Then, They Came for Steinbeck

Pulling the slim, canary-yellow volume from my parents’ bookshelves, I admired the bold, blue printing along the spine and across the cover. Running my fingers over the cover’s roughly-textured cloth was such pleasure I put off opening the book, but in time I did open it, and began to read.

It wasn’t an especially hard book for a fourth-grader, at least in terms of vocabulary, but there were words I’d never encountered. “Flophouse” was one. It made me giggle, imagining as I did a house filled with children,  jumping and flopping on beds.

I found the word again, then twice more: “flophouse.” Curious, I closed the book and went running downstairs to the bridge party taking place in our living room.

Sidling up behind my father’s chair, I waited. Eventually, he sensed my presence and said, “Need something, sweetie?” I needed a definition. “What’s a flophouse, Daddy?” I don’t remember if he paused, but he never looked up from his cards when he asked, “What are you reading now?”

What I was reading was John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. Unlike The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, the saga of Doc, Dora, Mack, Hazel, and Eddie never was banned, but in my parents’ house, banning would have been irrelevant.

From their perspective, books were written in order to be read. If the reader happened to be a fourth-grader who’d pulled a grown-up novel off the shelves because she was attracted by the cover, so be it. I’d be interested, or not, and if a grown-up book piqued my interest, there would be plenty of time to look up unfamiliar words or talk about life in a flophouse.

My parents’ willingness to allow my friends and I to roam their library at will reflected a tolerance not always associated with 1950’s middle America, but I remember it being common in our community.

In school, we started out with Dick and Jane, then worked our way through classics like Little House on the Prairie. By third or fourth grade we were allowed to browse more grown-up sections of the school library, and at the town library, all that was needed was a note from a parent for older children to gain access to the stacks free to check out whatever intrigued them.

In a world of bookmobiles, neighborhood reading clubs, and Junior Librarians, the importance of reading was assumed. Apart from classroom assignments, I was free to read as I chose. If a book captured my imagination, I might re-read it a dozen times. If I found a book offensive, upsetting, poorly-crafted, or boring, I’d simply put it down and walk away.

In either case, the decision was mine to make. Teachers, parents, and librarians certainly shaped, suggested, and prodded as my friends and I wandered along our literary byways, but censorship in the form of flat prohibition never touched my life.

As this year’s  Banned Books Week  begins, the freedom of those school years seems ever more precious. Introduced to literary classics in the classroom  — Melville, Hawthorne, Shakespeare, Dickens and Tolstoy — we were free to read among more contemporary writers as well.

My own reading list was rich and varied, a feast of contemporary American letters. And yet every book pictured above, and more, have been targeted for removal from classrooms and libraries. Some have been burned. Authors have been threatened with death. Booksellers determined to make copies available have lost their business, or been forced to move. Many authors have fought decades-long battles on behalf of their work.

According to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, at least 42 of the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century have been targeted for banning. Reading through the lists often is bemusing. Contemplating the reasons for such challeges can be horrifying.

While the burning of books by Nazis, Muslims, the Irish, or the East St. Louis Public Library (The Grapes of Wrath,1939) is dramatic, the on-going pressure to silence authors, distort points of view, and manipulate facts remains both insidious and pervasive.

When textbooks are forced to serve as vehicles for particular social and political agendas, the result is what Tamim Ansary calls the “blanding” of education. In the textbook approval process, the need to please politically-appointed state boards and bureaucracies leads to self-censorship on the part of textbook writers, fully as damaging to the educational process and freedom of expression as the blatant removal of The Color Purple from a library, or issuance of a fatwa against Salman Rushdie for his Satanic Verses.

The reasons for censorship vary from one decade to another, and among communities. Prudishness, a variety of prejudices, demands for ideological purity, or the particularly obnoxious form of self-righteousness known as political correctness all play their role. Books are made up of words, after all, and if certain words no longer are permissible, books are at risk. I can only imagine what Joseph Conrad might think about being known as the author of The N-Word of the Narcissus.

In the end, it is fear which underlies this impulse toward censorship: fear of complexity and ambiguity, fear of the stranger, fear that one’s judgments about the nature of life itself may be wrong.  Above all else, the censorious spirit reveals a fearful refusal to see the world as it is, in all of its glorious and sometimes disturbing manifestations.

But our fears are not a writer’s concern. When an author says, “This is how I see the world,” we are free to look away, but we have no right to deny publication of the vision.

That said, in a world still vulnerable to censorship and intimidation, what are we to do?

One of the first recomendations of the American Library Association is to read a once-banned book. That doesn’t mean you have to pick up Tropic of Cancer or Lady Chatterley’s Lover.  Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich would make fine selections for banned-book reading.

One of the happy secrets of life is that banned books often are great books: filled with insight, beauty, and the pure pleasure of words.  To read a banned book is neither a chore nor a distasteful obligation. It simply is another route into the heart of our world’s complexity, and perhaps a way toward increased understanding.

For those particularly concerned with our educational system, it’s important to become aware of challenges to textbooks, literature, and library services and programs. Talk to librarians and teachers. Make an effort to find out which groups are attempting to influence textbook content, and why.  Acquaint yourself with local school board policies. Evaluate them for fairness and appropriateness, then monitor their application.

Finally, become a reader who explores new pathways, and learn to appreciate quality. If you prefer essays, try Neil Gaiman. If you’ve never met a bodice-ripper you didn’t like, sidle into the literary fiction aisle and see what Southern Gothic is about. Take advantage of Goodreads for a variety of reviews and trenchant discussion. Find a book blogger or two, and follow them. Many are rich with recommendations, analysis, and links to authors and critics.

Nearly sixty years have passed since that night I clattered down the stairs into my parents’ bridge party: clutching my first copy of Steinbeck, confident my father would satisfy my curiosity about flophouses. 

The world has changed beyond all imagining since that night, but the larger lessons my parents taught have changed not at all.  Books, they told me, are treasures to be cherished and protected. Reading matters, because life matters. The freedoms to speak, to write, to publish and to read must remain inviolable if other freedoms are to endure. And, finally — censorship violates everyone it touches.

Ray Bradbury put it differently, but the message is the same. “There is more than one way to burn a book,” he said, “and the world is full of people running about with lit matches.”

Keep your garden hose handy.



Celebrating the Freedom to Read: Sept. 21-27, 2014

Comments are welcome. To leave a comment, please click below.

108 thoughts on “Then, They Came for Steinbeck

  1. Amen, Linda.

    Books were my link to the outer world when I was growing up. It was my instructor in growing up, in learning the ways of the world. I remember the giddy feeling that came with the weekly visit of the bookmobile or when the Scholastic book shipments came to our classroom. Or going to our local library, a Carnegie built gem, and standing in the narrow stacks with what felt like a shroud of books around me. The sheer possibility of it all!

    And to then read a book from a different time and place and feel connected to it, to understand the insights contained within– what a marvelous sensation it was!

    I read many of those banned books as youth and,as you say, many are among our greatest books. It is our duty to maintain this freedom of literature so that that giddiness that I once felt is forever there for the youth of tomorrow. I know there are still young people who still experience that thrill and that brings me happiness and hope.

    As usual, a great post, Linda. Thank you.

    1. Our library was a Carnegie, Gary. They were so recognizable, and still are, for that matter. It always makes me feel good to find one in a town new to me. There’s a certain solidity to them, as though they’ve given form to all the wisdom contained on their shelves.

      Nothing is quite like “going to the library.” It was a favorite thing to do when I was young, and I still enjoy it, although I do miss the card catalogs. But wandering the stacks, picking this book or that and paging through it to see if it might be the one to take home? “Giddy” is just the right word.

      And yes – when there was no library to go, the bookmobile was perfect.One of my favorite photos is of a bookmobile waiting for patrons at the edge of a Louisiana bayou. The hunger for books, for education, exists everywhere, even in communities some people might dismiss out of hand as being uninterested in such things.

      Like you, I’m hoping new generations will experience the satisfaction of reading, and perhaps even the thrill of collecting their own library. And look at this. What could be better than a bookplate with a Red Chair, just waiting for someone to sit down and read?


  2. Important post, Linda, especially in light of current affairs. I’ve taught just about all of the novels you referenced, and reading your words about the power of words, reminded me of myriad times when youthful eyes revealed old souls after a stimulating literary discussion.

    Most people are unaware that they are welcome in the Special Collections part of university libraries. This is true at Stanford, where my friend Tim works. Several years back, I had the goose-bumping experience of sitting down with Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, written in beautiful penmanship on a yellow tablet. Steinbeck had made few edits.

    There it was–right in front of me. I turned many pages, stopping to observe a Master’s hand.

    I encourage all your readers, if in the vicinity of a major university library, to visit Special Collections.

    1. Cheri, what a wonderful suggestion. I’ve visited special collections from time to time, most recently at the Crystal Bridges Art Museum and a smaller museum in Galveston. But I’ve never explored what’s available locally, both at the University of Houston and the Houston Public Library.

      When I started looking online, I found a wealth of information, like this Houston and Texas history collection. I’m eager to act on your suggestion.

      Reading a Steinbeck manuscript would have been a remarkable experience. It does bring to mind another issue which has been distressing me.

      The movement to eliminate cursive handwriting from schools because “everyone types” is a worrisome development. I recently read a post by a young woman who’s unable to read or write cursive. She spoke about how frustrating it was for her not to be able to read a thank-you note from an aunt, or primary sources in a history class.

      Without the ablity to read cursive script, people are cut off from important aspects of their history. I can’t imagine not being able to read the hand-written letters of my forebears, or a Steinbeck manuscript, for that matter.


  3. Speaking of Ray Bradbury, one is reminded of his novel (and the movie) Fahrenheit 451 which was occasionally banned despite what Wikipedia refers to as “the inherent irony of such censorship”.

    1. Al, I was surprised to see that one of the most recent attempts to ban “Fahrenheit 451” took place in 2006, in a northern Houston suburb. As you point out, no matter when or where it takes place, it is a bit of delicious irony.

      When I read the Wiki entry, I found this, which is equally intriguing:

      “As time went by, Bradbury tended to dismiss censorship as a chief motivating factor for writing the story. Instead he usually claimed that the real messages of Fahrenheit 451 were about the dangers of an illiterate society infatuated with mass media.”

      [Quoting Bradbury, writing in the 1950s] “…only a few weeks ago… a husband and wife passed me, walking their dog.”

      “I stood staring after them, absolutely stunned. The woman held in one hand a small cigarette-package-sized radio, its antenna quivering. From this sprang tiny copper wires which ended in a dainty cone plugged into her right ear. There she was, oblivious to man and dog, listening to far winds and whispers and soap-opera cries, sleep-walking, helped up and down curbs by a husband who might just as well not have been there. This was not fiction.”

      Infatuation with mass media? A companion who might as well not be there? Ah, the smart phone era, envisioned before its time.

      Thanks for that terrific link. Bradbury was more prescient than I’ve realized.


  4. Inspiring post Linda. Very well said and such an important discussion.

    I find the whole ‘blanding of culture’ quite frightening, extending as it does past books and touching on the way we should think and access information. Without our ability to think creatively and decide for ourselves, where would we be as human beings? Not more than zombies.

    1. We’ve entered the age of group-think, Tandi, and the blanding of culture is continuing apace. We think we’ve advanced beyond those silly mores and customs of the past, but our society as a whole is generally less well-educated, more passive, and far less willing to take responsibility for our lives.

      Just think of your recent trip to Baffin. Think of the number of decisions that were necessary on a daily basis; the physical strength that was required; the knowledge of the environment that underlay your trip; the willingness to engage the world as it was that made certain experiences (eyeballs!) so memorable; the preparation that had to take place.

      Now. Ponder this. I suppose I’m being entirely too judgmental, but if you asked me which image – your kayak or that cruise ship – best represented our society, I think you know which one I’d choose. The good news is, it’s never too late to drop a few pounds, pick up a few skills, and set off in the kayak.


  5. Linda,
    It’s hard to believe any of those books have been banned. There’s been a tussle to control what the masses read and think ever since movable type was invented. Great subject and thought provoking.

    1. Call me crazy, Bella, but I suspect, way back in the day, there was someone frantically working the scrub brush on the cave wall, all the while telling that weird artist guy to stop making images of antelope when everyone knew only aurochs were acceptable as art.

      Today, of course, censorship has morphed a bit. There are plenty of battles taking place around college courses, high school dress codes, and the so-called politically incorrect opinion (who gets to decide what’s “correct”?) It’s an interesting phenomenon to watch, for sure. Anyone who thinks a social media mob can’t be engaged in censorship hasn’t been paying attention.


  6. Great post! I was encouraged to read growing up by parents who read voraciously. Even after we acquired our first TV set, reading was the order of the day. I spent many enjoyable hours sitting in my bed, the covers over my head, reading by flashlight. I raised my kids to enjoy reading, too. I can only surmise that those who go around trying to ban books have never learned the love of losing oneself in a book.

    1. I was fond of the flashlight under the blankets method for a while, Ruth. Then I discovered I could make it from my closet to the bed as soon as I heard footsteps on the stairs, and I created a little reading room for myself in that closet. Mom thought it was so nice that I was keeping things organized. Little did she realize I’d straightened things up to make room for myself on the closet floor.

      I think your surmise about people who’d like to ban this or that probably is on target. It seems to me that people who devote their lives to trying to control other people probably are a little fearful of losing control themselves — even to the pleasures of a book.


  7. Finally, a voice of reason! Well said, Linda!

    You know, with book censorship, generally it seems to fall along the lines of ‘whose ox is getting gored.’ The folks who dislike what an author says, rather than simply agreeing to disagree, seem to feel called to prohibit others from even reading his/her words. That sounds mighty pompous to me — who set them up as judge and jury??

    Bradbury’s quote is perfect. ‘People running about with lit matches’ — how descriptive!

    We might not agree with someone else’s ideas or words, but gee, shouldn’t they have the freedom to speak and write? I mean, look what a void there would be without ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and so many other once-banned books!

    1. Here’s another example of your point, Debbie. There’s a radio host in Houston whose show I sometimes listen to while I’m working. He has some strong political opinions, but his show isn’t just politics. There’s music, author interviews, comedy bits — a real mix.

      Every once in a while he mentions the emails he gets from people who disagree with his views, don’t like the music, and are offended by the comedy. His advice to them all is, “If you don’t like it, turn the danged dial.”

      That’s pretty much it, I’d say. I’m not going to read “Fifty Shades of Gray,” but I’m not going to demand it be taken off the market. I don’t care for rap, but so far, no one’s making me listen to it. And so on.

      If you’ve got ten minutes, I think you’d enjoy skimming this page. The history of censorship really is interesting. For example, I had no idea that Daniel Defoe, author of “Robinson Crusoe”, also was imprisoned for his political pamphlets.


  8. An important post Linda. Looking at your list of banned books, all of which I have read, I cannot imagine depriving people of the sheer pleasure of reading them. I was and am a voracious reader, and don’t remember ever being told a book was inappropriate. That would have been the book I wanted to read.

    When my daughter was in the 7th grade a group of parents protested the teaching of “Catcher in the Rye”. We must have a free exchange of ideas. To lose oneself in a book is to experience another life for an hour or two.

    1. I had to smile, Kayti. It’s true — telling a child “you shouldn’t read that” leads inevitably to smuggled copies under the bed or in the apple tree.

      Unfortunately, while you and I can’t imagine depriving people of the pleasure of books, there are forces abroad in the world who are doing just that. Sometimes, the enforcement involves imprisonment of the authors. Sometimes, it’s considered appropriate to simply kill the person reading the book.

      Banned Books Week is a good time to ask some questions: where is censorship taking place in our society? Where in the world are people being affected by censorship or demands for confomity? What can we do to ensure that the freedoms we now have aren’t eroded? And so on.

      I know one thing. All this writing about reading makes me want to read — though not necessarily about writing!


  9. Your opening childhood recollection is priceless, and your point about fear at the bottom of this particularly well-taken. It is remarkable the range of books targeted, isn’t it?

    While this isn’t censorship, I was struck by another sad limitation on what we can read today as I looked in three local book shops in NYC for books by a list of Finnish authors I’ve been carrying around. Only one book, by Sofi Oksanen (Purge, which I’d already read–it’s excellent) was on the shelves, and none of the Finnish classics at all. It’s not the first time I’ve gone to bookshops on a search for books from various countries, particularly Eastern Europe, only to come up dry, even at the huge second-hand bookshop, The Strand! It’s such a shame.

    1. Susan, I often showed up at those bridge parties and elsewhere with interesting questions. Some became the stuff of family legend, and unutterable embarassment on the part of my poor mother. Dad was mostly unflappable. Did you ever see this photo of us reading together?

      Have you tried Abe Books for your Finnish authors? That’s always my first stop for out-of-print or difficult to find volumes. I don’t know who you’re looking for, of course, but I went to the Wiki page for Finnish authors, picked three names at random, and put them in Abe’s search box. All returned results — sometimes, very many. You might give it a try. Abe’s is where I found my first edition of a 1908 Kansas book, with an onionskin jacket and uncut pages.


      1. Oh, yes, and I’ve made several purchases online. (Abe is an excellent source.) My comment here pertained to that endangered species, the local, independent bookstore–and also the narrowing of reading possibilities because so much is no longer available in print or, if in print, in English translation, even of classics. It’s such a shame, though not a surprise.

        1. Ah. I focused on the books in your comment, rather than the booksellers. Regarding that, you might be interested in this article in the NY Times, if you’ve not read it.

          There’s a small press here in Texas — Copano Bay Press — devoted entirely to bringing back out-of-print books related to Texas history. Their volumes are beautiful, and relatively affordable. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if more independent presses emerged and brought such books to life?

  10. I must admit to not being a very well-read person of the classics. I read a lot of books as a kid and worked to earn the Reading Circle pin. At home, we had a full set of World Book Ency. I enjoyed reading and looking at them. I don’t recall being encouraged to read some of the classics in high school. I have a lot of catching up to do.

    It is surprising how many of the top 100 books are on the targeted list. The reasons are incredible.

    Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful remarks in your post.

    1. I can’t remember a Reading Circle pin. I’m not sure we had those, although I do still have my Palmer Method Handwriting pins around here somewhere. They’re the size of a dime, and made of tin. One’s orange and one is green, and both show a hand holding a quill pen. My goodness.

      We had the World Books, too. They were wonderful. I can remember spending many a rainy afternoon with them, just paging through the volumes until something caught my interest.

      As for catching up — we all end up with gaps in our education. I’m fairly well read, but when it comes to math, I’m an illiterate. Of course I can balance my checkbook, increase or decrease recipes, and figure out my car’s gas mileage. Beyond that? Not so good.

      So, I looked around, and found Kahn Academy. I took their math placement test and ended up in (ahem) the arithmetic section. Prime numbers. Rhomboids. Multiplying fractions with uncommon denominators. All that stuff.

      I don’t have time for it every day, but I’ve successfully completed 78% of that level now. Once I finish it, I’m on to pre-algebra. There’s always time to catch up!


      1. I’m not certain it was called Reading Circle. That name always pops into my mind when I think of it.

        I agree we are literate and illiterate in various areas. Science is my literate place. The Kahn Academy is a great place. He has a huge selection to pick from. He does a good service. Good luck with your math.

        I am planning to hike around on this Tuesday morning. It is Capulin volcano in northeast NM. I hope it doesn’t come out of dormancy while we are in the crater. :-)

  11. The banning of certain books has always been a mystery for I can’t fathom what certain groups are thinking. But maybe, to be more precise, these individuals were/are not capable of thinking in a rational manner. I believe some are “Bible thumpers” and others are motivated for political reasons, Some are “goody-two-shoes.”

    I’ve never been keen on the classics nor any of the well known writers. I’m very selective and read mostly for information on various subjects, mysteries and anything bird, cat, dog, or horse related. In that respect I consider myself to be rather narrow minded. And I write that in complete honesty. Really!

    This post is excellent and thought provoking. It would make a great editorial in a newspaper.

    1. I think you put your finger right on the heart of the issue, Yvonne. Many people who seek to ban books, music, conversational topics or particular words may or may not be capable of rational thought in other ways. They probably are. But certain subjects — religion, race, sex, politics — get them so riled up they just don’t cope very well.

      Rather than developing better coping skills, they try to get rid of the irritant. That’s perfectly acceptable in some cases: think mosquitos and poison ivy. But in human society, getting rid of the irritant can mean shunning, shaming, gulags or genocide. Not so good.

      When I still was a child, but had moved beyond “The Pokey Little Puppy”, a Christmas gift was a set called “The Children’s Classics. “Heidi” was my favorite, but one book included in the set of classics was — “Black Beauty.” There’s your horse story.

      I do prefer non-fiction, but I just received a couple of novels, and am looking to reading them — they’re on the to-do list.


  12. If people allow their children to be exposed to books about poverty, domestic abuse, and racism, they might grow up and get involved with doing something about helping people break the cycle of poverty and abuse, and making the world a better place for all people.

    One wouldn’t want one’s children associated with “those” kinds of people. They might get the wrong ideas, like all people are created equal or the equally wrong notion that all people have a right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” — radical and dangerous notions. Any book that subverts their little minds from the pursuit of money and ostentatious display is highly suspect and needs to be suppressed.

    I am, of course, being sarcastic.

    1. Well, despite your claim of sarcasm, WOL, there’s a note of truth to what you say. Reading various reports about the release of the new iPhone 6, I find myself wondering again — what is it that leads people to line up for hours at a time, or even to camp out overnight, just to get a new phone, or new tennis shoes, or a new Xbox? It’s beyond me. Perhaps I’ve not been properly acculturated.

      We have issues today that weren’t present twenty years ago, of course, and certainly not when we were children. I’m thinking of the level of violence in films, the nastiness in various corners of the internet, the echo-chamber of social media, and so on. I’m not sure when it began, but I slowly turned off one “news show” after another for no reason other than that I tired of people talking over and yelling at one another.

      And there are more subtle forces at play. Interesting article here: A Writerly Chill at Jeff Bezos’ Fire.


  13. A very important post, Linda, though I must confess I was taken aback that the situation is still so ‘bad’ that a banned books week is required! Like you, I had free range to read anything I chose to. You may be amused to know that much of my reading was done in a Carnegie Library, one of only two built in the Pacific.

    1. I think I remember you mentioning that Carnegie library, Gallivanta. Perhaps it was only in passing. But what a lovely coincidence, that we both had the pleasure of reading in such a place.

      As for the situation being bad — in some places, it’s very, very bad. Burning books is one thing. Attempting to burn down libraries filled with priceless manuscripts is something else. That’s what happened in Timbuktu last year, and it’s continuing to happen elsewhere. The good news in Timbuktu is that most of the manuscripts were saved. But anyone who thinks the same people who attempted to destroy the entirety of the Timbuktu library wouldn’t love to do the same to our Carnegie libraries might need a tiny reality check.

      In the meantime — read on!


  14. This is an important topic and post. I look forward to reading how others weigh in and your thoughtful replies.

    Your post brings to mind the book burning scene of Don Quijote by Miguel de Cervantes, which is handled humorously. Don Quijote’s niece, the parish priest and the barber are certain he has gone crazy, mad due to immersing himself in the reading of old books on chivalry. So, they burn his books, take away his library.

    One day he wanders through his house looking for his books and library. His niece replies, “What books?” and then adds perhaps an evil giant has taken them away. Her hope is he will fall for her explanation and be done with all his frivolous reading. He does fall for it and the rest is history.

    Not only does he fall for her explanation but he begins to plan an expedition in search of adventure with the purpose of avenging the wrong of the evil enchanter who has stolen his library. He engages a local laborer to be his squire and names the daughter of a local peasant as his damsel. In the eyes of the book burners, how bad could things get? Such a funny scene.

    1. How bad could things get, indeed? I’m not sure I’ve ever read all of Cervantes’ book. although I read excerpts along the way. I just worked my way through about three-quarters of the Wiki, before I wore myself out.

      There’s much I never would have appreciated before, especially the meanings of names, the word-play, and such. And I’d forgotten, or never knew, all the complexities of the plot. I suppose part of that is due to having seen Man of La Mancha a few times, including down at the Outdoor Theater on Galveston Island. The musical was delightful, but of course it can’t contain all that’s in the book.

      Many of the songs began coming back, of course: “Dulcinea,” “Impossible Dream,” “The Knight of the Woeful Countenance.” But for sheer humor, nothing beats this German version I found on YouTube. Of all the things I’ve never thought of, Don Quixote in German ranks right up there. I’d never burn this tape!


      1. Research the book burning scene of Don Quijote and you will find all the rationalizations of the priest, the barber, Don Q’s niece and the housekeeper for burning. I promise you that there are chuckles in store. My favorite? The priest suggests they should read the titles of the books before tossing them on the burn pile, so to speak. He suggests they save the books of poetry, but then the niece suggests his being a poet would be a worse fate. And then like Velázquez and Goya who paint themselves in to a masterpiece, the priest picks up a book by Cervantes. You have to read the rationalization for the fate of that book. :) I don’t recall anything about the book burning scene in Man of la Mancha, definitely an allusion to the acts of the Spanish Inquisition.

  15. I love this post, of course, since I work in a public library and champion freedom of information. It’s the bedrock of informed democracy. How wonderful that your parents and librarians allowed such freedom to you in childhood. Parents do need to protect their kids from disturbing materials and experiences, to the extent they are able, until the children are mature enough to handle it. Always a judgment call. That your parents did not stifle your curiosity while parenting responsibly is a tribute to them.

    1. After reading your comment, Rosemary, I tried to recall what books or films distressed me as a child. I can think of three: the movie “Bambi,” the sorcerer’s apprentice from Disney’s “Fantasia,” and the story of “The Little Match Girl.” The irony is that all were meant for children.

      On the other hand, Grimm’s fairy tales never got to me, despite being fairly grim at times. And my dear grandmother told me stories from Sweden which she claimed were meant for children, but which always had terrible things happening to bad children. She would hug me and give me cookies after a new story, though, so I was pretty sure I wasn’t a bad girl.

      Honestly? I think one of the most important parts of my development as a curious and wide-ranging reader was being part of a stable family. Because I felt absolutely safe, in imagination I could roam a bit, test the limits, scare myself witless, then come back to my secure reality.

      I did find myself wondering what I was pulling off my folks’ bookshelf as a child, besides “Cannery Row,” and I found a wonderful resource: a year-by-year list of books on the NY Times best-seller list. I was surprised to see how many I remember. You might enjoy browsing the list, too.


  16. Oh, boy, did I chuckle at the thought of you popping up at your dad’s elbow and asking, “What is a flophouse?” and him not even twitching an eyebrow! Just a simple, “What are you reading now?”

    Did it get a reaction from the visiting bridge players? I can picture eyebrows shooting for the ceiling! lol

    I remember lying on my bed one day, reading ‘Moll Flanders.’ Mama stuck her head in the door and asked me what I was reading. I don’t remember exactly how old I was; maybe 13 or 14. I told her.

    She didn’t say anything for a minute. I could see her thinking. Then she said, “I’m not sure if you’re really old enough to be reading that.” She stood there for a few seconds more, then walked away.

    I had either found it in the school library (!), the bookmobile or our branch library. Neither she nor Dad ever went through what I’d checked out or took a book away from me and for that, I count my blessings.

    1. Actually, Gué, I remember all the people in my folks’ bridge club (eight regulars, four substitutes) and I don’t think there would have been a raised eyebrow in the place. The guys worked together, and the women kaffe-klatched together, and they all partied together on the weekends. It was a pretty tight, pretty congenial group.

      As a matter of fact, do you remember the story of the whole group going to the cemetery and purchasing their grave sites together? As in life, so in death.They wanted to be close by, so if someone was in the mood for bridge, they could get a game going. It happened, too. They’re all buried there, right next to each other. Mom arrived last — now they have their two tables.

      I love the story of your mom’s reaction, so much like my folks. I have a strong suspicion that the kind of freedom we enjoyed as kids probably contributed a good bit to our love of reading.

      Maybe you should convince the powers-that-be to let you read at work in those long gaps between significant chores!


  17. It is a sad situation when people feel the need to ban books and destroy knowledge because the strength of their own beliefs and ability to communicate them is so weak that it is their only way to move forward….at least in our supposed civilized society. Obviously, in some parts of the world it is based on some other less than civilized belief sets, but that is not the case in the U.S…..or at least it should not be. The world is really degenerating into a scary place.

    I definitely read material as a young person that would not have met with a school board’s approval. But I turned out ok… least as far as you can tell, that is. :-)

    From what I have read regarding Texas, and I guess a few other states, it seems that the books that are not being banned are being rewritten to line up with a preferred history rather than actual history. (correct me if I am wrong, please). I think this may be more worrisome than banning as people will believe what is in front of them as they read….assuming people are getting their ideas and knowledge from reading rather than “news and information” programming….and we all know how accurate most broadcast information is. What is worse….misinformation or ignorance?

    1. Steve, you reminded me of something Flannery O’Connor once said: “Only if we are secure in our beliefs can we see the comical side of the universe.” So many people who seem set on imposing their values on the world don’t appear to have a lick of humor in their makeup. They’re so deadly serious, in the sense that they seem determined to suck every bit of life out of everyone, and every experience.

      I’m sure we all read things our school boards wouldn’t have approved. As a matter of fact, I read things I didn’t approve of. But reading a book doesn’t mean we have to accept everything it says. Part of the reason for reading broadly is to begin figuring out what we agree with, what we don’t agree with, and why.

      I’m not well-informed on the issues, but I do know Texas has been debating the content of our advanced placement history textbooks. From what I’ve heard, the discussion was about what you’d expect. Political liberals were sure conservatives were trying to insert their agenda into the textbooks, and conservatives were saying the liberals were undermining education with their shenanigans.

      Two concerns I’ve heard expressed do seem reasonable and fact-based. One is that literature is being displaced in the Common Core curriculum. There’s a fairly short piece about New York here that you can look at if you’re interested.

      As for re-writing history, there’s this instructive little comparison. The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says:

      “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

      There are a couple of versions which differ because of punctuation, but that’s the Second Amendment.

      In a (pre-Common Core) workbook for 7th grade students in Springfield, Illinois, this has been the explanation of the Second Amendment:

      “This amendment states that people have the right to certain weapons, providing that they register them and have not been in prison. The founding fathers included the amendment to prevent the United States from acting like the British who had tried to take weapons away from the colonists.”

      Well. That’s not exactly what the 2nd Amendment says. A friend tells me these “reinterpretations” are enough of an issue that a song parody has popped up. “We’re checking these texts and checking them twice, gonna find out who’s wrong and who’s right — Common Core is coming to town.”

      I’m so glad I don’t have kids in school just now.


      1. As am I, Linda. These are very difficult and confusing times. I try to tell myself that every generation feels that they are facing the end of civilization and the world no longer makes sense…..kind of like parents’ complaint about the new music that comes with each generation…but I do believe that this is approaching a somewhat, if not totally, barbaric time ahead.

        It seems that the people of the world, whatever their political or religious persuasion, are being played against themselves. In our own country, the basic tenets of our way of life are being reinterpreted for an agenda that is not in the best interests of the majority and we are being fed pap in order to remain uninformed. Not quite on the level with Flannery O’Connor, but in Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian” is this….

        As long as the majority of citizens see each other as the enemy nothing much will improve. Hatred and misunderstanding is not the way to a better life.

        1. If it weren’t for my intrepid readers, I would have gone to the grave without seeing the Life of Brian – or a good bit more of Monty Python, when you get right down to it. One of these days I’m going to sit down and watch the whole thing.

          That’s such a great bit. One can only hope that, one of these days, we’ll find ourselves smart enough or frustrated enough to stop with the in-fighting. Absent some extraordinary event, I’m not expecting it to happen in the foreseeable future.

          1. There are two possible outcomes for the future, Linda. One is an attack by space aliens that will unite us for the survival of humankind. The other is total destruction by space aliens because we were too busy blaming the other for not seeing them coming. Oh yeah, I forgot the third…..the Rise of the Apes. :-)

  18. I really enjoyed reading how you asked your father what a flophouse was. I’ve read several Steinbeck books, but have never read Cannery Row. This post makes me want to get it the next time that I go to the library.

    1. That’s great, Sheryl. I think you’d really like it. I’m about to re-read it myself, now that I have some years on the waterfront behind me. I think I know where “our” flophouse and grill is, and I want to double-check my assumptions.

      I’m glad you enjoyed my little story of asking Dad about flophouses. You would have enjoyed him, too. He was a great guy.


  19. In my writing class in Singapore, we discussed Of Mice and Men. Children understand more than we give them credit for– the book is especially relevant in the times we live in, and I’m glad my students understood what was going on, and related it to their lives.

    1. That’s another fine Steinbeck novel, Damyanti, and it’s such pleasure to think of you considering it with your class. You’re right on both counts. Children do understand far more than they’re often given credit for, and good literature can shed light on the struggles and complexities of ordinary lives.

      Thanks for stopping by and adding to the discussion!


  20. I’ve always held the opinion that anyone who wanted to ban a book was trying to hide something and I considered that an invitation to read the contraband in order to find out something I probably should know. After all, I’ve trusted my own judgement of right and wrong all of my life.

    1. I think you’re right, montucky. Exercising judgment in the context of the school or family is one thing. But trying to prevent everyone from reading a book? That’s not just offensive, it’s short-sighted, since for some of us it’s a clear invitation to see what all the fuss is about.

      What people are hiding when it happens is interesting to ponder. It could be their own discomfort with the subject matter, or guilt, or insecurity. And that’s fine — no one has to read any book. But if I don’t want to read this or that, it’s no reason to tell you that you can’t.


  21. Hooray, Linda. Controlling the flow of information is the heart of totalitarianism regardless of what brand you are talking about, and I would include fundamentalist religions as well as political entities and every other type of fanaticism.

    Peggy, as an elementary school principal, once had a man come in and tell her that his son was not to read any books that had dinosaurs in them because dinosaurs weren’t in the Bible. Peggy told him it was his right to pull his child from the school and go elsewhere, but as long as his child was attending science classes at her school, he would learn about dinosaurs.


    1. Good for Peggy. What she proposed was an educational version of changing the channel.

      I do feel a certain sympathy for people who grow nervous or contentious when they feel the ground shifting under their feet, Curt — particularly when it’s religious terra that’s not so firma. On the other hand, there are plenty of the faithful who seem to have missed one of the basic tenets of Christian faith: that everything is a gift from God. That includes our minds and our intellect. Presumably, they’re meant to be used.

      As for the dinosaurs — a very earnest child once told me there were none on the Ark because they were so big, they could just walk around and keep their heads out of the water until the flood receded. So, that takes care of that!



  22. “I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed…” John Milton “Areopagitica”.

    I read Milton’s great call to intellectual freedom when I was at university and its impact has stayed with me; his celebrated Areopagitica (1644)—written in condemnation of pre-publication censorship—is among history’s most influential and impassioned defences of free speech.

    Like you, I was a compulsive reader in childhood, both of my own five or six books a week from the well-stocked local library, and as I grew older, my father’s adult choices, sneakily read under the bedclothes with a torch after my parents had gone to bed. They weren’t as liberal as yours!

    I entirely agree with what you say in this post and am really taken aback at the situation you describe in the USA. Nothing of that scale exists here, although the classics are being sidelined in favour of more “modern” literature, generally speaking.

    And now – I’m off to find that battered old copy of Cannery Row which lurks somewhere in my book collection. How I loved that book with its collection of wacky, disreputable, vital characters! Your post has made me want to re-read it, again. How will I EVER get the current book pile down to manageable proportions?

    A book habit, well established in childhood, usually lasts a lifetime – and untrammelled reading is, in my opinion, one of the great formative necessities for a well-stocked adult mind which consequently can make its OWN decisions re what is suitable and what is not…

    1. I confess I’ve not read Milton’s “impassioned polemic,” as I saw it described. That’s a lack I’ll have to tend to, Anne — no doubt thanking for you the introduction. I find myself wondering about that phrase “pre-publication censorship,” which sounds to me very much like the self-censorship that’s increasingly being exercised in this country. I’ll be interested to see what the good Milton has to say.

      I do wish now I could ask my mother whether she knew I was tucking myself into the closet or under the bedclothes with a flashlight. I’ve always assumed I pulled one over on her. It may be that she knew what I was up to the whole time, and simply let the thrill of disobedience attach to reading, making it even more exciting and desirable.

      I don’t think we’ll ever get the pile down to manageable proportions, and I suspect that’s just the way it should be. It seems that the habit of reading, once established, never really goes away. It may go underground for a time, like a stream, but it’s always there, ready to bubble up again. Thank goodness!


  23. I am particularly struck by one paragraph from this excellent article:

    “When an author says, “This is how I see the world,” we are free to look away, but we have no right to deny publication of the vision.”

    Censorship is always self-defeating. it just raises our interest and makes us want to read to see what justifies a ‘ban’. I was brought up in a house full of books, I accumulated books, and our children were avid readers. We now have a significant library! I too read Steinbeck and loved his writing. Books are companions, you are never lonely with a good book.

    1. Isn’t that the truth, Andy — that a good book can be a boon companion? Even a bad book can do when the options are limited, and besides — reading a book we judge badly written, or boring, or not worth our time for any number of reasons isn’t the worst thing in the world. Learning to articulate why we don’t like a book is as important as being able to say why we do.

      When it comes to censorship raising our interest in whatever’s been prohibited, anyone who’s been around children knows that dynamic. “Don’t touch that!” we say. “Touch anything else in the room, but not that.” Of course, “that” becomes infintely desireable, and it’s touched as soon as possible.


  24. I also used to browse my parents’ book collection – a handful were ‘forbidden’ and wrapped in brown paper; but I was so modest I wouldn’t have thought to take a look at them anyway!

    Banned books aren’t necessarily dirty books. Usually they are damning books – seen as a threat to small, cowardly, unimaginative minds. And the tragedy is that many times those minds have the power to damn the damning.

    1. I still remember a junior high English teacher’s way of explaining dirty books to us, aubrey. She used windows as an analogy, pointing out that what looks pefectly clean to one person may seem unbearably dirty to another. And, as she put it, we usually can see out of the dirtiest window in the world — at least a little. I don’t remember much more than that, but I guess she made her point, or I wouldn’t have remembered it at all.

      I like your use of the phrase “damning books.” The old phrase about something striking too close to home comes to mind. I suppose all of us have wanted to rid ourselves of experiences that distress us, or people who make us feel guilty or uncomfortable. The book banners just take it to the next level.


    1. That’s something that hadn’t occurred to me, Steve. On an institutional level, it seems libraries have begun “virtual bookplate” programs as a way of acknowledging donations. Clever, really.

      I couldn’t find anything related to ebooks for individuals, and I’m not sure how it could be done. But wouldn’t it be fun to have a bookplate for a Kindle, functioning somewhat as a desktop on a PC? Every time someone powered up, there would be the bookplate, saying “This Kindle Contains the Library of….”

      I hope the rain’s gone for you by now.


      1. Thanks for pointing out that someone’s already come out with an electronic bookplate. I was thinking of something for individuals, but I didn’t know what form that would take. A conventional bookplate serves a purpose only when someone other than the owner borrows or uses a book. If e-books can be legally loaned, then an individual bookplate makes sense.

        Yesterday and today dawned clear, so I was finally able to start taking some pictures. Each afternoon cumulus clouds built up over the Sandia Mountains west of Albuquerque, and though there wasn’t a drop of rain, this afternoon there was a rainbow that lasted a good while.

  25. What a timely post, Linda. Banned books never surfaced as an issue, only as a curious thing people did during such a time. I just downloaded a few public-domain books on my e-reader since I’ve just discovered how handy it is to have a familiar friend on my phone when I’m stuck somewhere with a few hours to fill. So so many options now for access to books.

    1. Nikkipolani, I’m struck by how ambiguous that phrase has become: “I’ve just discovered how handy it is to have a familiar friend on my phone…” Once upon a time, that would have had only one meaning: a real conversation with a human friend. Now, we’ve overlaid another meaning: in its own way, just as pleasing. After all, human friends can’t always talk, and a six-year-old issue of “Golf Digest” in a doctor’s office has fairly limited appeal.

      I will confess that I’m becoming more understanding of the appeal of Kindles. On the other hand, I get to the point where the advertising chirps, “Just download your gazillion books using your home’s wi-fi…” and I think, “But I don’t have wi-fi.” At that point, downloading a book onto a Kindle begins to feel like having to bring in the REA to wire the county in order to turn on a light bulb, and my interest flags again.


  26. Of course it comes as no surprise that you were a voracious reader at a young age. The way you play with and poise words so perfectly is a great indication of that.

    Daddy used to say, “Can you write good reading or can you read good writing?” Well, I never really understood why he would say that until I launched into my adventure with home schooling my children. It was important that my children first hear good reading done by me as they learned to read, and later to write good reading of their own.

    As far as censorship goes, conservative parents in my school district today are up in arms about some of the required reading at every level. From what I can see, their desire to censor is about protecting a child’s innocence as long as possible. However, that effort falls flat unless you also filter TV and commercial viewing, internet usage, cell phone usage, and pop music. Since all those things seem to have more appeal to young folks today than reading a spicy novel, I don’t think there’s a whole lot to worry about where censoring books is concerned, but that’s just my thinking. Write on, Linda!

    1. Weren’t our dads smart, BW? I never think of mine without remembering a great line from Flannery O’Connor: “She had observed that the more education they got, the less they could do. Their father had gone to a one-room schoolhouse through the eighth grade and he could do anything.” My dad managed to get through high school, but it was enough. And he certainly didn’t need a degree to teach me about the value of education, the need for responsibility, and so on.

      Honestly, it seems as though everyone is up in arms about something, these days. Whether it’s sports talk radio, internet forums, or the neighborhood HOA, there are too many people yelling and cussing at each other, and trying to impose their will on everyone else. Respect for other people and for the institutions of our country seem to be eroding at an alarming rate, from the President down. When I saw him salute the Marines the other day with a coffee cup in his hand, it just seemed sad, and representative of so much. I felt like a very old woman when I saw that. I wanted to say, “Mind your manners!”

      One thing’s for sure. Strong families are important for helping kids cope with what’s around them — as you so well know.


    1. I found it was banned in the USSR, eremophila. Stalin apparently wasn’t too fond of it. It nearly was banned in the U.S., but managed to escape that fate. It certainly is relevant today. What the politicians and bureaucrats have done and are doing to our language could have come right out of that book. Perhaps they’re using it as a primer.

      Honestly, I don’t know if people are blind and deaf to the warnings, or if they never have been made aware of them. Sometimes, ignoring books is as useful to the powers that be as banning them.


  27. Hey from ‘the delta.’ I have enjoyed reading not only the post but also the comments. I smiled at several of them and reflected on the past week. sigh, even dress codes and comments about what is appropriate and what is not, “You cannot wear turtle necks yet.. that’s for winter.. if people get cold, they pull out jackets.”

    I was ready to bolt and surely had the deer in the headlights look on my face!

    Your growing-up stories are always so refreshing and delightful, and I adore that precious little girl who was surely the darling of the neighborhood!

    1. Z, how nice of you to stop by. I’m sure you’re filling every minute with family, friends, travel and other delights. Well, and accumulating fashion tips, of course. My mother would be appalled if she still were here. I’m still wearing white boat shoes — after Labor Day!

      It’s always interesting to hear what “people” should and shouldn’t do. It’s rather like hearing what “they” say about this or that, and of course does call to mind the wonderful discussions that have included the phrase, “But everyone is doing it!”

      Whether I was the darling of the neighborhood I can’t say, but I know I was the darling of the retired couple who lived next to us. If my wading pool was out, Mrs. Ramey always would come over to check the water temperature. If she deemed it too cool, she’d heat a kettle and bring that pool water up to standards. My folks would roll their eyes, and smile.

      Keep enjoying your visit. We’ll all be anxious to see the photos and hear the tales.


      1. The gift of unconditional love escorts a child through many turbulent times, and it is a gift that I wish all children were granted. I don’t think I have ever heard of someone heating water for a backyard wading pool; you were definitely adored!

        i have enjoyed seeing the harvest, and this week’s late afternoon sunlight has been quite dramatic… I’ve missed many great opportunities, as I am having to hold my reins and sit pretty as others share tales – some good and some not so good!

        It is hard to find internet! go figure! most of the time I am in the road between a and b and c and d and back to a..

        btw, i went thru holly bluff and satartia a few days ago. I wondered if you’d found those back roads….

        Wish you were here to ride shotgun! z

        1. You bet I found those back roads. I had to see “where the Yellow cross the Dog,” for one thing – and that meant Tutwiler, Moorhead, Yazoo City, and etc., as well as Holly Bluff and Satartia. W.C.Handy’s “Yellow Dog Blues,” done by Bessie Smith is a gem – listening to Bessie sing it while cruising between Memphis and Clarksdale was the best.

          And yes’m — I wish I was riding shotgun, too!

          I know so well exactly what you’re talking about — holding your reins and sitting pretty. It’s all good, but I imagine you can’t help but get a little restless now and then. Soak it all up – maybe even beat your feet in some Mississippi mud!


  28. How sad that such a week needs to exist. It always seems to me that people who are so frightened are clinging to something they know to be untenable. It really is irrational, as are all forms of evil.

    And so, on one level I despair because it seems you cannot argue with such folk. On the other hand, I am glad to know that by standing up to this sick attempt at censuring freedom again announces its presence and a little light shines. Thanks for alerting me to this week of freedom. I think I am going to go find myself some forbidden reading right now!

    1. Allen, I think we know all we need to know about fear of the other. It’s as old as humanity, and one reason the story of the good Samaritan carried a punch, back in the day. The assumption in some circles, of course, was that a Samaritan only could be bad. We hear the stories, and miss the offence: and the wisdom.

      Arguing doesn’t do much good. No good, perhaps. But that little light? As the saying goes, it can’t hurt, and it might help. One thing’s for sure — given what’s happening in our country, and around the world, we’re going to need some people willing to stand up and speak honestly about a multitude of issues.

      I keep thinking about what Martin Luther King, Jr., had to say about it all: “If your opponent has a conscience, then follow Gandhi. But if you enemy has no conscience, like Hitler, then follow Bonhoeffer.”
      That’s worth pondering.


    1. One reason I enjoy writing about these little family experiences is that, once my memory starts to go, I’ll still have them. The fact that you enjoyed the story, too, makes it even better. I’m really glad.

      Thanks for stopping by to leave a comment. I appreciate it — and you’re always welcome here.


  29. With our traveling, I am late to this party. In these times, we have benefits of open-sourced fiction (self-published, no gatekeepers), which allows more self-expression than ever before. Censorship does not hold now (though certainly that could change.) In many ways, there is more access to “facts” than ever before, as well. However our students still face censorship in the schools, with righteous individuals and groups trying to determine presentation. The Denver-area school district just had students walk out, protesting against the new school board’s planned revisions to the AP history curriculum. Ironically, the bent of the school board was to diminish discussion of civil disobedience, in favor of group-think patriotism. Cheers to the students!

    As to the Carnegie libraries, I found some interesting “facts” (and I use quotation marks only because I made no attempt to verify on my own. One item of interest is that the FIRST Carnegie-funded library outside PA or Scotland was in Fairfield, IA. Second, in the US almost 1700 libraries were at least partially funded with Carnegie grants. The majority of buildings were built between 1899 and 1929, and in fact they did not all look alike. However, the limited time span did influence architectural choices. And one architect was responsible for many of the designs.

    I grew up in Peoria and our main library building was “modern,” as I used it in the 1960s and 70s. However the little McClure branch I also used may have been a Carnegie building. The children’s section was on the lower level of the west side. I don’t remember going in the main doors there.

    1. It looks like you’re having a wonderful trip, Melanie. I have a feeling some of those Southwestern patterns and colors will find their way into your quilting in the future.

      That’s really interesting about the library in Fairfield. I didn’t have a clue that it was the first in this country. I did a little snooping around and found this really great article about the early Carnegie libraries. It supports what you said about Fairfield, and also has a wonderful history of the very early libraries. The architectural variety is wonderful. Some of the buildings look fairly Harry Potter-ish.

      As for censorship, while we certainly don’t have frank book-banning in this country, my own view of things is that censorship of various sorts does exist. Slanted media (along the whole political spectrum), the trend toward “political correctness,” self-censorship because of fear, and bullying by special interest groups aren’t healthy for any society. It would be good if the politicians running for office could model open, honest and respectful debate over the next weeks, but I’m only minimally hopeful. We’ll see. I’m willing to be surprised!

      By the way, did you see or hear the news about the Japanese hikers who were caught on the erupting volcano in that country? I thought about you when I saw the news. I’m glad all’s gone well for you.


      1. I did see a headline about the Japanese eruption but didn’t look farther.

        And yes, the colors and designs here are very special, very inspiring. I’m sure it will affect my work.

        here is a picture of the McClure branch library I mentioned. I don’t know if it was a Carnegie or not, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

        1. It’s amazing how much it looks like some schools I’ve seen in Iowa and Kansas. I suppose part of it’s just the era when they were built. They all look sturdy, and appealing. The windows are especially nice.

      2. Carnegie supposedly felt tremendous guilt for his vast riches. He came from a very poor background in Scotland and was a true rags-to-riches story. His philanthropy didn’t come until later in life.

  30. Two things really get me right here — the first are your perfect words: Our fears are not the author’s concern. Bravo. Some of the best books in the world (or art for that matter) would have never been created if the creator was thinking only about audience and avoiding topics that might ruffle feathers.

    The second is that your parents are/were magnificent. Good for them, letting you find your own way through the great works. Books were made to be read and if it’s just a kid wandering through, so be it.

    My only parental experience with a banned book (which I thought of last week with Banned Book Week) is really a funny one because I was, by then, 17. The book my mother read — and then hid (which, of course I found, because as clever as she was, she wasn’t the best at hiding things) — was “Valley of the Dolls.” I mean, I was 17! But in her mind’s eye, I was her little girl and I shouldn’t know about all that. And when I read it, I thought, “What’s the fuss about? It’s not even that good a book!”

    1. Jeanie, let’s face it. Even our blogs might not exist if we’d worried only about what people thought about our postings, and whether what we have to say will ruffle feathers. I mean, let’s face it. Your optimism and my tendency to want to dig and talk and explore aren’t for everyone! So be it, sez me.

      As for my folks, one of their great desires was to give me everything they hadn’t had. One of the things they didn’t have while growing up was books, and once they could afford to have them, our house began to fill up. There were plenty of “big people books,” but I had my own treasures, including a nearly complete set of the Bobbsey twins series — complete until I quit reading them, anyway.

      That’s funny, about “Valley of the Dolls.” Of course, the more things change, the more they stay the same. I got a little ways into “Fifty Shades” and thought, “This is terrible writing.” That was the end of that.


  31. A few years ago, after a surgery, I was forced to stay in bed for several weeks. Nothing wrong with that because I was finally able to re-read most of Steinbeck’s works. An immense pleasure. Books made me love words, they inspired me to write my own journal, write to pen pals; books opened my mind to worlds I had no idea of, to landscapes over my mountains and to different ways of thinking.

    Why censor books and denigrate its authors ? Fear of change ? Fear of one’s own thoughts ? Fears of losing control of all that is different ? This is such an important post you wrote, Linda, thank you.

    1. I know I’ve mentioned it to you, Isa, but it was a book that opened my eyes to your part of the world, when I was given a copy of Johanna Spyri’s “Heidi.” Some months ago, from curiosity, I made a list of the ten books or manuscripts that had most profoundly influenced my life. At the top of the list, chronologically? “Heidi.”

      One reason I look forward to winter is that it’s my reading season. It’s also a far less unhappy sort of confinement than recovery from illness or surgery. And isn’t it a joy to re-read books? It’s like having an old friend come to visit — comfortable, and yet filled with surprises. Because we change, every reading changes.

      I think all those fears play a role, don’t you? Sometimes, of course, there’s no fear at all: only a hunger for control. Perhaps that’s the most dangerous of all.

      I do appreciate your visit, and your kind words. I hope autumn is being kind to you, and is filled with lovely days.


    1. Durango?!? Oh, what a trip you’re having. I hope the weather’s improved for you. Give the mountains a wave for me.

      It’s good to hear about the bookstore’s display. I didn’t get to the official site until near the end of the week, but I found support was being offered to independent booksellers in a variety of ways.

      The painting’s splendid. I found the same scene at the U.S. Capitol, of all places. The replicas of Columbus’s ships were down in Corpus many years ago, and I toured one. They were so small, but, as a guide pointed out, people were smaller, then. Minds, too, perhaps. (Or perhaps not.)


  32. Excellently done. We had tons of books and many libraries visited. Books were to be read and discussed. I read Steinbeck at an early age, too. Kids are lucky if their parents read and value books. Mom would buy a Golden Book every trip to the grocery store when I was little. (wish she hadn’t given them all away – but they were kids without books in their homes, so what could we say?)

    1. Did you know they’re still selling those Golden Books in some of the stores? I came across them in the Seabrook Kroger a few months ago. I thumbed through a couple of them, and they didn’t seem to have changed much.

      I know some people think they were too saccharine, too sweet, but they were inexpensive — so much so that we could earn enough to buy our very own books, even in grade school. The library was fine, and the bookmobile was fun, but going to a store and bringing home a book you didn’t have to give up? That was the best.


      1. Those Golden titles are under serious copyright. Don’t even try to mimic the story line – even if it isn’t in print. They seem to be much more visible in stores now – hope they can keep the price down because as you say getting a new book of your very own to keep – that’s pretty wonderful.

  33. A truly sad post. I can only think the reason for banning some of the titles is pure laziness on the part of those who might have to answer questions about content and context. Education is worth nothing if unwilling to talk out life, times and ideas. We are supposed to learn from history and not repeat it, how do you learn from things you are not allowed to read which are not even subversive but rather illuminate the human condition.

    What a sanitized world some try to put us in, no grit, not dirt under our fingernails, no passion for anything human or ideas. And what to we substitute those classics with….formulaic romance novels intended for a moment’s entertainment at the level of a TV show. I like an easy read as much as the next person, but to ban classics because of hard themes….where can I sign the petition!!

    1. Judy, what’s truly sad is that the people who would control the world aren’t stopping with books. The Seattle school district just banned Columbus Day, in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, because Columbus was such a jerk, or whatever. I have nothing against indigenous people of any sort, but the rewriting of history is happening apace, and it distresses me.

      Beyond that, Richland, Washington just has banned swing sets at schools – and on and on it goes. I found myself self-censoring a funny comment on a post today, because the phrase I was going to use — perfectly acceptable some years ago, and in common use some centuries ago by poets like Shakespeare and Milton — might have been misinterpreted by someone. I don’t like that in myself, any more than I like people twisting language.

      One of the worst cases at present is the government’s insistence on calling Ebola a “viral disease” rather than a hemorrhagic fever — which it is, just like Marburg and Lassa. It’s a way of making people think of it in terms of the flu, rather than as a deadly disease. It’s much easier to change the language than to institute the controls that would aid in stopping the disease.

      Well, enough of that. But I think all the examples I listed — Columbus, swing sets, Ebola — prove your point to one degree or another. Life is gritty and real, and trying to sanitize it doesn’t help anyone cope with it. Maybe, in the end, that’s what political correctness is — the mental equivalent of hand sanitizer. It doesn’t do much good, but it makes people feel better.


      1. Having read The Hot Zone a few years ago, I thought it interesting that they were calling it a virus and speaking of it so relatively mildly. What happened to only a 10% survival rate and bleeding from every orifice and liquified organs. That is what I remember. They called it a ‘fast burn’ and tended to stay contained, but I’d wondered then was the rest of the world really safe with airplane travel. I thought one day someone would get on a plane with Ebola and carry it to the US or elsewhere. I was more surprised when two of the health workers were cured rather than the other way around. When the health workers were ok ,I thought maybe it was so deadly due to where Ebola occurred and the lack of good medical services there. The book also dealt with other hemorrhagic fevers as Marburg. All of which I found interesting in the context of study only.

        Wishing a speedy end to this outbreak for everyone’s sakes.

        1. I did read an article from a source better than TMZ that said the incidence of bleeding is down this time. I think they said only 20% of patients experience those symptoms. Of course, that’s not necessarily good. It could be because death comes sooner. It could be that the virus already has mutated. It could be a slightly different strain that hasn’t been identified yet.

          A few years ago, a researcher from the hot lab in Galveston (Dr. Paul Boor) showed up at the Bay Area Writers’ League to talk about his new book, titled “The Blood Notes of Peter Mallow.” I read it, and while it wasn’t the greatest literature in the world, his familiiarity with such labs and such viruses made it pretty compelling. Not only that, it’s set in Galveston, and involves a hurricane and a crazy dude. What could be better?!

          1. I hadn’t thought about a different strain…wonder if that is why this outbreak is so big…not as fast a burn as they say?

            Macabre soul that I am..Blood Notes sounds interesting!

    1. Thorough, indeed. Over the past few years I’ve heard every sort of use and misuse of Niemöller’s words, including, “First, they persecuted…” and “First, they ignored…” The post from the Miami newspaper quoted in the article (“First, Rick Scott came for the teachers…”) is a fine example of the kind of appropriation that trivializes the quotation: at least in my opinion.

      In any event, I thought the reference in the title was appropriate, given the subject matter of the post. I thought I was going to have to enjoy it all by myself, so I’m glad to know you noticed.


  34. It’s incredible that books like “To Kill a Mocking Bird”, “Lord of the Flies”, and “Call of the Wild” were banned. I read To “Kill a Mocking Bird”, “Animal Farm”, and “Lord of the Flies” during my study of literature at Saint Mary’s College in Saint Lucia, and enjoyed them immensely. Before I was in my teens, I had read “Mr. Midshipman Easy”, “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden”, many of the classics, and a great many other fiction and non-fiction publications.

    In retrospect, I have to thank my mother for this love of reading she encouraged in her children. Although illiterate, she nonetheless knew the power of books and the learning that was bound between their cover pages. She also knew that the knowledge that books provided was the key to her children escaping the poverty she had inherited from her own parents. A principal of the Anglican Infant School, which I attended, once told me that my mother had said to her (in Creole), she didn’t want any of her children growing up to sell salted fish in some grocery shop.

    I suppose you’re right about fear being a factor in censorship. I think it’s also about power and control. If you can control what people read, then you have a certain amount of power and control over them. The questions remains: Who censors the censors?

    As always, a very entertaining and instructive read.

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