I was late, but once I mastered the rhythm of "Charlotte's Web," I was off to the races. I have spent the rest of my life reading. (Interestingly, I have tried to replicate the thrill of those first ten readings of "Charlotte's Web," but have yet to do so with any other book at any other time of my life.) Books have given meaning to my existence and caused a pretty severe real estate problem. I don't care.
In the new McCarthyite time in which we find ourselves, books have become a touchstone. For those of us who actually write books, this is kind of amazing, considering just how few people actually read, but zealots will grab onto anything. The left demands the cleansing of classics on the basis of being triggered by certain words, phrases, and characterizations. The right demands the literal removal of books for their entire content.
The right-wing thing is an old story. We know about that, so we shouldn't spend too much time on it. Nazis burned books because they knew that the first thing to do when you're taking over people's minds is to give them an enemy and control them by creating an Us Vs Them thing. This includes the burning of Beatle records and memorabilia in the southern USA back in the day, surely the greatest destruction of future eBay lucre in history. It was all in the name of Jesus. Last year, 32 state in the US engaged in banning books. Look it up.
Of more interest is the madness of the left - folks who are, I guess, supposed to be "my guys," except that I want nothing to do with these people. Their doctrine holds that there are certain words, phrases, and pejoratives in the classics or non-classics of literature which are not just offensive to modern minds, but they are triggering. Triggering means that when you run across certain ideas, thoughts, or phrases, you are adversely affected and upset.
The problems here are manifold. One, I firmly believe the job of most fiction is to upset you in some way. Just riffing off titles, "Catch-22" certainly set out to upset anyone who ever thought the U.S.military was a well-oiled machine dedicated to the defense of freedom and liberty; "Absalom Absalom" I would imagine upsets anyone who thought "Gone With The Wind" was the whole story; "To Kill a Mockingbird" is a story built entirely around a rape; and even a potboiler as straightforward as "The Godfather" is rife with murderous violence, including a unique take on cruelty to animals. Fiction upsets. Sorry.
Fortunately, for most of American history, despite pockets of resistance, the general tendency has been to let the books do their thing and let their hysterical detractors crawl back under their rock. But now, more and more, we are bowing to the mob. Well, not "we." The trend is that the heirs to the copyrights of some of our best-loved classics are bending to the mob, and thus the world of Roald Dahl is going through a facelift, as is the work of Dr. Seuss, and now Agatha Christie.
The families say all the right things about what they're doing. "We're bringing the books up to date," and "we're making them more accessible." In fact, what they're doing is bowdlerizing them for the sake of offending no one and keeping sales up, which is what the publishers want in the first place. But why are the publishers so sure this is the fix? And where does it stop? When does "we're changing a few words" become "we're changing a few chapters" and from there, "it's basically a summary of the original book, but it's much more palatable to the broader public." This is nothing more than giving in to the mob, and shame on everyone - especially the families of famed and talented authors - for knuckling under to the hysterical faction of this modern learned class.
Learned, yes, but, I suspect, not readers. The people railing against the phrase "ugly and beastly" in a Roald Dahl book are, I suspect, young, University educated, and not readers. They are joiners and hysterics. They are overcome by the kind of virtue mania that you sometimes see at civil protests, folks who just get caught up in the moment and take things too far. Are they really affected adversely by the phrase "ugly and beastly" or are they working something else out?
Well, I have an answer to all those who are triggered so adversely by works of art - be it fiction or otherwise.
Stay away. Don't go there. Don't read. Books aren't for you. There are plenty of other ways to occupy your time. If you're really that fragile, don't risk it.
I hate heights, so I make a point of not stepping out on the balcony of my friend who has an apartment on the twenty-first floor. It's as simple as that.
So you should avoid the library. Probably movies are a bad idea too. You never know what might be lurking there. Even an episode of "Little House on the Prairie" might take you out. Simply go away.
And leave the rest of us to our awful, sinful ways.
Because otherwise, this doesn't end well. It never does.
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