You Can’t Read That!

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

From Time Magazine, Dec 20, 1948

YCRT! News

Why can’t kids just read Officer Friendly coloring books instead? South Carolina Cops Have Thoughts On Your High School Reading List. Here’s more on the same subject: “Union says depictions of brutality in The Hate U Give and All American Boys promote distrust of police and ‘we’ve got to put a stop to that.'”

High school administrators across the country are silencing student journalists who report on sensitive subjects. While we’re at it, here are nine other recent school controversies making the news.

“See the little faggot with the earring and the make up”: 40 banned and censored songs. Here’s more on the ongoing battle over censorship of music.

Related: six films that were cut or banned.

I’m confused. I thought some of Judy Blume’s books had already been made as movies (“Tiger Eyes” and “Forever,” to name two). Maybe she wants to know which other Judy Blume books you’d like to see on the big screen.

Self-appointed library censors strike again, this time in Detroit.

University administrators cave to public demands to censor or remove campus art? Oh, do tell.

Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone: “The death-pit for civil liberties is usually found in a combination of fringe/unpopular people or ideas and a national security emergency.”

A librarian begins a story with this: “About two years ago, I wanted to get in on the Drag Queen storytime trend.” Dear American Library Association: are you sure the Drag Queen storytime trend is the hill you want to die defending?

YCRT! Banned Book Review

This is an older banned book review, first published here in May 2015. Since few readers visit the YCRT! archives, I periodically repost older reviews in new YCRT! columns. —Paul

mausMaus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History (Maus, #1)
by Art Spiegelman

I’m new to graphic novels and memoirs. I confess I’ve looked down on them in the past, equating them with comic books, to me a lesser form of literature. But I’m trying, and I must say I thought “Maus” was very powerful, perhaps even more powerful than if it had been written as a traditional memoir.

The outline should be familiar to everyone by now: Art Spiegelman, who has a touchy relationship with his father, coaxes him into telling the story of his life in Poland after the Nazi invasion, right up to the point where he and Spiegelman’s mother are captured and shipped off to Auschwitz. Sequels to this first volume follow the family’s experiences in the camps, but I have not yet read those.

Famously, Spiegelman depicts Jews as mice, Germans as cats, and Poles as pigs. The technique seems simplistic, but it is effective.

I knew very little of the lives of Polish Jews before they were rounded up and sent to the camps. The seemingly inexorable process whereby the Nazis, aided by sympathetic and anti-Semitic Poles, first imposed travel and commerce restrictions on the Jews, then took over their businesses, then moved them into ghettos, then began to starve them, then began to round up those over 70 years of age, etc, is as horrifying as anything I’ve read in more traditional accounts of the Holocaust. Spiegelman’s families of mice, struggling to get along and feed their families while trying to believe the latest outrage will be the last one, that things can’t possibly get any worse, are far more sympathetic in graphic form than they would be as mere words on paper.

Yes, I will read the sequels. I have come around to seeing the worth of graphic novels and memoirs.

“Maus” has been the target of would-be censors and book banners. Even though”Maus” won a Pulitzer and universal praise, some Holocaust survivors objected to the depiction of Jews as mice (or rats, as some claim) as degrading and dehumanizing. Some Polish readers took their representation as pigs as an ethnic slur, especially since pork and pigs are considered unclean in the Jewish faith.”Maus” was unsuccessfully challenged in Oregon in 2009 as being “too dark” for younger readers and too insulting to various ethnic groups. More recently, in 2012, a Polish-American library patron, upset over the depiction of Poles as pigs, tried to have the book pulled from public libraries in Pasadena, California. Most lately, I read, “Maus” has been removed from Russian bookstores … not because of mice and pigs, not because it’s “too dark,” but because it has swastikas in it, and swastikas are banned in Russia.

Adult graphic novels make some adults uncomfortable. As simple-minded as it may sound, I think the cause of their unease is the thought that children will be attracted to what look very much like comic books, then exposed to dark and sexual adult themes and subjects. It doesn’t take much to push those who think this way to the next step, the idea of eliminating these graphic novels from libraries, schools, and even bookstores.

To date I’ve read (and reviewed) three graphic novels that have been the subject of challenges and bannings: “Fun Home,” “Persepolis,” and now “Maus.” In all three cases it struck me that without the drawings, none of these books would have been targeted. You can write about a young girl realizing she’s gay, but if you draw a picture of her and another girl in bed together (“Fun Home”), you’ve crossed a line. You can write about life in Tehran under the Shah and then the Ayatollah, but if you draw a dissident being whipped (“Persepolis”), you’ve gone too far. You can write about the Holocaust, but if you draw Jews as mice and Poles as pigs (“Maus”), you’ve dehumanized your subjects and no one should be allowed to read your book.

Source links on various attempts to ban “Maus”:

© 2018, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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