Friday, January 30, 2015

Haugen's rules for radicals

Ray Bradbury said: "There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches." (Don't insert Muhammad cartoon here.)

Undeterred, Junior just finished reading Huckleberry Finn in school. It's one of the most banned books in the world. Mark Twain was actually jubilant when he first heard about HF being banned. A library in Concord, Mass., banned it as "trash suitable only for the slums." Twain figured that would sell him another 25,000 copies.

He wrote: "A committee of the public library of your town has condemned and excommunicated my last book, and doubled its sale This generous action of theirs must necessarily benefit me in one or two additional ways. For instance, it will deter other libraries from buying the book and you are doubtless aware that one book in a public library prevents the sale of a sure ten and a possible hundred of its mates. And secondly it will cause the purchasers of the book to read it, out of curiosity, instead of merely intending to do so after the usual way of the world and library committees; and then they will discover, to my great advantage and their own indignant disappointment, that there is nothing objectionable in the book."

After gagging through Macbeth and Catcher in the Rye, the fruit of my loins hit his stride with Mark Twain, as all Haugen men do. I've studied Twain for years and of all the things to accuse him of, racism toward African Americans would be the last. I guess some would prefer Shakespeare hadn't written in Old English as people spoke in his day, or don't want Jorge Luis Borge to write the way people in Argentina speak. Twain's characters used the "N" word (which is stupid not to spell out but I'll join the stupid crowd for now) because that is how they spoke during the time of which the novel was set.

If critics actually applied critical thinking to the book they'd recognize that Jim (the former slave) is the only truly moral person in the entire book. That should over-shadow the fact that a word now deemed offensive was used. It shows us where we were and allows us to contrast to where we are now. There are also many moral questions that could be discussed. It's just a matter of what a teacher chooses to emphasize and teach. (Today the class read Bradbury's The Other Foot. I love this lit teacher!)

I've generally parented my kids by erring on the side of them knowing too much rather than not enough. As Junior was watching Terminator movies with me before he was in kindergarten and an "F" bomb would come up, I'd tell him. "You know that word. It's a bad word. We don't use it." And he doesn't. Wasn't rocket surgery.

As I mentioned, this Huck Finn book comes on the heels of his class reading Catcher in the Rye, which is also a favorite of the book-banning crowd.

But what do you expect from a radical Catholic school where they read daily from one of the most banned books in the United States: The Bible.

Seems there's more ways to be a rebel than just tats and piercings and lying down in traffic. Be a radical. Read! Or go to church. That will really offend some people.

For now, I'm content just to live vicariously through my son's lit class.

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