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Guest Post: Reading is Naughty

Editor's note: In light of Qualler and Brigitte returning from their journey to the non-stop neon-colored frat party in the desert, i.e. Las Vegas, today's post is brought to you by our spankin' new guest-posting BOOKS blogger, OHD. Qualler will be back next week with his thoughts on the new season of Dexter and the continuing action with Mad Men and True Blood.

Take it away, OHD.


Look, let's not front: people don't read as much as they used to. And why should they? There's plenty else to keep us entertained. We've got television and movies, OF COURSE, as Blogulatorians know full well, but there's also Wii and Guitar Hero and YouTube and Facebook and Twitter and, God help you, if you get desperate, self-Googling. And I'm not saying I don't do any of that. I do ALL of that, except self-Googling, because I find it slightly creepy.

But books are my life. Ink flows through my veins, and my hands never feel quite like my own unless I am cracking a spine with them. I'm a gratuitous hoarder of books; I buy, borrow, and steal more than I can read or even fit in my tiny apartment. My meticulously cultivated Amazon wishlist is 44 pages long with 1,093 items, not counting DVDs or CDs or egg slicers, because I use it to keep track of books I would like to read but do not yet possess. C'est la vie--la vie of a common reader, as Virginia Woolf would call me and my ilk, although we're not as common as we used to be.

I think the biggest problem that we face in the wake of this non-reading epidemic is not that people aren't reading, necessarily (although that IS a problem and truth be told I think we all know that everyone can make room for a few books a year, at least). The real problem is that the people who want to read are starting to come up against roadblocks in the pursuit of literature. It's not censorship, exactly, which requires the government to actively suppress thought and opinion, but something far more insidious--the quiet, persistent desire of some people to keep other people from coming into contact with books that they, on behalf of all Americans, deem improper.

Let's for a moment ignore the monumental arrogance it takes to believe that one person is at all capable of knowing what is right or proper for anyone else, especially when it comes to KNOWLEDGE, and focus on the fact that THIS IS AMERICA and a free exchange of ideas is fundamental to our operation as a nation. And yet, all over the country, every day of every year, one or another of over a thousand books is being challenged or banned in a school, library, or bookstore for any of a number of reasons: sex, violence, language, perceived racism, religious viewpoint, homosexuality, or explorations of "witchcraft or the occult." Not to mention my favorite reason, the amorphous "Not suited to age group."

A lot of these books, as you can imagine, are kids' books. Many of them are classics: The Catcher in the Rye finds itself on the ALA's Challenged and Banned Books list with annual regularity, as does The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Of Mice and Men. Then there's all the Harry Potter books, Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, and of course And Tango Makes Three, that picture book about two male penguins who raised a chick together. Because that's what's going to bring America down--not the financial crisis or the interminable war, but two gay penguins.

And while we're discussing the future of America, news that Sarah Palin tried to ban books at her local library in Wasilla, AK when she was mayor recently sent a shudder through the entire publishing community, especially YA circles. It's hard for me to imagine that Laura Bush, long-time librarian and voracious reader, is at all approving of her. Speaking of librarians, they are at the front lines of all this hubbub, so much so that every year the American Library Association sponsors Banned Books Week, a celebration of the freedom to read. Now, I'm not going to lie, I am not purchasing a Banned Books Week bracelet to show my solidarity, because let's face it they are fug, but I think it's important, even if you're not a great reader, to stop and appreciate for a few minutes the enormous gift it is to be able to choose what you wish to read, if you wish.

I asked Chris and Qualler to let me write about books on the Blogulator because it's my opinion that they influence popular culture on a much greater scale than most people think. I mean, a survey of all the movies that have ever come out in the history of motion pictures will show that a great deal of them (I won't venture a guess on percentage) are based on books or plays or short stories. Television as well, and yes, music too: we just got the word that About a Boy author Nick Hornby will be writing the lyrics for Ben Folds' new album. So I think it's relevant.

This is not to say that all my posts will be so very rage against the machine--probably I'll write about things like why I loved the last installment of the Twilight series when so many teenage girls didn't and why Michael Cera is a brilliant casting choice for Nick and Nora's Ultimate Playlist even though fans of the book have been known to disagree. That said, I don't know what this column of mine is going to be yet, how often it will run or exactly what I'll be talking about week to week besides books in general, but I'll soon get my bearings and, please, don't hesitate to make topic or reading suggestions, or to send me links.

But till next time, do your poor old book correspondent a favor and read a Banned Book. You know you want to, now that it's slightly naughty.

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  1. Blogger Brigitte | 11:43 AM |  

    i wanna hear about twilight!!

  2. Blogger chris | 3:15 PM |  

    Big ups to our new guest contributor! Be sure to check back to get more dirt on the ties between pop culture and the world of literature from OHD. It will be mighty interesting.

    Oh and only because I didn't know what it stood for until I took a class on it in grad school: YA = Young Adolescent. My faves of the genre:

    The Circuit

    Anyone else?

  3. Blogger Daniel | 4:37 PM |  

    I love/hate books! America hates Literature, plain and simple. Books are banned because they attack the very foundation of our culture and our "society". For instance, there is almost nothing indecent in "The Catcher in the Rye". Sure, Holden swears, but is there any explicit sex in it, or violence for that matter? That book is puritan compared to most, but it strikes at the very heart of our economic, social, and cultural institutions. It basically says life in America, despite our extreme wealth and privilege, is all bullshit. Perhaps this is hyperbole, but it is a deep and genuine expression of frustration and disillusionment. Perhaps this is why Salinger said "Laters" to a mainstream life and disappeared. I guess my point is this: books ARE very dangerous to the American way of life. Especially books that demonstrate the weak facade that barely holds together our dogmatically individualistic society. If a majority of people took to heart what was in the best of American Literature, our country would be a vastly better place.

  4. Blogger OHD | 3:01 PM |  

    Oh silly rabbit, YA means "Young Adult".

    I wouldn't say that America hates literature, though. I mean, if it did, things like The Catcher in the Rye wouldn't exist at all, let alone be one of the best selling books ever and taught in every high school English class. I think there are certain people who are afraid that exposure to immorality poisons the mind. But let's face it: those people don't fucking read. Most of the people who try to get Harry Potter banned have never read them. DUH. That is dumb.

    I think Salinger retreated from society because he's a bit cracked. He might think the world is phony, like Holden does, but at the end of the day he's still living (and living well) off the royalties the "phony" publishing industry pays him. So...

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