Bookburners

States ranked by number of books currently banned from school libraries

States ranked by number of books currently banned from school libraries

 

In 1969, I started first grade in one school, moved house for the fifth time in two years, got pneumonia, and finished first grade in another school.

I think my love of books began with that severe bout of pneumonia aged 5, which kept me bedbound for some time.

Color TV was for families richer than ours, and our black and white set was about the size of a couch, so it tended to stay put.

Kids from my background didn’t have TVs in their shared bedrooms, anyway.

So if you were laid-up sick in bed, it was books, and more books.

I ended-up way ahead of most kids my age in the reading department – not through superior brains, just through natural curiosity and a fluke of circumstance.

I got better, and made it back to my new school in time for the final term.  That new school had a great library.

Like a kid in a candy store, I remember our first class visit, and me trying to check-out about ten books.  I was crestfallen to discover the limit was two books out at a time.

Books are powerful things.  That is why I can still remember the exact two books I checked out that day.

A science book called “Early Man“, published in 1965, and the children’s classic “Where the Wild Things Are“, published in 1963.

I took both books home that day, and still remember sitting at the kitchen table eagerly flipping pages when my mother came into the room.

She glanced down at the open book on the table, and her eyes went wide, before snatching it away.

“What are you reading that for? It’s full of lies! You don’t even understand what it’s about!”

But I did know what it was about.  That week in science class our teacher had said something so surprising to my young mind that I went around repeating it out loud to myself.

“Humans are animals, just like tigers and birds.”

“Humans are animals, just like tigers and birds.”

You see, being brought up in a fundamentalist evangelical family, we were taught to take The Bible literally.  Humans were supposedly made in God’s image.

Humans were given “dominion” over the animals.  Humans and animals were supposed to be separate things.  As an animal lover, I was delighted to discover that we were almost brothers!  Animals!

So of course I asked my science teacher more questions, and he explained how all animals change over time, and being animals, so had humans.

I had taken out the book on early man and evolution to find out how much humans had changed.

My mother wouldn’t give the book back, and I went to bed that night feeling that I had done a very wicked thing indeed…

 

*****

 

I kept reading books.

After joining the army on my 17th birthday, I went to boot camp in Oklahoma and got shipped out to what was still called West Germany.

Some of the books I read as a teen stationed along the Iron Curtain quite literally changed my life.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig.

Slaughterhouse 5” by Kurt Vonnegut.

The latter book deals with the firebombing of Dresden, Germany by the USA and UK during the latter days of WWII – a raid which resulted in over 25,000 civilians being burned alive.

It is a hammerfall of a book, full of humanity, and it set me on my way to questioning militarism and politics for life.

I was astonished this week to read that Slaughterhouse 5 is one of the most banned books in USA schools today.

As is “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini.  “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood.

Two masterpieces by Toni Morrison – “The Bluest Eye” and “Beloved” – books without which I would have never understood the true horror of slavery and its trangenerational damage.

The usual justification given for banning many of the aforementioned books is that they include graphic descriptions of violence.

Damn right they contain graphic descriptions of violence.  Because American school history books sure as hell don’t.

Anyone who reads and loves books knows the real reason they are being banned.  They are being banned because all of them call-out lies, they call-out violence and militarism.  They call out hatred and sexism and racism and bigotry.

They call-out the status quo.

Most of all, they call-out the fake realities conjured and constructed by wicked, self-serving, and yes, damaged people.  Fake patriotism.  Fake history.  Fake “whiteness”.

Books are powerful, and bad people know it.

We live in a world where a 17-year-old can be sent to kill other humans halfway around the world in the name of “freedom”, but a 17-year-old cannot read a book about war, vote, or buy a beer in many states.

At least in 1970, I was able to go back to the library during lunch hour, and finish reading the book which so enraged my own mother.  It hadn’t been banned outright.

“Moms for Liberty” was a thing for a future dystopia.

#censorship #bookbanning #tonimorrison #kurtvonnegut #margaretatwood #khaledhosseini

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