We have always believed at the LCOPL, that once an author spends any amount of time in Oxford, we consider them ours. Today we have two “local” authors that agreed to help us out with our Banned Books Week posts.
Mary Miller is the 2014-2015 Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi. Her collection of short stories, Big World, and her first novel, The Last Days of California, have proved impossible to keep on our shelves!
I grew up in a strict Catholic household in Jackson, Mississippi. Though my parents have adapted admirably with the times, I distinctly recall hiding Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. when I was eleven. Unfortunately, I didn’t hide it well enough and my mother found the book. I was horrified. I can’t recall if she confiscated it; I only remember her disapproval and the feeling of shame that followed, which was how I felt so much of the time. My mother didn’t mind if I read Stephen King and scared myself so badly I had to sleep on her floor at night, but she did not want me to read about my body or a young girl questioning religion.
My experience is not singular. I imagine many young girls have had a similar experience: their mother walks into their bedroom to find them reading a book that they shouldn’t. A book that the mother has, more than likely, not read and knows very little about.
Margaret provided much needed solace and guidance for me during a time when I was allowed little to no information about the changes that were happening in my body. She sought answers to the same questions I had, experienced many of the same feelings and doubts. Decades later, I still look to books to tell me about life, to confirm my place in the world and my right to exist in it.
William Boyle and his family are some of our favorite patrons at the LCOPL (we call him ‘Bill’). Last year, he published his fantastic first novel, Gravesend, and was a great speaker at one of our Books & Lunch programs this past spring.
In a recent profile in The New York Times Magazine, Nick Cave talks about the value of being exposed to “inappropriate” books and movies and music at a young age. He describes his emotions when his father read to him from Lolita: “I was 12 years old at the time, so I didn’t understand half of what I was hearing. ‘Fire of my loins’? What on earth did that mean? And some of it made me very uneasy. But more than anything else, the words he was reading excited me. I knew nothing would ever be the same.”
My mother and grandparents weren’t big readers, but they never said no to a book. Didn’t matter what it was. That’s how I wound up reading Jim Thompson and James Ellroy in junior high. The same went for movies. I watched Blue Velvet when I was thirteen, and it changed the way I saw the world. I didn’t have the experience of going to schools where books were banned. Twelve years of Catholic school and what I really remember are the English teachers who taught The Catcher in the Rye, Salem’s Lot, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Call It Sleep, Cannery Row, and On the Road. Books that switched my brain. They all nurtured my interest in noir, too. I fondly remember one English teacher lending me VHS copies of Raging Bull and Dog Day Afternoon. Another bought me a used copy of Farewell, My Lovely. Another okayed a research paper on Chandler. A music teacher let me present on Miklós Rózsa’s soundtracks. I’m so thankful. Where would I be without that stuff? Who would I be? It’s impossible to say. I certainly wouldn’t have discovered so much that I love.
When I consider the thinking that allows people to ban books from curriculums or communities, I think of the fear they must feel and I’m sorry for them. Their worlds must be so small. They’re trying to hold back against outside forces and they’re doing irreparable harm, sending people away, casting an unnecessary enchantment over what’s forbidden, performing bad magic. I hope I can write something one day that some cowering school official deems dangerous to morals or values. More than this, though, I hope I write something that some teacher passes along to a student, thinking he or she might like it, knowing it’s a big world and that being challenged by books that take risks is one invaluable way to make some sense of it.
Thank you so much, Mary and Bill!