November 12, 2007

Notes from Atop the Soapbox

I’ve been meaning to bring you this Pat Conroy letter for quite some time, but *pls insert lame excuse here* (sample excuses: “I was tired, I was busy, I was fruitlessly trying to get the Customer Prevention Specialists at Bassett to sell me some *@&^(*^@(&$#% furniture,” even “The dog ate Pat Conroy” would work.)

BAD DOG! BAD BAD! DO NOT EAT MR. CONROY! We LOVE Pat Conroy, not only because he writes superfantastic books, but because he writes superfantastic letters. A bookseller I know and heart sent this to me with a note that said, “didn't know you and Pat Conroy were related.”

After reading his letter, I truly wish we were. It begins like this:

A Letter to the Editor of the Charleston Gazette:

I received an urgent e-mail from a high school student named Makenzie Hatfield of Charleston, West Virginia. She informed me of a group of parents who were attempting to suppress the teaching of two of my novels, “The Prince of Tides” and “Beach Music.” I heard rumors of this controversy as I was completing my latest filthy, vomit-inducing work. These controversies are so commonplace in my life that I no longer get involved. But my knowledge of mountain lore is strong enough to know the dangers of refusing to help a Hatfield of West Virginia. I also do not mess with McCoys….

You can read the rest here.

I would like to add, there are books I tell my kids they are too young to read. I think gods in Alabama, for example, is R rated. I’m involved in a writers in schools program here in Georgia, and I ask them to use BETWEEN if lower classmen are involved because I think you need to be THIS HIGH to ride that ride. I made that decision when Maisy meandered up to me holding gods and asked when she could read MY book, and I immediately, without thinking, said, “OH! BUNNY! How sweet you want to read Mommy’s book. You can read it when you are 30!” I think we can all agree that innocence is valuable and worth preserving for the few short years our children are gifted with it. And yet I too feel COnroy's "LAY MY BOOKS AT THE ALTAR OF GOD" thing very strongly, feel that gods, moreso than Between, is a reflection of the world as I find it. And... opening up the world via good books, via LITERATURE, esoecially literature in the hands of a good and passionate teacher, for the love of Pete, is not a violation of that innocence.

Conroy’s books will, I believe, stand up to time and still be taught years from now. And they should be. Not only because of Conroy’s facility with and obvious love for language, but because these, with empathy and with a huge and sometimes terrible beauty, resonate truthfully as they reflect the world our children live in with us.

ANd for the record? There’s sex and violence in Romeo and Juliette, SCREAMING HORDES of it, but luckily, the archaic language means only the kids who are righteously studying it suss out those bits *grin*

Posted by joshilyn at November 12, 2007 10:49 AM
Comments

Thank you for sharing that wonderful, amazing, heartfelt, moving letter. I am so very thankful I was raised by people who trusted me with books, all books, any books. And while no, I wouldn't read gods in Alabama to a five-year-old, there is such power in our storytelling. I watch my children pretend to kill the bad guys and save the world and fight the good fight and (as much as the killing part wears me out) I know they are taking control over that big, big world in the best way they can. In my own experience, I am glad I learned about some of the terrible things in this world first through books. It's good to know what's out there. It's good to feel, even superficially, prepared. What are fairy tales, after all? (The real fairy tales, I mean, not Disney's co-opted sugar-coated versions.)

As for Romeo and Juliet, those stupid kids always did annoy me, and I hated how everyone in class thought it so ROMANTIC to off yourself over love. Gah.

Posted by: amy at November 12, 2007 11:23 AM

You and Pat Conroy. What a perfect way to start the day! ;)

Posted by: Amy-Go at November 12, 2007 12:26 PM

I am so glad you brought up Romeo and Juliet! I remembering directing it with some high school students and once they understood the bawdiness of some of the jokes they delivered their lines a whole lot less woodenly.

Sex, passion, violence and cursing are timeless and cross-cultural. (Shh. don't tell the Baptists - but they are even in the Bible!) I know because I am a Baptist and I have read the Bible and I have produced Christian plays with jokes about sex, and curse words used right on stage.

I say to School Boards and Parent's Everywhere: Protect your children's innocence but don't forget to acknowledge when they aren't innocent anymore or you as the parent censor will be the shocked one!

Posted by: Anette at November 12, 2007 12:34 PM

What a GORGEOUS letter he wrote. I got goosebumps and my heart began to beat a little faster.

Do these book banners not realize that there is s-e-x and violence and death in the bible for cryin' out loud? Not that they'd teach that any time soon in public school, but I read my six year old bible stories...

In my grade 12 'Humanities' class (a class taught by an English teach and a Social Studies teacher) we watched Monty Python and Platoon and read books about war and death and got to choose our own books if we wanted to. I am so fortunate to have grown up that way, being treated as though I had my own mind and I could handle reading The F Word every once in a while.

Posted by: Heather at November 12, 2007 2:01 PM

These book banning parents are obviously not watching television because there is worse material than Pat Conroy ever wrote (and I mean worse in a good way -- Prince of Tides is an all time favorite)on MTV any day of the week.

And just wait til these kids go off to college -- oh wait, these are probably the same parents that will be calling the professor trying to get junior's C grade changed to an A.

Posted by: Madame Queen at November 12, 2007 2:32 PM

What a wonderful letter. He reminded me why I love to read. Just last weekend, I picked up a book on CD (from the library) I'd never encountered before to listen to on a trip across four states. It so captivated me that I immediately came home and visited the same library to see if they had any of the other books in the series. When I discovered there were ten (TEN!) more, I was thrilled. I devoured yet another in 24 hours over this past weekend and have more sitting on my nightstand awaiting the same treatment.

Funny, but I discovered gods in Alabama the very same way. Needed a book on CD, visited the library, and picked up the one that sounded the most interesting.

I've discovered many of my very favorite books that way--at the library or (my very favorite) bookstores at airports. Books I've never heard of from authors I've never heard of. What a horror to think that if someone had banned or censored them in some way, they might not have found their way into my path.

Posted by: Erin at November 12, 2007 3:51 PM

While I shouldn't be amazed at what people deem inappropriate or appropriate anymore, I am. When I think we are well into the newest millienum, I oft times find ignorance is still concrete footed in the Victorian era. ho - hum. And the people who are so solidly footed on righteous, book burning ground never get all the adult humor in the Wizard of Oz.

So let's get it out of the way, "Prudes unite, and get a life."

Posted by: Cele at November 12, 2007 5:53 PM

And I've printed out Conroy's letter and will keep it. Stimulating, progressive, and blatantly the truth. Give a child a book, and you give him the world.

Posted by: Cele at November 12, 2007 5:59 PM

When I was teaching, the English Department ended up in front of the school board, called on to justify why we had seniors reading "The Grapes of Wrath". Seems that on page 50 of the edition we were using, there was made mention of Rose of Sharon's breast. Awful, horrible, salacious (okay, they didn't use that word, who could know what it meant?) books designed to corrupt our Youth.

Mind you, we had a daycare center at the school so students could bring their babies to school.

Sadly, we ended up having to compromise. We could keep Steinbeck if we had a pablum-like alternative for kids whose parents objected to body parts or such things. And it was a serious fight to get that, too.

So basically, huzzah for Pat Conroy and huzzah for you, Peach!

Posted by: Fran at November 12, 2007 6:36 PM

on conroy's site, there's something he wrote about helping the first woman to be admitted--and drop out of--his alma mater (insert name here, has fallen into Giant BrainHole)--I loved that letter.
also, I've got signed copies of most of his books, but I ducked out of line before getting to...HIS DAD. didn't want his sigs on my books.

Posted by: Elena at November 12, 2007 8:21 PM

Now.....crazy farm plan......please

Posted by: jean at November 12, 2007 9:17 PM

I guess I'm pretty lucky. We homeschool, so I don't have to worry about anyone handing my kids a book that I haven't read. Then again, that means that I read a lot of kids books. Last summer, after a trip to Charlotte, my oldest daughter asked to read 'gods'. I handed her a copy of Between instead, and told her to wait a few years before tackling gods. She was fine with that. A year later, I gave her a copy of gods for her birthday. She's older, more mature, and she's more ready for it (plus, she reads FTK as often as I do, so I doubt I could keep it away from her much longer). The big difference between me and other mothers in my Baptist Homeschool group is that I don't just say "NO, you can't read THAT!!" without ever reading it myself. I read it first, then hand it over more often than not, with the agreement that if she has questions, we will talk. It's a good agreement.

Of course, I'm also the only mom in that group that has allowed her child to watch "Rent". With all of the sex and drugs and "alternative lifestyles" in it, it was all but banned in our group. We stayed up late to watch it one night, together. And it was the fodder for many, MANY, discussions in the months that followed.

It's not about banning. It's about COMMUNICATION. Something every single parent in this country should embrace, not hide from. This stuff is out there in the world our kids will one day walk into, whether it's violence or drugs, sex or death. It's out there. If we try to hide it, pretend it doesn't exist, we're only hurting the very precious children that we claim we're trying to protect.

*stepping down off soapbox now* (ahem. sorry.)

Posted by: dee at November 12, 2007 11:35 PM

My mom encouraged my reading, but she had no idea WHAT I was reading. However, I think being exposed to literary sex and violence at an early age, and many of the other foibles of mankind through literature, helped me to avoid some of those situations and be prepared for others. As long as you have safety and love at home, it's GOOD to be prepared for the fact that the rest of the world isn't always that way.

Posted by: Brigitte at November 13, 2007 5:48 AM

I remember reading "The Lords of Discipline" in high school. We each read a book a month on our own for my English Literature class, and that was on the list. I picked it out myself, mostly on a whim. "Pat Conroy. I've heard he's good." It really was one of the most affecting books I've ever read. I'm sorry it wasn't formally taught in class, because it made me think happy/sad/angry/crazy/full thoughts, and I really would have appreciated a class discussion to help sort them out.

What makes me sad isn't so much that the books were censored—as he points out, that will just make it all the more alluring. It's more that these students are being denied the chance to discuss it in a permissive setting with a caring adult.

Posted by: Marleigh at November 13, 2007 9:29 AM

Oh, THANK YOU. What an amazing letter. I'm so glad you passed it along.

Thanks for your dear post as well.

Posted by: Keetha at November 13, 2007 9:54 AM

That letter is perfection. Thank you for sharing it.

Posted by: Aimee at November 13, 2007 10:44 AM

I seem to be a tad older than most of you who read FTK. Pat Conroy's letter is amazing! Says so many things just the way I wanted to say them.

Hooray for Fran and her Baptist Home Schooling group. Hooray that you, Dee, are willing to let your daughter read a book, watch a movie, and then discuss it with her. What a great opportunity for discussion.

And Fran, how much of a double standard is there for restricting Grapes of Wrath but having a day care center for the student's children?? What is wrong with THAT picture??!!

Anette, I too am Baptist. When are we going to learn to let the children (and adults for that matter) R E A D other views. Anchor them in the Word and they will understand Colossians 2:8.

My mother, who is 74 with an 8th grade education, was instrumental in my passion for reading. She accompanied me to the library when I was 9 and the librarian refused to let me check out a particular book, saying I wasn't old enough to read it. (I was reading high school level books at that point) Mother marched up and told her I should be allowed to check out any book I desired because I was too old enough to read it and from this point on, she(mother) would be the one who decided what I could and could not read. I took the book home, even though I have no idea this day what it was. What I did remember was Mother's passion for books and passing that on to me. However, she would not let me read, "Peyton Place," "The Bramble Bush" or "Lolita." Back in 1961 those were very controversial books!

And don't tell me not to read "The Golden Compass." I am in the middle of it as we speak, er, write.

Posted by: Rhonda at November 13, 2007 11:12 AM

I taught Song of Solomon for College Bible Study. THAT is erotic.

I love Pat Conroy. I want to marry his books.

Posted by: Heather at November 13, 2007 6:39 PM

This is so interesting, as I am reading "Beach Music" right at this very moment.

I want to send Mr. Conroy's letter to every English teacher at every school. I am speechless. You writer-types and your wicked ways with words...Thank you!

Posted by: Melisa at November 14, 2007 10:54 AM

I sent Mr. Conroy's letter to everyone on my distib list. Because the censorship of beautiful books, literature, love of language, beauty scares me SO. With a double apostrophonated (totally a word) notation for the grandbabies Papi a.k.a. my son.

Posted by: pam at November 17, 2007 9:06 PM