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September 30, 2003

Burn the books

Some parents living in the South Texas Independent School District wish to remove Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land from the curriculum.

After failing at the high school level, the parents took their grievances to the superintendent, who backed the committee’s decision. Next, the complaint went to the board of trustees. At its August meeting, the board chose to table the item. It is expected to address it tonight — which, ironically, is right in the middle of Banned Books Week.

“It is not only the right of parents, but their responsibility to be involved in what their kids are reading,” said Beverley Becker, associate director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, which sponsors awareness of banned and challenged books. “But there’s a line that they cross when they ask that in addition to their kid, that nobody else have access to that book. When they go that next step that nobody else can have access, that’s when we come to a problem.”

I am, generally speaking, suspicious of attempts to restrict access to literature. It has been years since I read Brave New World but as I remember the most these parents might achieve is prevent their children from being bored to death (cut to the Flea ducking verbal slings and arrows from Flea-readers for that one). I could never make it past chapter one of Stranger in a Strange Land - I have tried several times over the years - and perhaps there is some prurient material which would have maintained my interest in grade 10 if only I had soldiered on through the introduction. I did just finish The Cat Who Walks Through Walls due to the results of a certain test and an unexpurgated version of that includes some sex scenes which I imagine would raise some eye-brows in Ontario schoolboards. It is possible the same is true for Stranger and I would not want to misjudge these concerned parents not having reviewed the material myself. I had not realized, for example, Jane Austen's writing was full of violence... with extreme prejudice!

There is an irony in parental attempts to ban books for their sexual content whose themes concern social control and peculiarities of morality and sex. Ray Bradbury wrote on the irony attempts to ban his book about banning books.

The point is obvious. There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. Every minority, be it Baptist / Unitarian, Irish / Italian / Octogenarian / Zen Buddhist, Zionist/Seventh-day Adventist, Women's Lib/Republican, Mattachine/FourSquareGospel feel it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse. Every dimwit editor who sees himself as the source of all dreary blanc-mange plain porridge unleavened literature, licks his guillotine and eyes the neck of any author who dares to speak above a whisper or write above a nursery rhyme.

Fire-Captain Beatty, in my novel Fahrenheit 451, described how the books were burned first by the minorities, each ripping a page or a paragraph from the book, then that, until the day came when the books were empty and the minds shut and the library closed forever.

The Flea offers this link to a "banned" My Gaydar ad in belated celebration of Banned Books Week. My favourite part is the jiggling invitation, indifferent refusal and confused shrug of shoulders shared between friends. If only they had read Heinlein they might not share the mistake some women make in missing truths about their bestest male friends.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at September 30, 2003 07:21 AM


People have problems with 'Stranger' for many reasons. The sex isn't overt, but it is unabashedly present in the 'free love' context. At the same time, his whole premise about the relationship between God and man really upsets some religious folks (understatement). He plays with the same themes in many of his books, but goes over the top in 'Job: A Comedy of Justice' (my personal favorite).

Posted by: Ted at September 30, 2003 10:36 AM

Your quote of Beverley Becker sums it up against the woman who started this. She ignored the fact that an alternative reading assignment was available, or rather decided that no other teenager should be exposed to things like the social and religious satire of Heinlein. Sex in Strangers is less than can be seen on broadcast TV, so I doubt it is her real objection or she would also be calling for the banning of Shakespeare.

Posted by: John Anderson, RI USA at September 30, 2003 10:46 AM

If you get the version of "Stranger" that was released in the past several years, it is the "uncut" version with more sex, etc.

As for the religious aspect: I loaned the book to one of our parish priests' when I was a teenager. He enjoyed it and thought that the "Thou Art God" aspect was a lot closer to reality than many folks think.

But, he was a bit of a man ahead of his time!

The site about RAH banning has lead me to start posting a RAH Thought of the Day on my mailing list. I'm also re-reading "Stranger", soon to be followed by "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" and (come January) the NEW (previously unpublished, but the first novel he wrote) RAH book!


I'm also working my way through Mark Twain. You may recall that "Huckleberry Finn" is often on the burn the book lists due to the "homosexual" relationship depicted therein (give me a break).

Posted by: Fred Kiesche at September 30, 2003 12:59 PM

By the way, here's a RAH "blog"...well a blog about RAH...that discusses the ban:


Posted by: Fred Kiesche at September 30, 2003 01:03 PM