Civil Liberties

Ban This Book


It is Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of literature that has been removed from school assignments and public libraries—or, more often, that offended someone enough that he or she tried to have it yanked. The two aren't the same thing, of course, and you can argue about whether it makes sense to describe even a successful removal as a "ban," given that the offending book will still be available in other places.

Indeed, it may become more popular, while providing an important psychic boost to the author. My friend Sara Ryan, who last year published a bisexual-themed young adult novel called Empress of the World, has been collecting news of such "challenges" to her book. I get the impression that, while she's duly outraged by such efforts, she's also flattered that someone found her book powerful enough to try to squash it. "I've been thinking," she writes, "that once I know about a couple more, I should get a map of the U.S. and stick pins in all the places where someone's tried to take my book off a library shelf." Does that sound like a woman whose livelihood is being threatened by thought police, or does that sound like a woman who's having fun?

Banned Books Week may not be a good guide to the state of civil liberties in America, but it's still an interesting index of what's bugging the busybodies of the nation. Lately, the list of most-challenged books seems to show a failure of the censorious imagination. Here again are Of Mice and Men, Catcher in the Rye, the Harry Potter series, and the other usual suspects; nowhere are the weird, inspired dark-horse candidates for the bonfire. C'mon, people! Once upon a time, you were creative enough to play your children's records backwards in search of Satanic instructions. Surely you can do better than this. Surely you could go after something more unusual: Green Eggs and Ham, say, or Treasure Island.

Treasure Island? Anyone familiar with Prof. Burg's Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition ought to approach Robert Louis Stevenson's classic "boy's book" with caution. Sure enough, a few pages into chapter 20, the reader finds this shocking paragraph:

"Right you were, Cap'n Smollett," replied Silver. "Dooty is dooty, to be sure. Well, now, you look here, that was a good lay of yours last night. I don't deny it was a good lay. Some of you pretty handy with a handspike-end. And I'll not deny neither but what some of my people was shook—maybe all was shook; maybe I was shook myself; maybe that's why I'm here for terms. But you mark me, cap'n, it won't do twice, by thunder! We'll have to do sentry-go, and ease off a point or so on the rum. Maybe you think we were all a sheet in the wind's eye. But I'll tell you I was sober; I was on'y dog tired; and if I'd awoke a second sooner I'd a' caught you at the act, I would. He wasn't dead when I got round to him, not he."

Do you honestly want your 14-year-old daughter to read about the sexual escapades of "Long John Silver" and Captain Smollett, his "good lay"? Do you want her to read about men getting buggered as they sleep, and pleasing one another with a "handspike-end"? And what about that last line, the bit about the dead man? Isn't that gross?

Green Eggs and Ham, meanwhile, is a thinly disguised account of homosexual seduction. In this kiddie favorite, "Sam I Am" (that is, "Same As I Am") tries to persuade the narrator to "eat" green eggs and ham. Anyone who has traveled in the Spanish-speaking world knows what "eggs" are. The ham, of course, is a long, phallic sausage, perfect for "porking" someone. The protagonist repeatedly denies any interest in the offer, but Sam persists, proposing that he join him in any number of locations, positions, and kinky arrangements. ("Would you, could you, on a boat? Would you, could you, with a goat?") Finally, our hero gives in, just once—and discovers that he enjoys fellating breakfast after all. Sam has made a convert, and the legion of God-Fearing Heterosexuals is diminished by one.

Actually, Dr. Seuss has written a number of suspect books. Even The Cat in the Hat leaves an odd aftertaste, with its closing admonition not to tell your parents what you've been up to. Read immediately after Green Eggs and Ham, the moral is clear.

Now, why are the legions of decency challenging Heather Has Two Mommies and Daddy's Roommate but leaving books like these alone? This is what happens when you don't send your kids to a P.C. secular humanist university. They never learn how to find homoerotic subtexts.