26 November 2014

+JMJ+

Banned Books and Bratty Readers

Remember that time on The O.C. when Marissa wanted to get back at her snobby, social climbing mother by dating the yard guy?

Marissa Cooper was a mess wasn't she?
Now imagine her as a reader . . . LOL!

Yeah, he was good looking and had a nice personality--but there's a reason I had to look him up by googling "The O.C. Marissa Hispanic guy." She would have dated him even if he had been a troll in appearance and manner. The point was to show her racist mother up. It's too bad that she could only do it by being racist herself. To his credit, D.J. (Yes, I finally learned his name) didn't let himself be played by either the mother or the daughter, and his short arc on The O.C. has some real class. (Sarcastic voice in my head: "Yeah, social class." Shut up, stupid voice, and let me finish this post.)

I always mean to post this during "Banned Books Week", the most self-congratulatory sennight in the book blogging calendar, in which we pat ourselves on the back for being open-minded enough to read books which people whom we don't respect didn't like. (I wonder what Tyler Durden would say.) But I always post stuff off schedule, and well, some readers are bratty all weeks of the year. Like, R****** S*******, who inspired me to give this post another go, inasmuch as she shares the book blogging community's consensus that authors should be "nice" or be blacklisted. We don't like it when other people take away our "freedom to read," but we've done our fair share to take away some authors' "freedom to be read."

I'll bet that any author who wishes for the windfall that comes from having a book "challenged" . . .


Guess who'll be playing Jackson Pearce in any future biopics?

. . . also walks on eggshells around book bloggers and Goodreads reviewers, so as not to be punished for the mortal sin of "overreacting" to a negative review. (And that could mean anything.)

But the most important thing to note is that the people who are most vocal about "banned books" are the people who least need to be. Basically, if you're reading this right now (Yes, YOU!), then you and your peers enjoy greater access to reading material of your own choice than any other group in all our millennia of recorded history. But much good it does you when you're not even literate enough to define simple words like "banned" properly: apparently, all it takes these days for a book to be considered "banned" is for someone to write a letter to a librarian, asking that it be removed from the shelves. Meanwhile, outside the bubble of the library, anyone can still get the same title from a bookstore or from the Internet, which means for most of us, book banning simply does not exist. Celebrating the freedom to read "banned books" in this century is like celebrating the freedom to sneak out of the house to meet your bad boy boyfriend when you're already in your thirties. I mean, grow up.

Also consider that if one little letter is all it takes, then the system is easy to game. If I were an author who wanted a lot of free publicity for my new book (regardless of its actual merits), I'd just get a few people to demand that librarians get my book off the shelves. If I were really unethical, I'd pay them to pen letters; if I were just a slick operator, I'd hand out free copies of my book to people whom I know would react hysterically to them . . . or to the children of those people! ;-P

Now, given that book bloggers seem to be aware that this "unintended consequence" of creating a lot of free publicity actually happens on a very reliable basis . . . and that authors seem to agree that the publicity does result in more book sales . . . it actually makes no sense for the book blogging community to be against "book banning." On the contrary, we should be all for it! And if you think about it, we are: book bloggers love book banners, because if the latter didn't exist, we'd be forced to admit that modern reading is less about freedom than about conspicuous consumption and branding--and our self-esteem might not be able to handle that much reality.

But in case reality is your thing, let's take a peek out of this book bubble in which our "freedom to read" exists under artificial and highly controlled conditions. Please set your favourite "banned book" next to the 7-11 Big Gulp cup and those Buckyballs on that shelf behind the couch in our favourite psychiatrist's office . . .

When you say, "personal responsibility!" you are really saying "this is safe enough for it to be a question of personal responsibility." But you must ask yourself the question: how do you know Buckyballs and soda are safe enough for them to be about personal responsibility? Because "some other omnipotent entity" allowed them to exist. How do you know that Entity can be trusted? Because it even tries to ban silly things like Buckyballs and soda. The system is sound.

That is, how do we know that "banned books" are safe enough to be about personal responsibility? (Seriously.) Is it because a bunch of editors whose job you couldn't explain the ins and outs of said that the books were safe? (Admit it.) Well, if we can barely explain what they do, how do we know that they're doing their job right and not letting literary Ebola into our libraries? (Yeah, I just had to date this post with that.) It turns out that we are trusting them to turn out safe products, in the same way that we trust aeronautic engineers, pharmaceutical developers, and yes, even soda manufacturers--because we actually have no choice. (So much for freedom.)

Basically, being upset over "banned books" is just howling over having our private choices limited while ignoring the fact that our private choices were already limited to begin with. For every controversial book that was accepted and heavily edited by a publisher, there are thousands more that didn't make the cut for reasons that we will never know. Best case scenario: they were badly written by hacks and were only fit for kindling. Worst case scenario: they were beautifully written books with powerful ideas that clashed with a narrow ideology espoused by the editor whose desk they ended up on. Now those would be banned books.

If this doesn't even occur to us, that would be because we're distracted by all the pretty and shiny and panem and circenses reading that have made the official cut. That is, by books that are so completely controlled, we have no idea that we're reading only what other people want us to read and liking it.

Since you're as used to it as I am, surely you won't mind if I end with a quotation that I want you to read:

"In a society where expression is free and popularity is rewarded, [people] read mostly that which debauches them and they are continuously exposed to manipulation by controllers of the printing machine."

-- Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences

Weaver was born too early to learn that the controllers of the printing machine are nothing next to the controllers of social media, but the latter deserve an endnote anyway.

Image Source: Marissa and DJ

28 comments:

DMS said...

I think a lot if banned books end up getting read by more people overall I think it is more of a problem for people who live in places where once a book is banned they don't have access to it. Hopefully this happens less and less with the internet!
Jess

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Your comment reminds me that another point I neglected to explore is the sacred cow status that books--any books--seem to have among modern readers. There seems to be a consensus that access to books automatically changes the world for the better and benefits individuals, but it's something that we just take on faith. We can't prove that books do good the way penicillin does good.
And I could come up with several books that arguably changed the world for the worse! I'm not advocating "banning" them, but I am questioning the idea that access to them is an unqualified good.

Brandon said...

These Banned Books Weeks are often put in terms that suggest people think that they express the point that ideas matter. But I really wonder sometimes if their real root is actually the reverse -- we don't think that ideas really make much difference. After all, if books, and ideas in books, really do make a difference in the world, there's not really any reason to think they'd only make good differences. Someone who wants a book banned, though, clearly does think that ideas are powerful things.

Although, as you note, the 'banning' is often not much more than (say) a parent demanding that the school library not have Mein Kampf on the shelves. (An example I chose because my high school library did, in fact, have it on its shelves.) Even when the Church had the Index, it primarily applied to libraries and colleges, and it didn't mean the books weren't there -- it meant that they were under lock and key, reserved only for serious researchers with the background required to read them. (There are plenty of libraries, especially in Europe, that still do exactly this with Nazi propaganda materials.) One might very well argue that even this was too far, but it's rather less than what 'banned' seems to convey.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

One thing that I really don't like about Banned Books Week is the way people reduce all challenged books to that lowest common denominator. So you'll see To Kill a Mockingbird on the same list as Captain Underpants. And you're right that the people who celebrate this week care less about good ideas being able to get through than about being able to indulge themselves with whatever they please. Or as some people I follow on Twitter put it, their only motivation is "muh freedom."

Sullivan McPig said...

1 - uselessfact: We actually can buy eggs here with a story added to them about the chicken the eggs came from.

2 - I read the whole twitter fiasco and commentary and was left with one big 'What?': Why does the person who recorded this whole convo and gives commentary, attack all left winged people at the end? Why not just the tweeter in question? What does the left have to do with one woman having a breakdown? That one remark makes me question the whole incident.

3 - I myself am lucky enough to have the opportunity and money to buy books that are banned by libraries and/or schools. Many children (and adults) do not have that option and rely on their local/school library. it's for them that books should not be banned anywhere in my opinion.

Sheila said...

The thing about libraries "banning" books, as Sullivan points out, is that many of us really can't afford to buy them ourselves. The library is our source for print information, and it's not supposed to decide for us what is okay for us to read. (Generally they will order anything that enough people request.)

I don't really buy that some force is choosing which books we're allowed to read, because capitalism is such a useful force for making things available that even a small group of people want. There are little publishers and big publishers; there are niche publishers who will print almost anything so long as it's in their niche; there are self-publishing outfits who will publish your book for money (and if you can't afford that, run a kickstarter) and a whole wide internet where you can write what you want. There are vast tracts of the internet full of fanfiction and particularly weird porn ... stuff no serious publisher would ever print. There are books out there about how to make bombs and how to manipulate women into sleeping with you. I mean, if you don't care to make money on the effort, it is extremely easy to get your message out. And if enough people like it, it WILL get out there -- first through word of mouth, and then by being picked up by a publisher who wants to make money off it.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Sully -- Those eggs sound great! =D

I actually watched that Twitter fiasco unfold in "real time" and initially planned to embed the tweets themselves into this post. Then I found that article, which already had all of those that I had read, plus some that I hadn't read, and I decided to be lazy and to link to it instead. =P I don't agree with everything that the article says, but it definitely presents what I remember of S********'s public tantrum.

Believe it or not, I'm not sure where I stand on the issue of libraries. There are virtually no public libraries where I live and the few whose existence I learned of just last month have such small budgets that they can't order a lot of books that people want to read anyway. The only libraries that I've had extensive experience with are school libraries--and one of them belonged to a private institution which arguably had the right to discriminate against some books. I wrote this post not to defend book "banning" in any way but to criticise the people who think that just because they are against it, they are for "freedom." I'm sure that there are readers who fit that profile somewhere, but I don't see it in the book blogosphere, where the vast majority stick to mainstream titles from big publishers. Someone already limited their reading, but they're blind to the fact.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Sheila -- It's taking me a while to answer your first paragraph, because it has some assumptions that I don't see as self-evident. For instance, I honestly have difficulty wrapping my mind around the idea that just because someone can't afford a certain book, he should get to read it for free. I mean, what if it is a book about making a bomb? Are non-paying readers entitled to it just because they want it and have filled out the paperwork for it? And what if the librarian makes a well-considered decision not to fulfill those requests, not necessarily because the book is "bad," but because the budget is limited and he believes that the money would be better spent on a novel by a Nobel Prize laureate? It seems to me that libraries are already deciding for us what is okay to read, though usually in the positive sense that they put it in our way, instead of the negative sense that they withhold it. Yet if we accept the positive sense--that is, if we accept someone's authority to decide which books are valuable to an entire community--why are we so upset about the negative sense?

Another grey area that I can think of involves a story I've told before . . . There is a non-profit organization in the Philippines that collects secondhand books for "starter libraries" for poor rural schools. It accepts all donations EXCEPT juvenile series like Sweet Valley, The Baby-sitters Club, Saddle Club, etc., explicitly saying that those books present such an idealised version of America that Filipino children who read them end up thinking that America is superior to the Philippines in all ways--a view which the non-profit definitely wants to discourage. Does this mean that those books were "banned" from those libraries? In one sense, yes, but I think that the non-profit had the right to make that call.

Finally, I had to smile when I read this part of your comment: "I don't really buy that some force is choosing which books we're allowed to read, because capitalism is such a useful force for making things available that even a small group of people want." Capitalism is the force that chooses for us what we get to read! =D Or at least it's one of them--especially if you stick to mainstream books, like the majority of book bloggers do. (Banned Books Week is never about weird porn from a vanity press.)

But I'm not sure what point you're making by bringing up the capitalist model, when the reason for having libraries is to make books available to people who can't afford to buy them. Even a library that will never ban anything can't stock everything; as long as the public library model is what's on the table, the choice will be decided from above.

r said...

It's precisely because books are so available now that we can afford to treat them unseriously. When they were something only scholars would ever even see, they were more valuable than their weight in gold.

The printing press wasn't exactly a loss, and I'm more or less glad for it, but it wasn't an unqualified gain.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I got the sense of how many books we have and don't really need last month, when I started planning how to pack up my library after we sell our place. There were about 100 books that I didn't think were worth the trouble, and after an entire morning of wondering what I could do with them and weighing every option one by one, I realised that the only reasonable solution was to burn them. =(

Like book "banning," book burning is no longer the horror that it used to be. All the books that I'm planning to dispose of are mass market paperbacks, which are designed to be disposable anyway. (I mean, marketers must be aware of how many of these editions end up moulding in thrift stores, right?) Even if every physical edition of each title is somehow destroyed, the author and the publisher have backup copies. Burning books is just no longer what it used to be, and though we may still respond viscerally to the sight of a book bonfire, we have to admit that it doesn't have the same meaning. (Watch the Jackson Pearce video again. She wants her books to be burned. LOL! But only if it gets on the news. =P)

The printing press is like the microphone. The latter turned everyone into a singer and the former turned everyone into a writer.

Sheila said...

You have a point -- the capitalist system only works for those who have money. And the socialist one (the library) takes away some measure of freedom. One can't have both.

I am convinced my library is stalking me, figuring out my interests and ordering books that are perfect for me. I mean, I've never requested a book, and yet this last visit I found the THIRD book on spinning to arrive since I started going there. And that is one ridiculously niche hobby -- and our library is not big.

And when I was sighing over some book, somewhere, to explain to me how capitalism was compatible with sustainable food systems, not a month later one appeared on the new books shelf.

I think one of the librarians must be psychic. My money's on the one with the awesome steampunk fashion sense.

Sullivan McPig said...

@Enbrethiliel: the thought of you burning books actually made me shiver.
It might be because I live next to Germany and grew up hearing about WWII almost daily. (There was a lot of hurt in the generations before mine.) Still book burning, book mutilation, or any other form of book destroying always fills me with horror.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Sheila -- Ah, "socialist" was the word that I had been wanting! Thanks. =)

Your library sounds like a dream! Do the books have borrowers' slips that let you see who else have taken them out or at least how often others have taken them out? You could do a bit of "stalking" of your own to find another spinner in your area. ;-)

Sully -- Oh, I do know what you mean. Back in high school, when a friend showed me an old book that she had carved up to be a secret container, I was horrified! So if you can suggest something else I could do that I haven't already considered, I'd be very happy to do it instead.

The crux of my problem is that the Philippines is already one of the dumping grounds for the books (and clothes!) that don't get sold in the countries that they were first produced for. As much as I want to pass the books on to other readers, I have to admit that the fact that they're here means that they're at the end of their lifespan. The few thrift stores and libraries that we have get their stock not from local readers, but from foreign thrift stores and libraries! And if those books can't get sold, well . . . Basically, by burning them myself, I'd be saving someone else some inevitable work. =( But that isn't something that I want to do either, so if anyone has a better idea, I'm all ears/eyes!

Sheila said...

Do they have recycling where you are? Better books be made into toilet paper and construction paper than *ashes,* at least!

No, those little slips seem to have gone out of style; it's all digital. But I know there must be at least one other spinner in town -- because there is a car always parked about a mile from me with the license plate "CRE8 YARN." Maybe I should post a notice at the library and see if anyone responds.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Recycling? What's that? =P

Actually, I know that newspapers routinely get recycled. I haven't heard of any of the plants taking books, but I could ask again.

I know how the CRE8 YARN spinner feels. There's something about a niche hobby that feels like it shouldn't be a niche hobby that makes you want to find others who do it, too. And now I "KIP" (as the Ravelry people call it!) as often as I can, hoping to smoke out fellow crafters. So far, I've only found people into crochet and cross-stitch, but I'll find another knitter yet! Are the boys big enough for you to spin while at the park, or do they still need to be watched over a lot?

Sullivan McPig said...

@Enbrethiliel: Egh, sounds like you really have very few options to handle books you don't want to keep.
Here there's tons of good will stores that will take books, and if all else fails there's special paper recycling bins everywhere (not that I easily condemn books to those bins).

How about something like bookcrossing: leaving books at places where people might find them and take them home. (http://www.bookcrossing.com/)

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I had considered something like bookcrossing. The two main reasons I found against it were: a) a good number of the books that I want to dispose of aren't exactly child-friendly (Ahem!) and shouldn't be left just anywhere; and b) even if I register the books and make everything official, Philippine culture being what it is would make bookcrossing amount to littering. =/

Sheila said...

I used to spin at the park, back when it was warm enough to go to the park. I doubt we'll have any nice days again till March or April! But yes, I've gotten lots of interested kids asking me what I'm doing, though not yet any fellow spinners.

I did, however, meet one spinner awhile back -- my midwife! She saw my spindle lying on the table and told me she used to have a flock of sheep and still owns more than one spinning wheel, though she doesn't spin much anymore. Maybe if I started a spinning club, I could talk her into joining. ;)

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

That reminds me that I need to reestablish contact with a woman who used to work in my office. A colleague who saw me knitting mentioned that she is a knitter, too, and now I'm hoping for a crafty get-together in the future! =)

Paul Stilwell said...

We need to reclaim the powers of oral recitation and memorization.

Books are overrated.*

I always like thinking how Beowulf was written. Yes, it was written as a single piece, a whole object, like what we think of today as "a book". But there were likely numerous renderings of the same story that existed in the passing down of the scops, orally. The scops had a sort of spontaneous repertoire by which they told stories in poetic fashion. This was made easier by the use of alliteration, what they called the true linking of words; and it is also one of the reasons why you see so much repetitions or rephrasing of the same thing in Beowulf, and also repeating of events: this was how the scops told their stories spontaneously on their instruments. The alliteration compounded with the constant rephrasing allowed them to relax the invention part of the imagination for telling the story. There were multiple layers working in their minds at the same time. The words that we know today as the poem "Beowulf" is merely ("merely" in the best sense of the word) that written down. And that is why it is - as a piece of writing - timeless and classic and a masterpiece and all that.

In other words, I think it is fair to say that for the ancients, being able to tell the story well and beautifully *on the spot*, here and now, was equally, if not more so, important as having the story as a written object.

But I'm not sure how this fits in with your Banned Books Week subject.

When I moved into my present living quarters I forced myself to downsize my library to just what would fit onto my shelving unit.

It felt good.

*You know I mean that in a certain sense.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Litera enim occidit, Spiritum autem vivificat . . .

I'm not sure if you were leaning toward the connection that I finally made last night, Stilwell, but it did occur to me that my current problem exists because we as a culture have forgotten how to be bards.

A friend of mine has already agreed to let me store some of my books in her home. I'll ask another friend to take the rest. They're really not that many if you have the space. But since I won't have space very soon, I feel like an overloaded camel trying to pass through the eye of a needle. There's a part of me that wants to give them all away (the YA and MG novels will certainly be welcome in schools, even if some of the others will be harder to unload), and another part of me that suspects such a move would only be in the family anti-tradition of squandering the next generation's inheritance . . . so I resist. Not that my rapidly browning copies will be much of an inheritance, but you know. This will make sense someday, when we all have 20/20 hindsight.

PS -- And I'll bet that The Lord of the Rings still isn't on your shelving unit! ;-)

Paul Stilwell said...

"...we as a culture have forgotten how to be bards."

I think that is exactly it. I'm pretty sure I'm grasping the sense in which you are using the word bard: not necessarily someone who can write verse or necessarily recite/act out poetry, but an imagination that believes, that empathizes, that takes a work in and becomes pregnant and so passes it on. Much like the bards of old who told the stories/poems that kept alive the cultural memory, one needs to have a disposition that does not simply take things for granted, but appreciates and reverences the vitality of what he passing on. If we are not bards we tend to be bastards?

But you're a bard and a teacher and no cultural bastard in my view.

It's funny though how this wondrous social media with all the information and works of literature does not necessarily guarantee the passing on of what we have inherited. And woe to us if it makes us complacent.

How did you know about LOTR? I had to laugh because I'm presently wanting to read it and can't seem to borrow it from anyone!

BTW, I'm refusing to watch P.J.'s third film going under the title "The Hobbit". Speaking of cultural bastardization...

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

You're building on it beautifully! But I'd say that if we do not take on the role of bards who can take valuable things in and pass them on, either with their value made greater by us or at the very least with their value intact, then we make the next generation into bastards.

Another insight that I got from Biersach and Coulombe's talk on Hollywood that I linked in my latest Early Edition post was a reason why the quality of movies have been declining since the 1960s. I think it was Biersach who said that prior to this time, filmmakers had several frames of reference against which to hold up their work; but after that time, movies had become their only frame of reference. Or to put it another way, the first filmmakers had been nurtured by literature, art, and music that existed independently of cinema; but those who followed them got literature, art, and music through the filter of cinema. And so now it's all they know--and they don't even know that it can be transcended--so in each generation the boxes in which they try to fit the world become smaller and smaller.

Which, of course, explains the CGI extravaganza calling itself The Hobbit. =P

Paul Stilwell said...

Oh, I bookmarked that youtube video to watch later, and will indeed listen to it. You're comment about films having several frames of reference prior to the sixties totally brings up Tarkovsky and what he talks about in "Sculpting in Time". He was always adamant about referencing classic paintings in his films for the very reason that you talk about. To him it was like the film would be otherwise not grounded, not of good soil.

This narrowing frame of reference cannot possibly be applied to the internet, can it? ;)

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Movies and TV shows that reference each other are narrow enough. Can you imagine when memes start to do it? (Oh, what? Have they already started? LOL!)

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

By the way, I'm totally stealing the phrase "cultural bastard" for another writing project of mine that you already know about.

Melanie Bettinelli said...

I'm always curious about what books people have in mind when they wring their hands about children who don't have money for books being denied access to them because the library won't buy them. Which books are you imagining the children pining for? Which books are the librarians keeping out of their hands? Oops. I just went back and re-read and see that it's not libraries keeping things out of kids' hands but out of your own? So what books are you wanting that the librarians are saying no to.

And now doesn't my mistake reveal something about my own perspective? I tend to think of banned books primarily in the context of children reading them. Or not reading them. I tend to think there are some ideas and images which children should be guided through and not encounter on their own, too early. And while some challenges are undoubtedly wrongheaded and books I wouldn't think twice about are on some people's lists of things that shouldn't be read, on the whole I'd rather have vigorous debates about the books we stock in our libraries, about the ideas those books represent, than an anything goes attitude. I think some books should be challenged, as Brandon says, it suggests that ideas matter.

As a parent, I'm rather grateful to the librarians for curating the local library's collection. I want my children to lay their hands on good books and I hope that's the goal of the librarians too. I actually wish they would do more curating and less catering to popular tastes. I really do prefer the term "curating" to "banning." Librarians with limited budget and limited shelf space should, I think, try to aim not for the least common denominator but also for bringing people books they might not know to ask for but which they would enjoy nonetheless. Honestly, I wish the local librarians would be even more selective.
I'm disappointed when the preponderance of the books on the shelf in the kids' section at our local library are fluff and dreck.

My own goal for our home library is that it contains only the best books. I have a very limited budget and shelf space and am pretty ruthless about the books I "ban" from our shelves. Plenty of books I love but that I don't want my kids to stumble upon until they are older have gone into the donation boxes. I stumbled upon quite a few things on my mom's shelves when I was younger that I really wish I hadn't.


About the horror of book burning. I worked at a chain bookshop in the mall right after college and i was horrified the first time I was given a list of books to pull off the shelves and then take to the back to "strip." I had to pull the covers off them, then throw the books into a box which was then unloaded into a dumpster. And one day among the books I was to destroy was a copy of a Dickens novel. It hadn't sold in its allotted time and space needed to be made, so off it went to the trash. Publishers know that many of the books they print will never even be sold but will be destroyed by the bookstores. So at least if you're burning a third-hand used copy, you know that book has had a good life. It's been read.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Well, a lot of the people who celebrate Banned Books Week do make it about the children. And they talk about challenged titles that they read as children or teenagers that changed their lives and say how much it would mean for the same books to remain available to other children and teenagers (As you can see, it's all very subjective!)

I love your suggestion that we use the word "curate"! For librarians are more than just middlemen ordering books by popular demand--as if popular demand were the greatest measure of a book's value to the community. They get to think two steps ahead, like the librarians in Sheila's library who order books about spinning, providing materials that they anticipate their readers will need--and to do this requires not just a good nose for present trends, but also some vision for the future.

Thanks to my mother's uncurated library, I was reading Sidney Sheldon when I was twelve! =P I even tried to give a book report on one of them, before my startled teacher suggested that I read Charlotte's Web instead! LOL! I don't really wish, however, that I hadn't read them, because I'm not sure what terrible effect they had on me. Indeed, I'm impressed that I was able to understand all the sordid points in the plot, but not get a full sense of their sordidness. When I reread one of the books as an adult, recalling many of the events well, I ended up more shocked and distressed at their banal ugliness than I had been as a child! My innocence had managed to act as its own shield. Which is not to say that it's okay to leave such literary nitroglycerin around where children can read them! I have a pretty good guess--though I don't think I'll ever know for sure--which part of my mind was corrupted by that reading, making the struggle against sin so much harder.

I've known about "stripped books" for a while, thanks to stories of unscrupulous bookstore owners reselling the books without their covers, in order to get money from both the publisher and the customer. But I hadn't thought about it from the sales staff's point of view. It must have been awful!