There’s a list making the rounds of social media right now of “banned books”. Yeah, it sucks that such a list has to exist. We don’t live in Utopia. But are those books going anywhere? Will you ever have a really difficult time finding a copy of The Catcher in the Rye or The Harry Potter series? Probably not. (Even though J.K. Rowling has managed to piss off just about everyone.)
Why is this?
One simple reason. We may not live in Utopia, but we don’t live in Dystopia, either. Banned books are an effective tool employed by libraries and booksellers. There is no easier way to get your book on the bestseller list than to have it publicly banned. Human nature prompts us to immediately rush out and find out why those books were banned.
There are exceptions to this rule. When six Dr. Seuss books were withdrawn due to “hurtful and wrong” imagery, I had a hard time deciding how to feel about it. The reason for this can be found in And to Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street: “…a Chinaman who eats with sticks…” You might think that would be harmless, but I knew. I spent a large portion of my childhood with an image of Asian people wearing weird pointy hats and eating noodles with “sticks”. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I began to appreciate the beauty of Asian culture. And the fun. I’m a big anime and manga fan, and I’m listening to K-Pop right now thanks to my much less culturally insensitive daughter. Someday I hope to visit Japan, South Korea, China and anywhere else that will allow a humble American.
Yes, those Seuss books are mostly off the shelf or on sale on e-Bay for hundreds of dollars. But what happened to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind when our “woke” culture wanted to cancel it? It hit number one on the Amazon bestseller list. You can still find it on Amazon, by the way. And the N-word has not been removed. Same for Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. And everybody knows about the success of another “banned” book, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. For the most part, there are no bonfires of these banned books, and even if there are, you can’t burn digital copies and more copies are printed of most of them everyday, anyway.
That’s why when I get requests to feature banned books more prominently in my store, I have to admit I don’t have very many of them. They’re sold out.
I’m reeling. I read in The New York Times that The Nation apologized for publishing a poem because of social media backlash. The editors apologized—as did the poet—for using language identified as black vernacular because the poet is white.
Okay. I get the whole black face thing. I agree that no one should ever attempt to use language or cultural appropriation to make fun of another race. However, this poem (“How-To” by Anders Carlson-Wee) had a certain beauty to it and was not, in my opinion, intended to outrage anyone. But if it was…so what?
You think Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn with its anti-slavery views without intending to outrage his fellow Southerners? Do you think it would have been as effective if Mr. Twain had not used black vernacular? And yes, I know in today’s world old Huck has become somewhat despised among some literary snobs, but I still—and always will—love that book.
But poetry! Poetry is meant for more than being politically correct. Poetry is meant to entice and outrage. Poetry is meant to make you think about things a different way. Why the hell do you think it’s so difficult to understand? Why do you think your English professors could spend an entire class period on a ten-line poem? Because poetry is different. And it’s off limits to political correctness.
To those who think Mr. Carlson-Wee had no right to appropriate black language, I say this: He has poetic license. He’s a talented writer who sees the world a different way. He’s white but, for this poem at least, he spoke for another race because that was what his muse whispered to him. Who are you to say he was wrong?
By the way, I had a whole other post planned for today extolling the virtues of this cover for Dickens Magic. Because I seriously can’t stop looking at it. Many, many thanks to Farah Evers Designs for the fantastic work on it!
Another one of my heroes died this week, and it’s left a bigger hole in the world than I’d anticipated. I mean, people die. Even the stars we admire from afar. I’ve got more heroes in heaven than I do on earth at this point. Walt Disney, Mark Twain, Bing Crosby, Steve Jobs… Yet, it just seems so wrong that David Bowie isn’t still here.
Why him more than the others? It’s hard to say, really. I wasn’t the best David Bowie fan. I didn’t love everything he ever put out. I didn’t buy every album. I tended to pick and choose, more of a greatest hits than a B-side fan. I never went to a concert. I own a lot of his music, but I don’t listen to it all the time.
I think he was my Elvis. The one artist that won’t be replaced for me. It’s not just that it’ll be difficult. There won’t be another David Bowie. That incredibly elastic voice and personality can’t be replaced. We won’t see another Major Tom or Ziggy Stardust or Jareth or Thin White Duke. Not again.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mourn him. I didn’t know him. But I’ll never listen to his music again without a sense of loss and the impermanence of life. Which means his music doesn’t mean the same thing to me that it did. I can’t just fall in love with his croon and wonder at the hidden meanings to his lyrics. And it’s that loss that I mourn.
So good-bye, Mr. Bowie. I’ll miss you every time I hear your voice.