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And Father's Day Is STILL a Good Time to Buy a Book

Because Dad (and Gramps and Poppa) deserve the thought that counts    

17 September 2011

Virtual Read-Out | Banned Books Week 24Sep - 1Oct

Books on First has been a member of ABFFE, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression since the beginning of us. Fighting censorship is an ongoing struggle, even amongst ourselves at Books on First. When Larry was a member of the his local public library board of directors, he adamantly advocated for books like Little Black Sambo to be left on the shelves.  We have this book on our shelves still today.  A former good customer and friend (before he moved away) had told the story of tutoring a black woman to read.  When she felt able to do so, she began reading all sorts of books including Little Black Sambo.  Afterwards, she confidentially told Gerald, "I don't know what all the fuss is about."  To be quite honest, I think Sambo is quite brave and smart, to face up to the tigers and figure out how to distract them.  Whether it's called racial insensitivity or stereotyping or political incorrectness, there are strong movements and heavy pressures to prefer bland and very safe, or on the other hand, extremely vulgar and disruptive.  However, even more dangerous is the suppression of any thought or path that does not match one's "own."  The bravest thing I ever heard a customer say was, "I would like to read some C.S. Lewis, because my Bible study group is so against him.  I want to find out for myself."  Such a statement should not be so brave, and in fact, should be quite commonplace, but it is not now, nor do I believe it really ever was.  

One time, I had been shocked that we were bringing in a book proclaiming that no, there's only one God, and He is Christian, but changed my mind immediately when I was chided about self-censorship, and the need for an independent bookstore to bring in all views.  I agree that at any given moment, a viewpoint can be in the minority and can be in need of voicing.

When our big neighbor to the south had refused to carry Jon Stewart's America, Books on First had a display of titles you won't find at Walmart.

I am by no means reconciled to the revised version of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, seeking not to "sanitize" the classic with 219 mentions of "nigger" (and unknown (to me) mentions of "injun"), but to move beyond the discomfort of using that word.  So, why didn't we correct the grammar while we were at it?  Discomfort is a hallmark of learning, of tryng something new, of venturing out beyond what one knows.  This was a missed opportunity to expand on what Samuel Clemens wanted to present.  As an educator, Mr Gribben (the "Mark Twain scholar" who had approached publisher NewSouth Books about the new edition) does not need to condone the author's use of the word, but should be teaching what the mores and norms of the times were, and mention that highly educated, socially elevated and politically influential persons used that word as well. 

Our current wrangle is over a humor book written by Adam Mansbach and built (illustrated by Richard Cortes, printed and bound) like a children's book, but is generally not suitable for children under the age of parenthood.  According to Larry, it's not suitable for any civilized society.  This book is offensive to him not because it represents a point of view or religion or anything that might be different from his own, but because it uses profanity as a shortcut humor device instead of many other more elegant words to be had, and somehow, his having the book inhouse is an endorsement of sorts for this misuse and neglect of the English language.  If a customer requests a copy of the book for purchase, that it is the customer's right and we will certainly reserve the book in to sell it to him.  As the bookseller/owner of the bookstore, he has the right to decide what not to carry on his shelves. Needless to say, I have overridden him and not only is it inhouse, it's on the front table featuring bestsellers.

What is "censorship," and why something should be banned are ongoing questions, open to ongoing debate.  First, people have to understand that censorship -- self or imposed -- happens often, even here in the land of the free and home of the brave.  Fortunately, we have an annual Banned Books Week to highlight this situation, which this year is 24September - 1October 2011.  Help ABFFE go viral this year by creating video of the reading of a banned book and uploading it to a special Youtube channel just for this project.  What titles have either been outright banned or challenged (content is controversial and there was an attempt to ban th title)?  There's a list on ABFFE's website.  If we don't have the book in stock, we will gladly find it for your purchase.  Get ready to READ OUT!

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