“Ah, to be Russian and to die for one’s poetry!” by Deb Meredith

I can’t remember who said this, but the quote has always stuck with me. There’s something in me that loves to hear how we writers are so powerful and dangerous. None of us, of course, wishes to die or be persecuted like a Russian poet, but at a time when poets and writers have a hard time getting published and read, the idea that a writer was so popular and subversive that the government felt they needed to execute them is significant.

I was lucky when I was a kid to have a librarian who allowed us to check out whatever we wanted, and to have parents who believed that kids could handle grown-up ideas. My parents were willing to talk and debate with me about politics, etc., from an early age. So I’m not afraid to read anything (except horror stories late at night). IMHO, reading Marx doesn’t turn you into a communist anymore than reading the Koran turns you into a Muslim, but reading both will probably turn you into a more well -rounded individual who understands world politics a little better.

I remember when the Todd Haines film Poison was released, and Senator Jessie Helms spoke out against it as “filth” and was horrified that the NEA had given it a grant. Not to give too much away, but the film had a homosexual rape scene in it. I remember how excited everyone was in the Good Machine office, where I was doing my first internship in the film business, because Jessie Helms’ outrage was definitely going to be great for box office. We don’t hear about many of the small indie films released or books published, but the ones that are banned are the ones everyone wants to see and read (Salman Rushdie, anyone?).

Now that I have a small child, I do feel in some ways that I need to protect him a little from things that are too scary or too grown up for him to handle (most of which seem to be on television rather than in books). But I think parents can go too far. We do not live in pink candy-floss world, and if our kids are going to solve some of the gargantuan messes that people have created on the earth, they’re going to have to know something about death, fear and prejudice. Teenagers can get pregnant, go to war, drive a car, get addicted to drugs and go to jail. I think they can handle reading about another kid’s angst in Catcher in the Rye, and perhaps they will even find it helpful.

So—what are your favorite banned books?

15 thoughts on ““Ah, to be Russian and to die for one’s poetry!” by Deb Meredith

  1. btw, Banning movies is not always good. There was this movie called ‘Black Friday’ which was banned as it was based on the mumbai bomb blasts and the guity had not gone through a trial yet. People were curious and wanted to see the movie. But after a month or so, when the ban was still not lifted, most of them saw the movie on pirated CD’s, so when the movie was actually released, many had already seen it.

  2. Pingback: POEMS, POETS, RHYMES AND POETRY » Blog Archive » “Ah, to be Russian and to die for one’s poetry!” by Deb Meredith

  3. Violet, you’re so right. Banning movies and books often just makes people want to see them (instead of letting them go quietly into obscurity). As a teenager, I remember seeking out books like “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” and scanning them to see what the fuss was about.

  4. I read CATCH-22 because I wanted to read CATCHER IN THE RYE to see what the fuss had been about, but I got the titles mixed up. But CATCH-22 has been banned too, I understand, so it all worked out. CATCH-22 is still my favorite novel ever, and I did eventually read CATCHER IN THE RYE and like that one, too.

    Nowadays I have to shield my son from the evening news more than anything else, which is really a case of shielding his innocence from the wicked world. And can you blame me? He’s just five. Sometimes *I* don’t feel grown up enough for the news.

  5. I hear you, Kristina. There’s so much bad news these days, and I don’t want my son to have too much anxiety at four, either. He’s got enough on his mind with monsters under the bed (we had to ban the book about the monster in the closet in our house among other scary kids books) that I don’t think he needs to hear about car bombs and bank bailouts yet (gives me the chills).

    I loved Catch-22, BTW. A great read about the absurdities of war.

  6. I like your thinking (and your writing) Meredith. Reading anything – no matter what it is – will not turn us into anything other than well-read and hopefully, more educated and well-rounded individuals. Now, being bombarded with all the fear-inducing horror stories on television (and here I do mean the nightly news!) … well, that’s another story!

    My parents encouraged us to read everything and anything when we were kids. In fact, I remember fondly our huge book collections. It always seemed that my brothers and I had more books than any other kids we knew, more books than anything else, really. And I was always quietly proud of that. I thought it said something about us although I had no idea what.

    Funny thing, two out of us three kids grew up to be writers!

  7. I think the issue with teaching your kids (not that I have any mind you- but of course I still spout off like I do) isn’t to keep them from reading or being exposed to things- but to discuss it with them. If you have strong values on an issue- what a better way to explore them and provide them with meaning than to see/read something that holds a different view. If you want them to BELIEVE it versus just parrot back what they’ve heard then they need to understand it.

  8. I believe I always taught Eve and her brothers…books were sacred…they were to be loved and treasured…any books, all books. I don’t know if she remembers, but by the time they were four…they all had library cards…and were pretty much reading by five. We spent many happy hours walking to the library, me pushing them in their stroller, coming home with tons of books…all excited because we had a stack of treasures to open. Cat in The Hat…oh how we giggled and giggled. Green Eggs and Ham…still cracks me up.

    To this day, as I come close to finishing a really good book, I slow down because I don’t want to leave the world a good writer creates for me. Before I finish, I am off to the bookstores to stock up on my “future reads”, or else I can not finish the one I am loving. Often if I real was into the book, I feel sad when it is over, and I need to mourn a bit.
    And, yes, I have read favorites again and again. A Tree Grows In Brooklyn…gee many times.

    Banned Books…the ones locked behind the glass case…the sexy ones…Harold Robbins…hid it under my covers. Don’t remember how I got it. There was nothing banned in our house…today I would like to ban Fox News. And I am not too happy with on-line stuff especially for unsupervised kids. But ban…once you ban one thing…where is the end?

  9. I mean “really”…and remember…books are banned or burned when society becomes repressive which leads to danger, which leads to…well you ladies know you history.

  10. Eve’s Mom–we want to adopt you as our official mom for all the debs! You sound like the perfect parent for a writer to have. Going to the library was one of my favorite activities as a kid, and I’m pretty proud to have made it one of my son’s, too.

  11. Back in the day, whenever I went abroad I would smuggle copies of Henry Miller’s work in my suitcase. Once a man in a bookstore in Mexico City offered me something “much stronger.” Lawrence Durrell’s The Black Book was a fascinating read. James Joyce’s Ulysses was banned here until the famous trial.

    I went through a period that if a book had been banned, I wanted to read it. Huckleberry Finn and Catcher in the Rye seem to push parents hot buttons. How sad that two American classics are still the objects of censorship.

    I wonder what “Caribou Barbie” would actually ban.

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