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All Fired Up Over Book Controversy
I am smoldering, searing, broiling, burning mad!
In fact, I am “Fahrenheit 451” mad, that famously – thanks to Ray Bradbury’s seminal novel of the same title – being the temperature at which the paper pages of a book catch fire.
Burning books is a dramatic way to ban them, but not the only way.
The Conejo Valley Unified School District is considering not approving “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian.” In other words, a book ban.
Understand, the 2007 young adult novel by acclaimed author Sherman Alexie has already been vetted – and green-lighted as a ninth-grade core literature title – by the school district’s Core Literature Committee and English/Language Arts Articulation Committee.
Understand, too, the novel is a National Book Award winner.
Understand, most of all, banning – or not approving – a book is pure folly.
Mike Dunn, the Conejo district board president, was quoted in The Star earlier this week: “There’s thousands of books out there, why can’t we find an entertaining book that doesn’t offend parents?”
Question one: Is a high school’s curriculum for the parents, or for the students?
Question two: Is class reading in high school for entertainment – or is it for education and enlightenment, and exposure to new ideas, challenging ideas, even ideas that come wrapped in “profanity, vulgarity, excessive violence”?
The latter is a complaint by Dunn regarding “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian.”
Profanity, vulgarity and excessive violence? What next, banning ninth-graders from watching TV, going to the movies and playing video games?
Banning a book is a slippery slope. As author Judy Blume has wisely said: “Something will be offensive to someone in every book, so you’ve got to fight it.”
James Howe, another standout author, voiced a similar concern more strongly: “Banning books is just another form of bullying. It’s all about fear and an assumption of power. The key is to address the fear and deny the power.”
“Bullying,” of course, comes in many forms. While the Dunn-led board has not yet officially banned – rather, denied approval of – “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, ” it has effectively done so by delaying approval until after a July recess. By then it will likely be too late for the coming school year.
Banning a book is also a crowded slope. Titles that have been targeted include: “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain; “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee; “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck; and “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald – a literary foursome considered by many to be the Mount Rushmore of American novels.
Other books that have been banned, and this is just a short list, include: “A Farewell to Arms” by Ernest Hemingway; “The Call of the Wild” by Jack London; “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger; “Gone With the Wind” Margaret Mitchell; “Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman; “Moby-Dick” by Herman Melville; “The Red Badge of Courage” by Stephen Crane; “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne; “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe; the “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling; “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak; and, yes, “Fahrenheit 451.”
“Censorship,” said author Laurie Halse Anderson, “is the child of fear and the father of ignorance.”
I dare say the Conejo district board president is being fearfully ignorant. Also silly, because the surest way to ensure the ninth-graders under his watch absolutely do read “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian” is to ban it.
Indeed, they will race their fingers and thumbs to Amazon.com and click “Buy” pronto. Heck, they might be too impatient to wait for two-day delivery and will race to the nearest bookstore to buy the novel right now.
In closing, I implore the Dunn-led board to wise up and give approval for “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian.”
Oh, and one more thing: please ban “Wooden & Me” and “Strawberries in the Wintertime” as I would welcome a horde of defiant teens rushing to buy my books.
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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.
Check out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …
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