You Can’t Read That!

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

You Can’t Read That!

The photo is titled “Girl reading ‘Mickey Mouse and the Submarine Pirates’ comic book in newsstand with small dog lying across her lap.” It was taken in 1947 by Charles “Teenie” Harris, lead photographer of one of the USA’s leading black newspapers, the Pittsburgh Courier. I couldn’t bring myself to spoil the photo by superimposing “You Can’t Read That!” on it. You can find out more about Teenie Harris here.

Banned Books News

RIP Richard H. Hoggart, 95, star witness for Lady Chatterley’s Lover in a 1960 trial that ended British censorship of that novel, died April 10 in London.

Washington DC-based political blog Wonkette shares my alarm over the threat to civilization posed by the forces of darkness — book banners and their know-nothing ilk. Here are some links to relevant Wonkette articles:

The articles speak for themselves, and you really should read them. I just want to add two comments.

cop_donutWhen I read about the Meridian, Idaho parents (“derp roundup,” above) who called the police to stop a teenaged volunteer from handing out free copies of Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, recently banned by the local school board, I thought it would be fun to illustrate the link with a thumbnail of a cop holding a book. An exhaustive Google image search turned up not a single photo of a cop with a book. But it did turn up plenty of images like the one to the left. So sad.

The “hero dad” story above, about the father who disrupted a school board meeting in an attempt to get Jodi Picoult’s novel Nineteen Minutes removed from a Gilford, New Hampshire high school reading list, initially caught my interest because it reflects what I think is a developing trend: the politicization of book banning, and how similar this man’s behavior was to the disruptive Tea Partiers who were shouting down senators and congressmen at town hall meetings around the country a couple of years ago. I expect we’ll see more of the same as opposition to Common Core solidifies on the right. But then I read this excerpt from Ms Picoult’s novel, which was assigned to ninth-graders at that New Hampshire school:

She’d been floating along pleasantly in a haze of the familiar. Yes, Matt had kissed her — one short one, then a longer, hungry kiss, as his hand worked open the clasp on her bra. She lay lazy, spread beneath him like a feast, as he pulled off her jeans. But then, instead of doing what usually came next, Matt reared over her again. He kissed her so hard that it hurt. “Mmmph,” she said, pushing at him.

“Relax,” Matt murmured, and then he sank his teeth into her shoulder. He pinned her hands over her head and ground his hips against hers. She could feel his erection, hot against her stomach.

It wasn’t the way it normally was, but Josie had to admit that it was exciting. She couldn’t remember ever feeling so heavy, as if her heart were beating between her legs. She clawed at Matt’s back to bring him closer.

“Yeah,” he groaned, and he pushed her thighs apart. And then suddenly Matt was inside her, pumping so hard that she scooted backward on the carpet, burning the backs of her legs.

“Wait,” Josie said, trying to roll away beneath him, but he clamped his hand over her mouth and drove harder and harder until Josie felt him come.

Semen, sticky and hot, pooled on the carpet beneath her. Matt framed her face with his hands. “Jesus, Josie,” he whispered, and she realized that he was in tears. “I love you so goddamn much.”

Josie turned her face away. “I love you, too.”

She lay in his arms for ten minutes and then said she was tired and needed to go to sleep. After she kissed Matt good-bye at the front door, she went into the kitchen and took the rug cleaner out from underneath the sink. She scrubbed it into the wet spot on the carpet, prayed it would not leave a stain.

Uh, what? Wonkette points out that the excerpted passage, the focus of angry dad’s anger, is about date rape, not happy consensual sex. But I have to ask, honestly, whether this is appropriate reading for ninth-graders in a public school. I’m not saying the book should be banned or taken off the assigned reading list … but surely parents should have been told about the book beforehand and given other choices for their children to read instead. As the article makes clear, that was in fact school policy, but they screwed up in this instance and forgot to notify parents.

In a Tennessee school district, even though parents were told of potentially offensive material in Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and told they could select alternate books for their ninth-grade children to read in an honors English class, the school board thought maybe parents were too dumb to understand what they had been told, so they just banned the book instead. Much simpler that way, don’t you think?

Yay for the Uprise Books Projecta nonprofit literary advocacy organization which distributes free copies of banned books.

Writers rally to oppose the South Carolina legislature’s planned retaliatory budget cuts to state colleges teaching LGBTQ literature.

I was shocked when someone in my book club posted a trigger warning on our group’s Facebook page, warning us that a book we are about to read (Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage) describes stranded explorers eating sled dogs to survive. Does not everyone already know that people stranded on glaciers and icebergs always wind up eating the sled dogs? And then each other? What are we, overindulged ten-year-olds? I hate censorship from the feminist left just as much as I hate book banning from the misogynist right. For those of you who have already used up your month’s worth of free New York Times links, here’s a brief excerpt from an article about the push for trigger warnings in higher education:

Should students about to read “The Great Gatsby” be forewarned about “a variety of scenes that reference gory, abusive and misogynistic violence,” as one Rutgers student proposed? Would any book that addresses racism — like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” or “Things Fall Apart” — have to be preceded by a note of caution? Do sexual images from Greek mythology need to come with a viewer-beware label?

Makes me want to read Huckleberry Finn again — while I still can!

© 2014, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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