Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Vignettes from Vermont: Banned Books Week

All photos by Joey Kulkin (@incrediblekulk)

BENNINGTON -- What do Angelou and Silverstein have in common? The same thing Steinbeck and Blume have in common, what Twain and Rushdie have in common, what Defoe, Darwin and Dickens have in common.

Authors for the ages? Sure.

Masters whose books have been attacked in America and beyond? Sad but true.

Banned Books Week celebrates its 30th anniversary from September 30 to October 6, and many of the beloved -- yet publicly shamed -- pieces of work will continue to be on display (and for sale) in the "Banned Books" case at Fiddlehead at Four Corners art gallery.

Fiddlehead's "Banned Books" case stands next to the "Animation Vault" and is a popular stop for customers, many of whom spend up to an hour thumbing through pages, amazed and astounded that seemingly innocuous books they know and love have been challenged, expurgated or flat-out banned from schools and public libraries.

No doubt you grew up on these classics, or were required to read them in school ...

... unless parents, educators and religious leaders prohibited you from these books that are featured on the shelves at Fiddlehead at Four Corners:

Women on Top (Nancy Friday) ... One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Ken Kesey) ... The Adventures of Huck Finn (Mark Twain) ... I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou) ... The Satanic Verses (Salman Rushdie) ... Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury) ... The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood) ... Of Mice and Men (Steinbeck) ... Brokeback Mountain (Annie Proulx) ... The Merchant of Venice (Shakespeare) ...The Crucible (Arthur Miller) ...

... The Weaver of Raveloe (Silas Marner) ...Oliver Twist (Charles Dickens) ... Moll Flanders (Daniel Defoe) ... The Descent of Man (Charles Darwin) ... Tarzan of the Apes (Edgar Rice Burroughs) ... The Origin of the Species (that Darwin fella, again) ... The Color Purple (Alice Walker) ... The Cider House Rules (John Irving) ... the Holy Bible ... Lolita (Vlad Nakobov) ... The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger) ... Whale Talk (Chris Crutcher) ... American Psycho (Bret Easton Ellis) ... A Light in the Attic (Shel Silverstein) ... My Brother Sam is Dead (Collier and Collier) ... Then Again, Maybe I Won't (Judy Blume) ... Flowers For Algernon (Keyes) ... Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling) ... Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak) ... On the Road (Jack Kerouac) ... The Lorax.

Why would overzealous parents and educators and religious fucktards go through so much trouble to ban these masterpieces? Let's take a look at some examples:

* The Diary of Anne Frank -- Officials in Wise County, Virginia, challenged the book in 1987 because it was "sexually offensive" while members of the Alabama State Textbook Committee in 1983 called for a rejection because it's a "real downer". Poor Anne. All she really needed to do is rub one out every few days in the Secret Annex.

* Where's Waldo? (seriously) -- It was challenged in '85 by public libraries in Saginaw, Michigan, and in '93 it was removed from Springs Public Library in East Hampton, New York, because of the tiny drawing of a woman lying on the beach in a bikini bottom with no top. The horror of ballpoint boobies!

* Prayer For Owen Meany (another John Irving controversy) -- It was challenged in '01 in Kanawha County, West Virginia, high schools as "pornographic, offensive and vulgar" and it was banned in '03 by Scott Johnson Middle School in McKinley, Texas. It's not nearly as offensive and vulgar as Texas Republicans.

* Huck Finn -- There have been many fights to remove the book or keep it within reaching distance of kids. It was retained as required reading for sophomores in Lakeville, Minnesota. It was challenged in Manchester, Connecticut because the N-word was used 212 times. Pulled from classes in Taylor, Michigan, because of racial slurs. A student and her mother threatened to file a civil rights complaint at Cactus High in Peoria, Arizona, for alleged racial treatment, segregation of the student and use of a racial slur in the classroom. It was pulled from 3 reading lists in Renton, Washington, after a black student said the book degraded her and her culture. Dang, Mista Twain, your words is ghastly!

* A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L'Engle) -- The haters who ran Polk City Elementary in Florida said it promoted witchcraft and crystal balls and demons ('85), and in '90 it was challenged in Anniston, Alabama, because they objected to Jesus Christ being linked with the names of great artists, philosophers, scientists and religious leaders. How DARE L'Engle associate God's son with religion. She's a heretic.

* Brokeback Mountain -- St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Austin, Texas, showed its brass in '05 by retaining the book and returning $3 million to a donor who wanted the sweet love story of married cowboys turned gay lovers off the optional reading list for 12th-graders. Sorry, Bigot Warbucks, but St. Andrew's had to quit you.

* Where the Sidewalk Ends -- In '86 it was challenged in West Allis-West Milwaukee schools because Silverstein's book "suggests drug use, the occult, suicide, death, violence, disrespect for truth, disrespect for legitimate authority and rebellion against parents." Sounds like the book rebellion came from a bunch of Grumpledumps whose days are too long.

* James and the Giant Peach -- How dare Ronald Dahl use the word "ass" in a story. Objectors said it promotes tobacco, snuff and whiskey. In '85 it was removed from schools in Stafford County, Virginia, and placed in restricted access areas of the library because of "crude language" and it "encourages children to disobey their parents and other adults." Like what happens during puberty and teendom.

* In the Night Kitchen (Sendak, the troublemaker) -- A Mississippi library expurgated the book by drawing shorts on the nude boy. And that led to the death of peepees and weewees.

What is your favorited Banned Book? Why? Email your answers with a picture of said book to and we'll post them all ... without expurgating any submission.

For more on Banned Books Week click HERE and for a great Texas Monthly magazine story on the Brokeback Mountain saga click HERE.

How have American masterpieces been treated by international governments? Click HERE.