Today is the first day of Banned Books Week 2008, brought to you by the American Library Association. Here's a link to help get the celebration started:
The Onion: "Nation's Teens Disappointed By Banned Books" (2000). "Desensitized to sex and violence from an early age, today's teens simply expect more out of their banned books than previous generations..."
I can confirm that my seventeen-year old son was "disappointed" by Mark Twain's frequently-challenged Huckleberry Finn, not because it was shockingly immoral, but because of its loose narrative structure.
One of my favorite banned books—one of my favorite books, period—is Kate O'Brien's The Land of Spices, which faced censorship by the Irish Censorship Board in 1941 because of a brief mention of homosexuality. The novel is a remarkable and moving story of a Catholic woman's journey from cold spiritual pride to graceful understanding. She comes to the understanding that "a soul should not take upon itself the impertinence of being frightened for another soul; that God is alone with each creature." O'Brien's characters struggle to confront their human frailty and live up to their strong Catholic faith. Often this struggle leads to the realization that God has made human beings complex creatures, and that we are meant to engage with that human complexity instead of shutting it off with cold theological abstractions.
That difficult spiritual journey toward an acceptance of the complexity and diversity of human experience was made by Rev. Howard Bess. Through conversations with a gay parishioner in his Baptist congregation, Rev. Bess came to accept that homosexuality was not a special sin, but simply part of God's miraculously diverse Creation. In the 1990s, Rev. Bess wrote a book titled Pastor, I am Gay about his journey toward this realization. The book caused an uproar in the small, evangelical-dominated community down the road from Rev. Bess's home—Wasilla, Alaska. The book was pulled from bookstores, and copies "disappeared" from the shelves of the Wasilla Public Library.
Rev. Bess is convinced that his book was on Mayor Sarah Palin's mind when she approached Wasilla's librarian and asked her opinion about banning books. The librarian expressed her firm opposition to censorship and commitment to the First Amendment right of free expression. Mayor Palin attempted to fire the librarian.
In another of her great novels, The Ante-Room, Kate O'Brien writes: "Our absurdity must be more of a wound to the Eternal, Agnes thought, than our guilt."
My poem " Phrasebook " has been published online in Ergon: Greek/American Arts and Letters .
The frontispiece from Countee Cullen's The Black Christ and Other Poems (1929). Illustration by Charles Cullen. Click to enlarge. On...
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