Editor’s note: Dan, wife & kids have repaired to Ocean City, Md., where they are crabbing, riding the waves, sunbathing and hanging out with The world-famous Nighthawks this week. Herewith are some “greatest hits” columns until Casey returns. This column originally appeared Oct. 11, 2009. It prompted this retort from Joe Farah, the editor of the nutty, far-right-wing World Net Daily.
Thursday morning I called Barnes and Noble at Tanglewood Mall with a simple question.
Do you have any copies of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky? I asked.
The answer was no.
“I can order you a copy,” the clerk said. “We’re all sold out.”
“Wallflower” was out of stock at the Valley View Barnes and Noble, too. And at Ram’s Head Book Shop in Towers Shopping Center. A colleague managed to snag the last copy at Books-A-Million.
That’s one of life’s little ironies that must gall the book-banners.
Every now and then they grab a handful of passages from a volume, take them out of context, paint a frightening picture of innocence lost and tender lives ruined, and shrilly demand it be yanked off bookshelves.
And it always backfires.
Suddenly the book becomes something teens actually want to read. They run to the bookstores and libraries. Sales climb, authors gain influence and publishers make more money.
“Wallflower” was the object of a book-banning cry that arose in Roanoke County schools last week, after a presumably well-meaning parent found his 16-year-old son with a copy.
The boy had borrowed it from another student, who had borrowed it from an English teacher. (The book also was available in the libraries at William Byrd and Hidden Valley high schools, by the way).
The story got picked up on WorldNetDaily, a California-based conspiracy-theory laden “news” Web site. On Friday it was promoting a bizarre fairy tale titled “How to survive the coming martial law in America.” WorldNetDaily also boasts it has published more than 300 articles questioning whether President Obama was born in the United States.
Calls flooded the office of William Byrd Principal Richard Turner, and the Roanoke County schools administrative offices.
Members of the Roanoke Area “Tea Party” movement passed around an e-mail with the tantalizing subject line: “For Those Needing More Encouragement To Pull Their Children Out of Public Schools.”
It read in part: “You should be outraged that a Roanoke county [sic] school teacher even owns such material, much less that she gave it to her students.”
It’s time to get a grip, folks.
“Wallflower” is a coming-of-age novel published in 1999 by MTV books. It has sold more than 700,000 copies. It’s an adolescent’s observations of life, written as a series of letters.
Yes, among its 213 pages are passages about sex, masturbation, homosexuality, sexual violence and alcohol abuse.
But the parts I’ve read, which the offended father explicitly cited in his complaint to the school system, hardly glorify those subjects.
If anything, the narrator seems to describe them with a bit of angst and detached horror.
He comes across a bit like Holden Caulfield, the narrator of J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye,” a novel that other book-banners have pilloried from time to time.
They helped turn that into an American classic.
Regarding the father’s protests, William Byrd principal Turner has taken “appropriate personnel action” with the teacher. If you read between the lines on that, it’s possible Turner dumped the complaint in the trash.
That’s exactly what should happen to an objection raised about a teacher who — gasp! — loaned out a book that any student could have checked out of the school library.
For now, “Wallflower” is off the shelves of Roanoke County schools, pending a review.
While we await that decision, here’s a little ploy the book-banners might try.
There’s another volume in Roanoke County public school libraries that has lots of passages about sex, and homosexuality, adultery, sodomy and incest. Plus murder, fratricide and idolatry.
Forgive me if I have ripped those juicy bits out of the book’s larger context. You’ll probably recognize the title.
It’s the Bible.
If you want kids to read it, demand they ban it.
That always works.