Comment Of The Day: “From The Increasingly Fantastic Annals Of The Great Stupid: Norton And The Philip Roth Biography”

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Here is JP’s Comment of the Day on “From The Increasingly Fantastic Annals Of The Great Stupid: Norton And The Philip Roth Biography”. It tells the story of how a high school student learned what was wrong with banning books…any books.

I’ll add this as preface: “The Giver” is one of the most frequently banned books in public school libraries.

When I was in high school, I was a terrible student. I was averaging a 2.2 GPA and had no desire to do anything other than the absolute minimum of what was required of me (I think that is why my grammar is so bad).

Since I wasn’t doing too well academically and had failed a few classes, I was not on a path to graduate until, one day, in my sophomore year, the head librarian approached me. Apparently she was friends with one of the teachers I was pretty fond of, and they discussed ways to help me out. I was asked to be a the librarian’s personal Scout, a kind of \a teaching aid). The library had lots of Scouts, but I reported directly to her, and not the lady who supervised the rest of the scouts.

It was fun. I loved it. Then came the teaching. She gave me a book and wanted to know what I thought about it. She would tell me her favorite parts. She told me I reminded her of Sam. “Who’s Sam?” I asked. That was another boo, and that book turned into another book, and they kept kept on coming. That year I discovered a passion for reading. Pretty soon I was asking her for for new books and was leading the discussions.

The next year, I gave up my Student Resource Time (Study Hall) so I culd continue to be her Scout. Our conversations were less frequent because I was now a returning Scout and tasked with training the other Scouts, but I still kept reading. One day she told me I she gave me a copy of “The Giver.” It instantly became my favorite book. It was the first time I ever imagined a dystopian world where people would be so blinded by the truth. It was a sad book, but I loved it. It left me with a lot of questions, all of which I hoped I would never have to answer, because I never wanted to see a society where those thoughts would become reality.

However, I was introduced to that book because the author, Lois Lowry, was coming to give a talk at our school and she wanted a chance to talk with some students afterwards. After her talk, I got a chance to ask her two questions. My first was whether the kind of world she wrote about could really happen, She replied that she really hoped it would not, but that the possibility has been a problem people have been writing about for years. It was then  I learned about “1984,” “Fahrenheit 451,” “Brave New World,” and “Animal Farm.” She commented that all those books showed that despite all odds, people still tried to do the right thing, though they or fail. My second, was “What was going to happen to Jonas, the 12-year-old protagonsit of “The Giver” who defies the status quo. ? She smiled, reached into her bag and gave me a copy of her book’s sequel: “Gathering Blue.”

I thought a long time about that first question. I read “1984,” “Fahrenheit 451,” and the equally wonderful, but sad “Gathering Blue.” The latter two stuck out the most because both seemed to have the major theme of books being prohibited. I never wanted to be in a place where that was possible. Then came my senior year.

Our school received a rather large grant to place new books in the library. The librarian came up with this great idea of taking requests from the student body and letting students place a name plate of sorts (if they wanted to) on book they would like to be in the library. I was assigned to the project, and tasked with cross-referencing the list with the collection to make sure we didn’t already have a requested book,  organizing the list, and going to the store to pick them out from our local Barnes & Noble.

One student wrote on the list “Hitler’s book.” No name was attached to the request, which I was pretty sure it was a joke.  I moved it to the discard pile:  think the only other item on there was “Playboy” or something like that. When I finally gave the list to the librarian, she frowned and wanted to know why “Hitler’s book” was on the discard pile. I told her it must be a joke, that  nothing good could come from such a book. She looked at me, and said, “I’m sure Jonas  would disagree.” I wasn’t sure sure what she meant, but I put it back on the list.

So we bought the books, and I put the name plates in the books identifying the students who had requested them. And there was “Mein Kampf.”  I did something I have never regretted: I signed my name to its book plate.

Somewhere, in a school library, there is a copy of Hitler’s book with the words “Recommended by John Paul S*******.” I have always thought that if someone asked me why I did that, I would say  “For those who disagree.” It might be an awful book (I never read it) but I would never want it banned. I am more afraid that someday there will be no books and I will only have a partial memory of the Book of Ecclesiastes because some authority wanted to save me from some book that really couldn’t hurt me.

20 years later, having grown in wisdom and maturity, that fear has only become more and more concerning, because each day, we are one step closer to that dystopian reality. The good news is that we can stop it. We just need more people like Guy Montag and Jonas willing to stand up and say, “I disagree.”

6 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “From The Increasingly Fantastic Annals Of The Great Stupid: Norton And The Philip Roth Biography”

  1. Thanks Jack, While I don’t know what happened to my copy of “The Giver” I can still see my copy of “Gathering Blue” on the bookshelf. There is a nice note in there from Mrs. Lowry wishing me the best. It was an honor to meet someone like her. I wonder what she thinks of what people and publishers are doing to books these days.

    • I am jealous JP. The Giver is one of my favorite books. I have a poster from Litographs that has the entire text. It hangs in my office. While 1984, Brave New World, etc., are in my collection The Giver is special. The extent a society will go to for “equality” is too close now. The need for “precision” of language is here.

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