Public and Private - Don't Read This - Op-Ed - NYTimes.com
Monday: Begin Banned Books Week by reading "Bridge to Terebithia" by Katherine Paterson, which parents in several school districts have tried to remove from required reading lists. Weep copiously at realistic tale of friendship and loss among children.
Read account of attempts to have the book removed from school libraries in Mechanicsburg, Pa. Clergyman says the book refers to church services as "boring." Shocked and amazed.
Discover that "Terebithia" caused such a stink in Oskaloosa, Kan., that the school board has required teachers to list each profanity in any book they assign and how many times the profanity is used. Page through book. Find a "damn" and write it down. Feel like a fool. "I hate to say it, but sometimes grown-ups are really stupid," says oldest child.
Tuesday: Read reams of material about the banning of "In the Night Kitchen," fanciful account of dreams of little boy by Maurice Sendak. Boy falls out of clothes, is naked, has penis. Penis has been described as "desensitizing children to nudity" (Beloit, Wis.), "nudity for no purpose" (Norridge, Ill.) and "the foundation for future use of pornography" (Elk River, Minn.). In Missouri copies of book were distributed to kindergarten class after artist was commissioned to draw shorts on boy.
Discover that the profanity in "Terebithia" includes the repeated use of the word "Lord." Begin to agree with oldest child.
Wednesday: Contemplate bookshelves in office. "Moby Dick" encourages whale hunting, "Anna Karenina" adultery, Shakespeare teen suicide, usury and the occult. Faulkner, oy. Consider what would remain if all books containing sex, profanity, racial slurs, violence were removed from shelves. Narrow it down to "Cat in the Hat," dictionary and Bible.
Realize cat with hat encourages children to make a mess while mother is out. Discover in American Library Association Banned Books Week literature that the Bible was challenged as "obscene and pornographic" at library in Fairbanks, Alaska. Fear for future of human race.
Thursday: Read quote from Judy K. Souleret, mom supporting "Terebithia" in Mechanicsburg -- "If only books that no one found objectionable were left on library shelves, I fear they would soon be bare." Vow to send Judy flowers and the collected works of Toni Morrison. ("Song of Solomon" challenged in Columbus, Ohio. So much for Nobel Prize.) Read "Catcher in the Rye" for pleasure. Lose count of number of times book has been challenged or banned. "It uses the Lord's name in vain two hundred times," said one opponent. Wonder if she's read Bible.
Library Association sends information on case in Wyoming challenging Judy Blume book "Forever." Judy reigning Queen of banned books, maybe because writes books about teen-agers in which they talk and think like actual teen-agers as opposed to adult's idea of what teen-agers should be like. (How quickly we forget.) Parent complained "Forever" contains sex described graphically. Spells graphically "grafically."
Read that parent in Lambertville, N.J., objected to "The Amazing Bone" by William Steig, because animals use tobacco. Love Steig, love "Bone," hate tobacco. Heart sinks. Reports of censorship at highest mark in last 10 years. Find myself counting uses of Lord's name in vain in "Catcher." Read dictionary instead.
Friday: wonderful end to depressing week. Reread Jane Smiley's "A Thousand Acres," beautiful novel of family relationships, which won Pulitzer Prize. Advanced placement English class in Lynden, Wash., assigned to read it in tandem with "King Lear." Principal pulls it after parents complain, although their kid is not even in advanced placement class. "This was written to be stimulating," parents complained. Next thing you know teachers will be assigning books that are thought-provoking. Riveting. Even compelling. Then where will we be?
Consider entire K-12 curriculum of banned books, beginning with "Night Kitchen" and ending with Jane Smiley. Great stuff all. Foolproof pedagogical method: tell students they cannot, repeat, CANNOT, read these books. Too stimulating. Watch reading scores soar. Next stop, Faulkner. Finish "Thousand Acres." Decide oldest child is right. Reread "Bridge to Terebithia." Even better the second time.