Books are dirty. And really good books can be really, really dirty.
When I read about state Rep. Amy Arata’s bill attempting to ban “obscene” books from high school libraries, it made me realize some of the filthiest things I’ve ever read had their genesis in the pages of some of the greatest writing of all time.
Speaking of genesis, let’s start at the beginning. There’s been smut in books since people first started writing them. The first book of the Old Testament starts out with two people buck naked in a garden. With a snake. They eat some fruit, and then make enough babies to start the entire human race. Filthy.
Or how about the story of Lot’s daughters, also in the Book of Genesis. They got their father drunk, slept with him, and got pregnant. Can you imagine your children coming home from high school with this on their reading list?
It’s not just religious canon that’s corrupting our youth. Secular literature is replete with this same kind of filth.
In Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales“, an elderly blind man with a much younger wife takes his beloved to pick fruit from a tree. He bends over and allows her to climb on his back to get to the fruit. As she ascends into the tree, her younger lover, Damyan, is waiting above, and immediately gets down to business.
And don’t get me started on Shakespeare. From Petruchio’s line in “Taming of the Shrew“ (“What, with my tongue in your tail?”) to the dirty couplets of “Venus and Adonis” (“Graze on my lips, and if those hills be dry/Stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie”), the Bard has profaned the innocent minds of our students for hundreds of years. A book-banner like Arata would be better served to throw out the entire oeuvre, lest she come across lines like this one from “Titus Andronicus,” where a son, Chiron, confronts his mother’s lover, Aaron:
CHIRON: Thou hast undone our mother.
AARON: Villain, I have done thy mother.
Reading books is truly a minefield for the chaste of mind. If our youth survive the moral bludgeoning of the Bible or early English literature, wait till they hit the twentieth century.
In J.D. Salinger’s classic “The Catcher in the Rye,“ Holden Caulfield refers to himself as “probably the biggest sex maniac you ever saw,” and describes the “very crumby stuff I wouldn’t mind doing” with the girls around him. In D.H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,“ we’re forced to read passages about “That thrust of the buttocks” and “the sudden quiver of him at the springing of his seed.”
James Joyce’s epic “Ulysses” takes things to a whole other level. It blankets the innocent mind with horrid tales of infidelity, carnal escapades in brothels, and culminates in a stream-of-consciousness fantasia of a married woman imagining herself with her lover: “..and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”
Arata has so many books to cleanse from the shelves of our libraries. Nabokov’s “Lolita,“ Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl.” And good gracious, please keep this wholesome state representative away from Henry Miller. There isn’t enough sedative in the state of Maine to repair an exposure to even the opening paragraphs of “Tropic of Cancer.”
I’ll admit my taste in literature may be on the spicy side. But the Maine Legislature isn’t exactly a proving ground for the intellectual development of our state, and the idea of them choosing what books should be in the library of a public school is horrifying. Arata should be laughed out of the State House for proposing such nonsense, and she and her colleagues should focus on the myriad issues — like taxes, jobs, health care, and the economy — that actually matter to the people of Maine.