You Can’t Read That! is a periodic post featuring banned book reviews and news roundups.
Every year, during the lead-up to Banned Books Week, my newsfeed floods with stories of library read-ins, exhibits, and scavenger hunts for banned books. The normal flow of stories about actual book bannings, parental challenges to books, and censorship dries to a trickle. Why, it’s almost as if the forces of darkness and the American Library Association have declared a cease-fire in honor of BBW.
Or maybe not. In Foxboro, Massachusetts, a poster exhibit extolling press freedom has been removed from the Boyden Public Library following complaints over “graphic” and “inappropriate” content. As the local newspaper headline has it, Library Exhibit on Censorship Is Censored (and damn them for not showing us the posters in question).
“… anything that the left and the media don’t like will be gone and it will fully finish their plan to remake what we are.” Per pundits on Fox News, if statues of slave-owning Confederate generals are banned, the Bible will be next in line.
In August, web hosting service GoDaddy evicted The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi site, which has since relocated to the “dark web” (I don’t know what that means, but suspect it means “a server in Russia”). This month, Gab.ai, a chat site for white supremacists, is being accused by its users of self-censorship after complying with domain registrar AsiaRegistry’s demand that it take down a post mocking Charlottesville murder victim Heather Heyer.
“I hope that no student will ever attend a school where a parent challenges or bans books, but if they do, I hope that ‘Ban This Book’ prepares them for the fight, and teaches them that they actually can make a difference in that debate.” Author Alan Gratz, talking about his new book for young readers. Sounds subversive to me … stand by for parental challenges in three, two, one. …
Good (but buzzword-laden) argument for a diverse literary canon in public schools.
Banned book history: on November 17, 1961, Laurence and Geraldine McGilvery were arrested at their home in La Jolla, California, victims of a San Diego Police Department sting operation. Their crime? Selling a copy of Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer” to an undercover officer.
“These melodramatic accusations of book banning are just manufactured hysteria and fear mongering.” So says a lady in Thousand Oaks, California, who goes on to demand that a local high school ban two novels, “Snow Falling on Cedars” and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” No melodrama here, just keep moving, folks.
In 1977, comedian Richard Pryor got his own show on NBC. He pulled the plug on it after only four weeks, fed up with censorship and content restrictions.
In Idaho, parents have challenged the inclusion of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel “1984” in the Rigby High School curriculum. The school says it hasn’t pulled the book. Students say otherwise. In the end the School would announce that banning “1984” was not banning it, and students would have to believe it. It was inevitable that the school should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy.
YCRT! Banned Book Review
This is a short novel about growing up in northeastern Montana. I’m not sure it’s technically classified “young adult” (like “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which it somewhat resembles, it can be read by all ages from the early teens up), but it’s often assigned to high school students.
In Wisconsin in 2011, parents attempted to have “Montana 1948” removed from school libraries and reading lists, claiming it was too adult for young readers. By “adult” they meant there was sex in it, which is certainly true: sex is at the heart of the family scandal the narrator describes.
The narrator, an older man recalling events that happened when he was 12, tells us about growing up in a small town where his father is sheriff, his uncle the town doctor, and his grandfather a prominent and powerful rancher. His family employs a live-in Indian housekeeper from the nearby reservation, Marie Little Soldier. Marie falls ill with pneumonia and the family wants to call in the doctor, the boy’s uncle. Marie is almost hysterical in her opposition to seeing the doctor, and when the mother insists on calling the doctor anyway Marie is forced to tell her that the uncle takes sexual liberties with female Indian patients, and that he’s been doing it for years. The boy’s father, as sheriff, is put into a situation where there are no good answers, no easy choices.
The story, of course, is about what happens next, but the core of the story is the rapid growing up a 12-year-old boy has to do in a situation like that. Before the crisis, he worshiped his uncle. He has doubts that his father will be strong enough to face up to the popular (with the white people of the town, that is) uncle and his fearsome, politically-connected grandfather. He sees the strain the situation puts on his parents’ marriage. He witnesses some shocking confrontations between various actors in the story. And he does grow up.
Well, you ask, what’s the problem with that? Sounds like a great story, and very much like “To Kill a Mockingbird.” As sex scandals go, the one at the center of “Montana 1948” doesn’t hold a candle to the one Scout’s father, the unforgettable Atticus Finch, has to deal with (of course people still try to ban “To Kill a Mockingbird” too). There are many parents … and unfortunately some school district superintendents and even librarians … who don’t think 15- and 16-year-old kids are ready to deal with adult situations, especially ones where sex is involved.
So how’s the book? Very, very good. It’s simply and directly told, and there’s more than enough detail to tell you the author knows what he’s talking about when he describes rural Montana life: the twitchy relationships between whites and native Americans, small-town politics, and the pleasures and hardships of life in that hard land. I was very impressed, and I don’t compare “Montana 1948” with “To Kill a Mockingbird” lightly … Larry Watson’s novel earns the comparison.
© 2017, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.