Monday, September 29, 2008

Banned Books Week: Day Three
Incendiary Prose

by Pa Rock
Cultural Commentator

Sometimes books are just so blatantly God-awful that banning them isn't enough to ensure that their free-thought might not seep out and be absorbed by some unsuspecting open minds. When that happens some moron with a book of matches is usually close by.

Civilization has a long history of burning troublesome things: witches, crosses, and yes, even books. The Nazi's were consummate book-burners, dutifully torching any bound volume of ideas that didn't fit their ideology. The books that the Nazis burned were dangerous, damned dangerous, like Jack London's The Call of the Wild. Their rigid minds could not accept a tale of sled dogs and the struggle of man against the elements. It's a good thing that the twenty-first century Nazi's and fundamentalist Christians haven't bothered to read any of London's other books. The first few pages of The Iron Heel alone would send thousands of these intellectual midgets racing to flick their Bic's.

Kurt Vonnegut, the genius who looked and wrote like Twain, ran afoul of book-burners. His very provocative Slaughterhouse-Five was publicly burned in Drake, North Dakota, in 1973. Vonnegut, like London, wrote many novels that challenged our core beliefs and values. And Vonnegut's characters have evolved into classics, from Billy Pilgrim to Kilgore Trout, they have become part-and-parcel of the American literary experience.

Several years ago the Board of Trustees of the East St. Louis Library ordered all three of the library's copies of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath pulled from the shelves and burned. They described it as "vulgar, immoral, and bestial." In some places comments like that would sell books!

The Reverend (sic) George Bender of the Harvest Assembly of God Church near Pittsburgh, PA, held a large public bonfire on a cold evening in 2001 that was fueled by Bruce Springsteen CDs, Disney videos, and Harry Potter books. The showboating minister made sure that the press was there before he put the torch to his pile of filth.

Ray Bradbury, one of the best wordsmiths of the last fifty years, wrote a book about book-burners entitled Fahrenheit 451, the temperature at which a book will burn. When teachers at the Venado Middle School in Irvine, California, ordered Fahrenheit 451 for their classrooms, they were shocked to find that the books were censored by the school district enroute to the teachers, and many words, mostly "damns" and "hells," were blocked out. How's that for irony?

It's Banned Books Week! Why not celebrate by reading some Bradbury (if not Fahrenheit 451, consider The Martian Chronicles - both are great reads). Or curl up with a Harry Potter novel (with Bruce Springsteen playing in the background, of course!). Anything by John Steinbeck makes for a good weekend of lazing on the couch and reading. My personal Steinbeck favorites are The Winter of Our Discontent and East of Eden. And then there's Kurt Vonnegut. If you are brave enough to look at the world from an off-center perspective, read some Vonnegut - and start with Slaughterhouse-Five. Just keep it out of the reach of morons with matches!

1 comment:

doubtisgood said...

Pa Rock,
I'm really enjoying the banned book series. I hadn't read the quote from FDR before either.