Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

`Thou Shalt Not Offend'

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

`Thou Shalt Not Offend'

Article excerpt

Not long ago, at a lecture on fighting book banning in rural north Florida, I read from a list I've collected of banned books and the reasons the religious right gave for censoring them:

Alice Walker's story "Am I Blue" is anti-meat.

A snowball fight in Annie Dillard's "An American Childhood" is too violent.

The bottle of wine in "Little Red Riding Hood" promotes alcoholism.

"The Stupids Step Out" teaches children to flunk classes. (It was my daughter's favorite book as a child, and she's now tied for valedictorian of her high school.)

And, my particular favorite, the illustration of Mrs. Stupid wearing a chicken on her head in "The Stupids Have A Ball" promotes cruelty to animals.

The audience was laughing, amazed.

Afterward, one man said, "It's easy to laugh at the religious right for this kind of thing, but what about banning `Huck Finn'?"

"Because Twain uses the word `nigger'?" I said. Just saying the word out loud caused a small shock, a stir of discomfort. It always does. It always will. That's why "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," replete with the "N-word," is the fifth most banned book in American schools in the past dozen years and one of the most challenged books of all time.

"Yes," said the man. "Isn't that censorship, too?"

He'd put his finger on something we don't talk much about - censorship from the left. Oh, the right has banned "Huck" a few times, mostly because of irreverence, Twain's send-up of preachers (Silas "never charged nothing for his preaching, and it was worth it, too") and they have far more to answer for when it comes to book banning and the toll it takes on our schools. But the left has censored books, too.

The man with the questions pressed on. He wanted to know if I opposed the bans on "Huck Finn."

I swallowed hard, well aware that my answer would be seen by many as politically incorrect, and I said, "Yes, I oppose them. I think the book should be read. I know it's riddled with racial slurs that offend - it was an offensive society Twain was portraying - but we mustn't lose sight of the great arc of the story, the real journey: Huck's choosing to risk his immortal soul and help set Jim free. …

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