Friday, September 30, 2011

Banned books--and a bit of nostalgia

Although many have posted and written about this week being Banned Books Week, I feel I can't let it go by without mention. A fellow mystery writer posted today that she made it a practice to buy one book on the list each year and this year she bought The Hunger Games. My twelve-year-old granddaughter, a voracious reader, read that for goodness' sake. Shelf Awareness, the daily online column for booksellers that is a wonderful font of information, posted a list of the books most recently banned, with the comment that "You'd think it was a list of books for a reading group with interesting, eclectic taste." We all know Mark Twain's books have been banned many times, but here are the surprises to me: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, Anne Frank: The  Diary of a Young Girl, Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson (a book that enthralled me), Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. Okay, maybe I'm not too surprised that Morrison is on the list, and not surprised at all that Brave New World  by Aldous Huxley and The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger are also on the list, though both are classics. I'd be proud if my granddaughter read these books and talked to me about them.
Another list I read had to do with banned books made into movies: American Psycho, Lolita, A Clockwork Orange, Lord of the Flies and The Handmaid's Tale.
I wish I understaood more about who has the authority to bann these books--and are they banned locally or nationwide. Surely no one can tell an entire nation not to read Mark Twain!
My own brushes with censorship have been mild. My first young-adult novel, After Pa Was Shot, published way back in 1978, is set in East Texas around the turn of the 19th-20th centuries and is narrated by a 14-year-old girl. At that time, not all Jewish immigrants from Europe landed at Ellis Island. A good number entered the United States at Galveston, and many, often itinerant salesman, drifted north through the small towns of East Texas. In the novel, my narrator, Ellsbeth, becomes friends with a young Jewish girl of just such family background. In talking about the town's prejudice against the family, I used the word "kike," certainly not one I would use myself today, but it passed what to me is the tried and true test: it was appropriate to time and place.
A schoolteacher friend of mine said if her superintendent read the book, it would be banned from their library because of the word "kike." I couldn't believe it. I guess, however, the superintendent never got around to reading it for as far as I know the book is still on school shelves.
In the '90s, I wrote a young-adult book about horse-racing, Callie Shaw, Stableboy. I wanted to call it The Devil Amongst Us, because Callie's aunt cautions her that if horse racing comes to North Texas, "the devil will be amongst us." The book is based on the Arlington Downs Race Track, a major attration in the 1930s in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The publisher flatly refused to use the title, saying no school library would purchase it. Practicality won, and we went with the fairly ordinary title instead of the one I thought had some flair. Censorship can get down to the nitty-picky.
My bit of nostalgia: my dad used to play the piano in the evenings. Neither he nor I could carry a tune in the proverbial bucket, but we had a wonderful time singing to his playing. His signature piece was "Red Wing," and I can still hear him singing, "Oh, the moon shines tonight on pretty Red Wing." I got to thinking today about other songs, and two popped up from long buried memory, "I dream of Jeannie with the long brown hair," and "Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me." Anyone remember those? Then I thought of "On the Banks of Bonnie Loch Lomond," and its line of "Oh, ye take the high road, and I'll take the low road/And I'll be in Scotland afore ye." A flood of wonderful memories.

1 comment:

Ellis Vidler said...

Fortunately for me, my parents were never influenced by the word "banned," and we had many of those books in our house. Mark Twain was a favorite. Nothing was forbidden to me; I could read anything that interested me.
I don't know who does the banning either, but it all seems so silly, trying to tell other people what they can't read.