You can ban books but not the eternal truths they contain
Reverend John F. Hudson
“I always imagined that heaven would be a kind of library.” –Jorge Luis Borge
“Curious George Goes to the Hospital” is the very first book I remember reading, or reading to me, or maybe both. When I was about 5 years old, I was days away from going into Boston Children’s Hospital for a tonsillectomy and I was very scared. Then one day this book arrived in the mail. In a package addressed to me!
Written and illustrated by Margret and HA Rey, the 1966 book tells how one day George swallows a puzzle piece and therefore has to go to the hospital to have it removed. Through his adventures, I and thousands of children still today find solace in this simple story and its introduction to young readers about what it is like to be in the hospital.
And so, I’ve been reading books ever since.
I am an omnivorous reader, I read everything that comes to hand. When I was a kid, I even read the World Encyclopedia of Books. As a kid, I remember reading “Encyclopedia Brown,” a series of books about a boy detective who solves neighborhood crimes and mysteries. What I loved was that the answers were at the end of the book so I had to guess! I remember one night reading a little paperback during a break from my very first job, as a 15-year-old clerk at a long-defunct local department store. Sitting at that soda counter, I sipped Coke and got lost in the many amazing worlds depicted in Ray Bradbury’s short story collection “The Illustrated Man.” Since then, I have been addicted to science fiction.
It is mystical and a miracle that certain books, the memory of these books: these remain with us, because in a profound and simple way, they have changed our view of the world and of ourselves. That’s what great books do. They open our minds and invite us to discover peoples, ideas, stories and beliefs that we might never have encountered without a book to take us on an exotic journey. A book to invite us to an exciting journey of the mind and imagination.
I wish I could listen to you talk about the books that have shaped and changed your life.
Was it Nancy Drew Mysteries that made you fall in love with reading or maybe “Are You There God?” It’s me Margaret” …this story made you feel less alone in the world. ‘The Autobiography of Malcom X’ by Alex Haley – did it wake you up to the pain of so many of our brother children of God? Were you as blown away as I was by Elie Wiesel’s “Night,” a small volume that tells the story of the Holocaust through the eyes of an eight-year-old boy. His description of seeing the flames shoot from the top of the chimneys as he approached the concentration camp by train: it still haunts me.
Books: however, for everyone they make this life better, and broaden minds and hearts, some books do not always inspire curiosity. Instead, some books inspire fear, even censorship. That’s what happened last month in McMinn County, Tennessee, where the school board voted unanimously to remove the book “Maus” from its eighth-grade Holocaust curriculum. According to the minutes of the board meeting, he took this action due to their concerns about questionable language and depictions of nudity in this 1991 Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel, written by Art Spiegelman. I do not deny the right of this commission to make such a choice. I lament the fact that the children of this place cannot be moved by the poignancy and power of “Maus”, at least in the classroom.
It’s not just “Maus” who provokes such actions to remove “controversial” books from schools, libraries and classrooms. According to the American Library Association, 2021 set a record for the number of book challenges launched by parents, school boards and other groups. Books removed from US libraries include Margaret Atwood’s ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’, Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and Angie Thomas’ ‘The Hate U Give’.
The funny thing is that immediately after the “Maus” ban story, it jumped to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list. It just goes to show that you can never completely censor or stifle or deny the truth contained in books. Impossible to erase the story that the books tell us, even if these stories can make us feel uncomfortable or even make us feel guilty. I can’t keep a book for long, not with so many places to find, buy and read books.
Bans are often temporary, of the moment, but the books? The ideas they contain are eternal. Thank God for books, for every book, from the Bible to the bawdy, from the profound to the trivial, from the controversial to the childish. Like “Curious George”.
Reverend John F. Hudson is senior pastor of Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn, Massachusetts (pilgrimsherborn.org). If you have any comments, please send them to [email protected] or c/o The Dover-Sherborn Press ([email protected]).