Saturday, September 24, 2011

Taking a break from book burning

It's that time of year again, Book Banning Remembrance Week.   Yea, yea books were challenged.  Some were banned, some were restored.  It was a same old, same old year book-banning-wise. 

So I thought why not take a look at what was not banned.  Yes, that is a lot of books but there are national groups (freedom of speech groups, the world is a funny place) that assist local groups with their book banning challenges.  They also recommend books these local groups might want to challenge.  I thought it might be fun to take a look at their recommended reading lists.  It's convoluted, I know; let me try to sum this up:  what books do book banning backers believe are books you better buy?

It took me almost no time to discover the 9/12 Project.  They are very upfront about books they don't like, & aren't skittish about being named in the complaints.  I am told they have a very helpful & easy to navigate website, but every jump off the main page requires signing up & I have no desire to be on their e-mail list.  It took me years to get the fruit basket of the month people to stop sending me messages; G*d only knows what these e-mails might bring me & for how long (does anyone seriously buy those $200 stacking tins of rare nuts?).

Right there on the front page, the 9/12 Project has a disclaimer where they make sure to repeat at length how they are "not owned by, operated by, or in any way affiliated with the Glenn Beck Program, Glenn Beck, Mercury Radio Arts, or any radio station, Cable TV Network, etc".  This parallels nicely with their Read These First list of ten books, four of which are authored or co-authored by Glenn Beck.   While not automatically ban-worthy, I wonder about the credibility of any organization that says that these books tell you how to think & we are in no way affiliated with the guy who wrote of more than a third of them any longer.  Imagine if Greenpeace said we would like you to ban all books that discuss how valuable whaling is & read instead these books coincidentally written by one of our founders who has since gone his own way.

From what I could see, most of the books the 9/12 Project object to have a strong sexual component.  I gather this from the titles, such as Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology a book they helped get banned from a library in New Jersey, although others they targeted were not "deviant" (their word) just plain old How-To primers.  The locals did not quite get into the spirit of banning though.  Only Revolutionary Voices was actually removed from the shelves & in response to that the group Revolutionary Readings was begun.  What used to sit between the covers of a book someone had to actively seek, open, etc. was now being performed/read aloud over&over&over again, with newspaper coverage & television coverage & a facebook page & twitter feed & so forth.  I am guessing that did not go quite as planned.

The books the 9/12 Project endorse have an entirely different theme (not a sex manual in the bunch, at least not that I could tell by their covers).  Aside from the four by Glenn Beck &/or Glenn Beck et al there were two co-written by two gentlemen named Stewart.  Both books have the word "miracle" in the title & one of them is more specific:  The Seven Miracles that Saved America.  I made a swift & incomplete search for a list of these miracles & if I had been willing to sign up on one or another website, I am sure they would have been at my fingertips, but again I am skittish (those fruit basket of the month people have really made me gunshy).  Also, I am suspicious of the word miracle, because it always turns out to be interpretive.  For example, I don't actually think looking out on a familiar vista & seeing a guy hanging in mid-air with life threatening gory wounds is a miracle; I think that is really really bad food poisoning.  Just to make sure christians don't feel singled out, I don't think all that much of  lamp oil that burns way past the laws of physics following the pillage of a people; wouldn't the miracle have been to prevent the massacre?  I am really not interested in reading about the miracle of the Reagan tax cuts or whatever.  I read the introduction (it was free on Amazon) & it did belittle certain celebrities as not being qualified to discuss the mater they were discussing.  Any list that includes Glenn Beck & belittles others for not being educated on their topic amuses me, but probably not for a whole book.

Two others are histories, secret & otherwise.  One of them seems (from the title anyhow) to be devoted to George Washington:  The Real George Washington.  That might be interesting, I like warts&all biographies.  I am not convinced he was the one & only individual that could have lead us out of the dark night of the British Empire as the blurb implies (Amazon again), but I am also fairly certain that even without Neil Armstrong there still would have been a moon landing & I don't think this view diminishes Neil Armstrong one bit.

According to a cookbook I have, George was quite fond of beefsteak & kidney pie which sounds unamerican from here, but it was probably just what he was used to, being born in a British colony & all.  The Must Read List does not include any biographies of Martin Van Buren, the first president actually born in the US of A (what with all previous presidents being born in the colonies that would become & so forth).  This is a shame really because I think I could argue that Martin was more American than his predecessors & not just because of his resident versus naturalized alien birth status.  He ditched the powdered wig for good (so had Jackson before him but let's face it, Jackson was a madman & maybe we shouldn't get too cozy with anything he did & well, yes the Adamses did too...Okay forget that part about the wig).  He did lots of  other American things & by American I mean not attempting to emulate Britain.  After being voted out of office, Martin ran again, on a slavery-opposition ticket.  Everyone goes bat-shit for Lincoln but no one remembers this about old MVB.

Two months into Van Buren's first & only term, the US entered its first great depression (I know, they start to pile up) & most of his time was spent dealing with that.  Jackson had left behind some rather conflicted policies, including but not limited to the decision to require all purchasers of federal land to pay with precious metals.  In other words the US government would not accept US currency.  In retrospect, it is easy to see how this might go badly.  What can I say, I would rather read about Martin Van Buren than George Washington; I think he is more relevant in the way that paying the electric bill is more relevant than knowing the guy who invented the latest lighting technology.  Sure, the later might be more fun at parties, but not if we all have to stand around in the dark.

For whatever reason, I cannot see that 9/12 Project endorses any Martin Van Buren biographies, but they also don't appear to oppose them either.  This might change though if they learned he opposed the annexation of Texas (it might be a good idea for some future date, but it just wasn't a good idea right then), he declined to go to war with the British even when Canadian loyalists killed a US citizen for illegally selling weapons to Canadian separatists.  In fact, Martin went so far as to say that the government "would not countenance Adventuresome Americans attacking the British" & stated that the US would remain neutral in this dispute on the northern border.  Later disputes were resolved diplomatically.

In happier news, the only biography of the man I could find is actually Martin Van Buren's autobiography.  & for reasons I can only speculate on, his wife is nowhere in that book, so there hopefully isn't any sex to object to anyhow.  I can tell you according to the aforementioned cookbook, he was widely criticized for his love of French cuisine.

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