Saturday, September 23, 2006
I Love Dirty Books.
It's Banned Books Week, so get out there and start reading all the forbidden books.
People who fear knowledge are scary.
Get your list of forbidden books right HERE.
I became interested in forbidden books when I was in high school, and our teachers distributed the Catholic Church's annual list of books which we were NOT to read under any circumstances. After the last bell rang, we ran like crazed, stampeding mustangs to the public library; the waiting lists for some titles were really, really long. The fact that it was forbidden was the only reason I read "The Catcher in the Rye." (I was disappointed; after all that frenzy, I was hoping for, um, more.)
Then, in graduate school, I was privileged to meet the fantastic Dr. Edward B. Jenkinson, author of many books, and one of the leading opponents of censorship in the nation. His course in Young Adult Literature was the best I'd ever taken. He was fascinating, and intelligent, and he genuinely knew his subject from A to Z. I learned more from him than from any other course I've ever had, before and after. He showed me how to read a book and foretell how the censorship people would interpret it. He was right, every time. I can still do this, too; it's easy.
He would show us pages from textbooks, and ask us what a censorship committee would do with it. For example, he showed us a page of a sweet little poem about playing in a brook, illustrated by a picture of a little girl with two braids, wearing overalls, barefoot, swishing a stick in the water.
"This would be censored," he told us. "Can you tell me why?"
Here's why. Little girls don't wear boy's clothes, and they don't go around barefooted.
He showed us a picture from an elementary spelling book. The words were divided into categories: for example, one page would have sports words, another page would have animal words, etc. Each page was illustrated by a charming wreath of little children, doing/showing/etc examples of the theme of that page's words. He showed us the page of holiday words. It was illustrated by a wreath of little children in holiday mode: eating turkey, hanging stockings, watching fireworks, spinning dreidels, etc. But the reason the page would be censored, ie removed, was because it also showed little children dressed up for Halloween. Seeing that would mean certain damnation for a child, you know.
Did you know that some schools do not allow dictionaries because of 'those' words? Did you know that "Waldo" books are banned in some schools because in that one beach scene, there are breasts? (I could NEVER find Waldo. I am not good at picture puzzles.) (But I would never forbid YOU from looking for him.)
Dr. Jenkinson is a genius. I adored him, and I adore him.
He retired several years ago, and he certainly deserves the rest.
I raise my glass to you, Dr. Jenkinson. You are my mentor, my professional idol, and a darn good friend. You helped me more than any teacher I've ever had in my life.
Let us all go out and read a dirty book in his honor. Why? Because we still can.
Defy the censors. Defy those who would limit our knowledge and our enjoyment of the world of literature. Defy those who would force us all to conform to a narrow point of view. Get out there and read something on the forbidden list.
Do it because it's the right thing to do.
Every year I used to put up a big Banned Books bulletin board. One year, the principal (who was a moron) actually looked at it and saw. . . . Waldo's beach. The next day I got a memo from him, demanding that the bulletin board be taken down. He told me that middle school students were not smart enough to understand. There was someone not smart enough to understand, but it wasn't any of the students. I tried to post the letter here but Blogger won't let me. I even "censored" it by marking out the principal's name. Heh.
Now, get out there and read. Mark Twain and Anne Frank will be proud of you.