Another day, another daily prompt!
“I’m with the Banned”
As a librarian, I see all kinds of trendy marketing slogans crop up around the idea of banned books. This year, my library’s display for Banned Books week featured a mock pyre of comic books and YA lit, a selection of challenged reads hidden under paper lunch bags, and a book cart loaded down with illicit material literally begging to be checked out. By the end of the celebrations, the cart was cleared out.
Funnily enough, despite 13 years of religious schooling, I never had anyone attempt to censor my reading material. My father bought me the Dark Materials trilogy when I was in middle school, and my Catholic high school assigned A Clockwork Orange, Fahrenheit 451, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, etc. I think their approach was largely pragmatic – kids are going to be exposed to this stuff anyway, the last we can do is prepare them for it. Also, looking back on it now, we had some bomb faculty. I mean, some of these people should’ve been teaching doctoral programs. Immigrants, many of them, they instead found themselves dealing with a bunch of fresh-faced little cretins who had no idea what it was to sacrifice everything they had in the desperate hope of freedom. Freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom to live.
My parents are Cuban immigrants. I was raised in the expat community in South Florida, where people left the island to live down the street from families they’d lived down the street from all their lives. Others still were parted from relatives they would never see again. Experiences varied wildly from one household to the next. While my clan escaped largely intact, my childhood music teacher would bear the scars left by torture for the rest of her life. They made her watch as her first husband was executed by firing squad.
My father was something of a smartass. At 13 he was the kind of kid who might have benefited from reverse psychology – if he was told not to do something, he did it immediately, and with great enthusiasm. This applied to reading banned books. The following story is something of a family legend, told and retold over the years until it attained a life of its own. Probably some of it is a little untrue. We’re Cuban, after all – we embellish, elaborate, entertain. At 13, my father entered a bookstore and asked for a banned book. The title is irrelevant. In this case, no one remembers it. What ensued was un griteria, a confused conflagration of sound and activity in which apparently the bookseller attempted to detain my father, who put up a fuss, luring in a crowd. Should the police be summoned, to arrest a dumb kid? Did he really want to summon the police, a man in the crowd asked, or were the bookseller’s intentions more sinister? Lucky for my father that a family friend was present, and silver-tongued enough to convince the crowd that the man was some kind of deviant. The crowd turned on him, and in the confusion my father escaped. In the aftermath, it would occur to my beloved grandmother that Miami was nice that time of year.
I like to tell people that I would not exist if it weren’t for a banned book. It’s a great disappointment to me that I’ll never know what the book was. Now I’m a librarian. It’s my job to fight censorship, and to object to the restriction of free and ready access of information – while respecting copyright, of course. I write, I read, I donate to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. My existence is something of an irony.
Some weeks ago, I saw one of the most beautiful photographs I’d ever laid eyes on. Featured in an article on Banned Books week, it was taken by Valentietokyo on dA and I saved it to share with my tattoo artist when I went in for my last piece. In the photo, a book rests open in someone’s hand. The book is on fire, vibrant flames and dark ash spiraling up into the sky as smoke swirls around them. We’ll be starting on the piece in December or January depending on how things work out, and I couldn’t be more excited. For me, that picture was about more than censorship – while the photographer’s intentions were a little hazy, the response to the image testified to what I’ve always believed: you can’t ban an idea, even if you try to destroy it.
Someone will always be with the Banned.