prisons’ ban of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” gets it reversed. The same book was banned in North Carolina prisons; once again, the ACLU succeeded in unbanning it.
  • You can kind of understand why prison officials would want to prevent certain books from falling into the hands of inmates. Now try to understand the minds of your neighbors, who don’t want you reading them either.

We now return to the non-carceral world:

  • Mentioned in a previous YCRT! column, the YA novel “The Hate U Give” is once again available to students in Katy, Texas, but only with parental permission, and the novel is still under committee review with permanent banning a possibility.
  • The same book, “The Hate U Give,” was challenged by one parent of a Reed Academy student in Springfield, Missouri, where it was immediately banned, pending review.
  • Censorship in public libraries: sometimes it’s the librarians, as in a 2012 incident where artwork depicting the horrors of black life in the Jim Crow South was donated to a Newark NJ public library and, once library employees took a good look at it, covered with a cloth (you can see the offending art at the link).
  • Citizens in Maryland are demanding oversight of public libraries. All right, let’s hear what they have to say:
      “Last year, the public library invited a DC activist to teach a sex class for children only at our library. This community agitator was not vetted by any educational system. When concerned citizens protested, a group of secular humanists sponsored the class and insisted on ‘teaching’ it to children at the public library: an indoctrination of lewd sexual practices that could not be printed on The library sex class targeted children as young as 12 years old and, with the help of police, barred parents from entering the class.”

    Yeah, sure, I bet that’s what happened.

  • “When Donald Chauncey took over for the late Mike Anguilano as Miami-Dade Public Library System’s Film Librarian in 1982 he never dreamed that he’d one day be labeled ‘Dade County’s official pornographer‘ by a local Miami pastor.”
  • Republicans in the Texas legislature, apparently unconcerned with white supremacist recruiting on college campuses, turn their attention to the supposed censorship of conservative professors and students in the name of political correctness.
  • Librarians are beginning to feel some pressure to remove or restrict books written by “high-profile men who are amongst the growing list of those currently facing allegations of sexual misconduct or assault.” This American Library Association editorial defends the rights of people to read the books these men have written.

YCRT! Banned Book Review

In the last YCRT! I reviewed the first book of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy, “The Golden Compass.” In this YCRT! I review the second book, “The Subtle Knife.”

subtle knifeThe Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials, #2)
by Philip Pullman

As other reviewers have noted, it’s unfair to judge “The Subtle Knife” as a stand-alone story; it should be read as the middle installment of the “His Dark Materials” trilogy. Fair or not, I found it slightly less rave-worthy than the first in the series: more dogmatic, less (despite the title) subtle, a detour from the path I so happily walked in “The Golden Compass.”

The entire trilogy was controversial when originally published in the 1990s, banned in some places and challenged in others. It remains so today, still appearing on the American Library Association’s 2016 list of the top 100 banned and challenged books. The bans and challenges are in essence meant to keep the books out of the hands of children and young adults, for the erstwhile reason that the trilogy promotes atheism, and that its author, Philip Pullman, is an atheist.

In the trilogy’s first book, “The Golden Compass,” the enemy is not God but the Church. “The Subtle Knife” introduces an explicitly anti-God theme: Lord Asriel is preparing to wage war against not just the Church but against God himself, here called “the Authority” (and lest there be any doubt, at least once as “The Creator”). Still, the Church remains firmly and explicitly the primary villain, reviled throughout “The Subtle Knife” for opposing everything that gives humans pleasure.

Parallel worlds were the promise of “The Golden Compass”; Pullman delivers them in “The Subtle Knife,” with characters crossing between three of them, which is great fun and continues the grand adventure that so attracted me to the series in the first place.

I was slightly put off by the Angels and their dark cousins, the Specters. I place alternate worlds in the science fiction sphere and am willing to believe. Although I nodded along with the witches who appear in the first book, they, along with Angels and Specters, play a larger and more central role in this installment, and I found myself resisting their presence, these creatures of fantasy. Yes, I love the daemons and witches of the first book and love them just as much in the second. Do I claim my reaction makes sense? Sue me.

Going back to the controversy surrounding “His Dark Materials”: although atheism is what people who want Pullman banned will admit to, parents a decade later began attacking other YA authors for writing material they perceived as “too dark.” That would certainly apply to Pullman as well. My slightly less enthusiastic reaction to “The Subtle Knife” is at least in part due to it being darker than “The Golden Compass.” I recall from reading the trilogy the first time around many years ago that the third book, “The Amber Spyglass,” is darker yet.

Nevertheless, the adventure beckons, and I shall continue down the path.

© 2018, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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