Saturday, October 13, 2007

Whew! Feels Like 451 Degrees in Here

About once a month as a special treat my mother would take me to the public library after school. She'd stay in the car, and send me inside to take out whatever books I wanted. It was her way of getting a little peace and quiet so she could read her own books without interruption. On one of these trips when I was about ten years old, I took my book up to the check out counter and the librarian refused to check it out to me. She told me the book was not appropriate for someone my age and told me to go to the children's section. I could pick something out in there.

I was humiliated. My face turned red, my eyes welled up and I fled from the library back to the safety of my mother's car. My mother was Not happy to see me (I think she might have just reached a naughty bit in her book). What was I doing back so soon? Where was my book? I was afraid to tell her what had happened, but in the end she got the story out of me. The expression on her face can only be described as ice cold rage. She grabbed me by the arm and yanked me back up to the library desk. She got close to the librarian and in a low, waspish tone she said,

"How dare you tell my daughter her choice in books is inappropriate. There is no such thing as an inappropriate book. I don't care if she asks you for a copy of Last Tango in Paris, when a child wants to read something she should be encouraged, not blocked. If it's over her head, she'll lose interest and stop reading on her own. Your job is to make books accessible to everyone. Now give my daughter her book."

With shaking hands, the white faced librarian stamped my card and handed me the book. When we got home I read it twice. I did not understand parts of it. It was not nearly as interesting as I'd thought it would be. Still, I loved it. Years later when I reread it in high school, I understood it more thoroughly and loved it again. But truthfully, it wasn't the book itself that was so exciting to me. What really turned me on is the idea that we should never allow others to choose what is good and right for us to learn. As individuals we have the right and the obligation to expose ourselves to as many books as possible without censure. Every book, no matter how mundane is an adventure and it's a fool who never ventures forth.

And for those of you still wondering what was so scandalous that day in that library? It was Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet".

My thanks to Badger, Poppy, and The Hotfessional for getting me thinking about books again.