Barry Saunders

Yes, Virginia, banning books is dumb. Instead, READ them – Saunders

"To Kill a Mockingbird" has been temporarily removed from libraries and classrooms in Accomack County, VA due to a complaint from a parent about the use of the "N" word in the book. The county is re-evaluating whether or not the book and "Huckleberry Finn" are library and classroom appropriate.
"To Kill a Mockingbird" has been temporarily removed from libraries and classrooms in Accomack County, VA due to a complaint from a parent about the use of the "N" word in the book. The county is re-evaluating whether or not the book and "Huckleberry Finn" are library and classroom appropriate. Associated Press file photo

Employing the austere, unadorned sentence structure for which he is alternately celebrated and derided, Ernest Hemingway wrote, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called ‘Huckleberry Finn.’ 

Because an apoplectic parent in Virginia briefly had her way, students in Accomack County were denied the chance to read the book, except under the covers at night with a flashlight.

In addition to “Huck,” the mother of a biracial son persuaded the board last month to remove “To Kill a Mockingbird,” for which a claim could be made as the second most important book in American literature. Her point of objection is the use of the “N-word” throughout both books.

The school board acceded temporarily to her wishes and removed the books from libraries and classrooms, but after a week of debate, the board decided Tuesday to put the books back in their rightful places.

Now, if someone would only tell the same to over-protective parents who want to impose their narrow-minded views on everyone else.

Elected officials should be responsive to the concerns of citizens, no doubt about it. And if the mother doesn’t want her son reading certain books that offend his sensibilities, one could see granting him special dispensation to read “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” or “The Wizard of Oz,” or something equally innocuous.

But why, oh why, should she get to dictate what everyone else’s child gets to read?

Remember when you cringed each time okra was on the lunch menu at Leak Street School, and you couldn’t believe there were people who actually enjoyed the slimy dish? Did you entreat the school board to banish the untasty treat from the menu?

Virginia may be, as its motto declares, for lovers, but it sure isn’t for thinkers if it allows a lone meddlesome, myopic mom to have removed from its library shelves two of the most important books in the English language

Nope. You just ate fish sticks and a honeybun for lunch and went “blecccch.”

Virginia may be, as its motto declares, for lovers, but it sure isn’t for thinkers, if it allows a lone meddlesome, myopic mom to have removed from its library shelves two of the most important books in the English language. She suggested that parents and teachers of different cultural backgrounds come together and form an approved reading list of books that are inclusive of children of all races and ethnic groups.

Hey, here’s an idea: Let’s not.

I’ll tell you what. I’d pay money to see one school board member tell the next disgruntled, lone parent who wants a book denied to all children to “go gruntle someplace else, Brunhilda, and take your little booger factory of a kid and home-school him if you don’t want him exposed to reality.”

That attitude, of course, may explain why I only received 14 votes when I ran for city council in Rockingham.

The oft-noted irony is that banning a book is the quickest way to ensure children will pluck it off the shelf and dive in. As an adolescent, I read a review of Truman Capote’s novel “Other Voices, Other Rooms,” which described the book’s characters as, among other things, “a collection of perversity and diseased humanity.”

Seriously, homes. What inquisitive 13-year-old could resist such an advertisement?

The promised perversity, unfortunately, was over my head, and it took re-reading it – twice – 20 years later for me to comprehend what had caused such initial pearl-clutching and heavens-to-Betsying.

We Tar Heels can’t get too haughty, though. Three years ago, I wrote about the Randolph County School Board banning another great work of literature – Ralph Ellison’s ‘Invisible Man.’

Virginia, lest one forget, is the state in which Prince Edward County chose to close down its entire public school system for five years during the 1960s rather than racially integrate. And last year, another county shut down its 24 schools for the day after students at one were given a homework assignment to copy an Arabic statement about Allah.

We Tar Heels can’t get too haughty, though. Three years ago, I wrote about the Randolph County School Board banning another great work of literature – Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” – because, get this, a lone parent objected to its theme, and school board member Gary Mason seconded her commotion when he told me he “didn’t find any literary value” in it, either.

In those contexts, this current cavalier attitude toward education and two of the most important books ever written is understandable – even if both book are among the most powerful condemnations of racism you could imagine. When the runaway slave “African-American James” – there: satisfied? – is lying on the boat and moaning and missing his wife and children, that is the moment that an astonished Huck sees him as a fully formed human being capable of feeling, same as he.

I’ll put the power of that passage up against any single passage ever written.

I’m no fan of the N-word, and wish it fell from use in contemporary language. I perversely marvel every time I hear black rappers or alleged comedians revel in using a word that was invented solely to dehumanize their ancestors, the word which – in many instances – was the last one many men and women heard as the noose tightened around their necks.

But that doesn’t mean books and poetry – or even music – should be rendered inaccessible to anyone who wants access to it.

It’s too bad my 10th-grade teacher, Mrs. Martin, didn’t tell me not to read “Huckleberry Finn.” Maybe then, I wouldn’t have waited until my 20s to read it.

Barry Saunders: 919-836-2811, @BarrySaunders9

Books that have come under fire in N.C.

▪ “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian” by Sherman Alexie was challenged at a middle school in Wilmington.

▪ “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel was challenged after it was recommended as summer reading for incoming freshmen at Duke University.

▪ “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood was challenged at two high schools in Guilford County.

▪ “The House of the Spirits” by Isabel Allende was challenged at a high school in Watauga County.

▪ “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison was challenged in Randolph County.

▪ “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini was suspended, but later reinstated as approved reading in Buncombe County schools.

Source: Depaw University

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