“There must be something in books, things we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.”
– Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
As odd as odd as it may sound, I love Banned Book Week. Not in the sense that I love censorship, book burning, or other associated imagery, but in the way you appreciate events dedicated to bring awareness to truly troubling issues. Make no mistake, the banning of books is not limited to the pages of Ray Bradbury’s classic, or the Inquisition. This is something that is still happening today, and in our own backyard.
I’m going to refrain from turning this into my own personal soapbox against censorship in general, but I wanted to focus on one particular title I saw listed as a book that had been banned THIS YEAR in some library or classroom the United States.
For those unfamiliar with this classic graphic novel, Maus is a story of a Holocaust survivor told in a format that was remarkably nontraditional when it was published in 1986. These days, the “graphic novel” is enjoying a comfortable level of popularity. But back in the eighties, tackling such a serious issue in this format was all but unheard of. It’s a comic book! Like Superman! Surely it can’t be taken seriously. The Jews are mice! The Nazis are Cats! The French are… frogs!
But once you start reading, you begin to understand the power in the simplicity of the anthropomorphic characters. It allows the material to sneak up on you and pack a punch like nothing else I’ve read on the subject to date.
I’m going to stop now before this starts sounding too much like a middle school book report. If you haven’t read Maus, I strongly suggest you pick it up for yourself. Either as one of two separate volumes (Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History and Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began), or the collected edition that has both chapters in one (The Complete Maus: A Survivor’s Tale (No 1)) .
If you HAVE read Maus, you will likely echo my sentiment of confusion and extreme disappointment to find out that the title was banned for being “Anti-Ethnic”. A vague claim to say the least, but the sad fact is that that’s all it takes. At least Maus was given a half-assed explanation. Many other titles are banned for undefined miscellaneous reasons. But calling Maus anti-ethnic is a real head-scratcher. To simply dismiss it because the French are drawn as frogs or some such nonsense, is to completely miss the point of the work. Satirizing the stereotypes are a key ingredient to the success and strength of the books. The Jews are mice because that’s how the Nazis viewed them. Rodents to be hunted and exterminated. Calling this book anti-ethnic is not only mind boggling, but dangerous as well.
A lack of understanding is almost always at the root of censorship like this. People are not privy to the education necessary to provide the important context that make these classics what they are. And when you start banning them, it makes it that much harder for uneducated audiences to read and learn what makes these controversial books so important.
– Shawn, The Chief