Saunders: Ban the book, bring on the teens

September 22, 2013 

Genius. Inspired. That’s all you can call what the Randolph County school board did recently.

The board is being vilified as a bunch of intellectually incurious invertebrates for caving in to a lone parent who possibly feared her child would disappear if she read Ralph Ellison’s book “Invisible Man.”

Me? I come to praise the board, not to bury it under even more unfair criticism for banning the book from its library shelves and reading list.

By doing so, the board has guaranteed that half the county’s high school students will immediately buy and read the book. The other half will borrow it from them when they finish.

Think about it, folks. Do you really think a duly elected school board would vote 5-2 in 2013 to remove a book just because one closed-minded mom from Randleman demanded it, especially after committees at both the school and district levels reportedly recommended that the book remain in the libraries?

No way. Why, otherwise, they’d be the Randolph County Board of Selective Education, right?

To the contrary, so highly attuned to the psyche of today’s teens was the board that it knew there was only one way to ensure that the students would tackle the revered literary work. No doubt aware that calling a book “a classic” is a kiss of death – Mark Twain described a classic as a book that everyone loves but no one has read – the board employed an old Jedi mind trick: forbid the little hormone factories to read it and watch it fly off bookstore shelves.

When I asked Crystal, an employee at the Asheboro Books-A-Million, if the store had the book, she laughed as if to say “how preposterous.” What she did say is, “We are completely sold out, but we’ve got about 200 copies coming in next week.”

See: Genius. Inspired.

Speaking of inspired, I wrote last year a tribute to an inspirational 10th-grade English teacher who encouraged me to read some of the greatest books ever. Unfortunately for me, Mrs. Martin told me to read such classics as “To Kill A Mockingbird,” “Don Quixote” and “The Great Gatsby.”

I eventually read and appreciated them, but only a decade after high school.

Mrs. Martin and other teachers should adopt the cerebral strategy of the Randolph County board. Had she said “Whatever you do, don’t you read ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ ” odds are great that I’d have been under the covers every night with a flashlight trying to see what was so deliciously forbidden.

Indeed, I almost missed the first novel by one of the greatest Southern writers. Truman Capote’s “Other Voices, Other Rooms” wasn’t even on my reading radar until I saw a reviewer who urged people to shun it. The dismissive phrase that resonates even now and made it a must-read was something about “an assortment of perversity and diseased humanity.”

What teenager could resist that?

Same with Ellison’s classic. By the time Randolph County students figure out they’ve been tricked, it’ll be too late: They will already have been exposed to one of the acknowledged great works of literature. School board member Gary Mason ensured its must-read status by teens when, after reading it, he reportedly said – certainly with a wink – “I didn’t find any literary value.”

Mason, reached at home Saturday, confirmed a distressing rumor that was floating about – that the board is planning to reconsider its vote. What, I asked, prompted the reconsideration?

“I don’t know,” he said. “I just know that I’ve been told to come to a meeting on Wednesday.”

Darn. If the board reverses course and tells kids it’s OK to read the book, two things will happen: The book will remain a dust-magnet on shelves, and my theory that the board was actually making an intelligent decision initially will be proven false.

Randolph County parents, knowing how contrarian teenagers are by nature, should demand that the board keep the ban, and while they’re at it, they could enlist board members to come to their homes and forbid their kids to eat their veggies or clean their rooms.

Me? I’d be happy if they’d merely vote to ban my next book, tentatively titled “Nobody Loves Me But My Mother (And She Could Be Jivin’ Too.)”

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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