Thursday, September 26, 2019

In Cold Blood for Banned Books 2019

The following is my “speech” for Banned Books Week. The Rock Island Public Library and the Midwest Writing Center join for a yearly public reading and I did more than sit in the audience this year.

In Cold Blood for Banned Books 2019

I’ve come to Banned Book readings because they are so important. I have often wished to participate, but what book to choose. I’ve found lists of banned books and have been pleased that many titles are familiar to me as ones I’ve read. But not so pleased because there are so many more left to explore.

This year I went online, perused the first list, and what did I find? Dr. Seuss! Really?! Someone in Toronto complained about the violence in Hop on Pop.

I’m awaiting the arrival of my first grandchild. She is sooo going to have this book. My youngest son will have to deal with any ensuing mayhem. So, yes, a tiny little part of grandparenting is … shall we say—payback. Just kidding—he was the “good one”.

Okay, I’m buying this book but it’s not the one I want to talk about tonight.

Neither is this one.

Lord of the Flies was assigned reading by my high school English teacher. I should explain that this guy was in the army, the World War II army, and got his college education through the GI bill. He liked to say the regular college students started out [down] here. While the returning veterans started out [up] here. So, Mr. Schakel knew his stuff.

I read the book, wrote my report, and he called me up to his desk. It was after class and he patiently explained to me how I missed the whole point of the book. I don’t remember his words, but the sinking feeling—yeah, I remember that.

I missed Hop on Pop the first time around.
I failed my reading assignment with Lord of the Flies.

That leaves the book I do want to talk about: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote—whose research was assisted by the one and only Harper Lee, but I didn’t know any of that at the time. I was a somewhat isolated teenager in small-town Iowa. The important thing here is that I, as a teenager, chose to read this; to enter the world of Perry Smith & Richard Hickock, the Clutter family, the criminal investigation, the confessions, and the trial.

This was an eye-opening experience for me.
This opened the door to all kinds of questions:

WHY did this happen?
HOW could it have happened?
WHEN will it ever end?
WHAT can a person, an individual, do?

Sound familiar? We are still asking those questions. And that’s okay.

We must not lose the chance to connect with the kinds of books that stir our passions, our fears, that push us past our boundaries, the books that make us tackle the difficult questions.

That is why I chose In Cold Blood for tonight.

My reading:

“Until one morning in mid-November of 1959, few Americans—in fact, few Kansans—had ever heard of Holcomb. Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow train streaking down the Santa Fe tracks, drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there. The inhabitants of the village, numbering two hundred and seventy, were satisfied that this should be so, quite content to exist inside ordinary life—to work, to hunt, to watch television, to attend school socials, choir practice, meetings of the 4-H Club. But then, in the earliest hours of that morning in November a Sunday morning, certain foreign sounds impinged on the normal nightly Holcomb noises—on the keening hysteria of coyotes, the dry scrape of scuttling tumbleweed, the racing, receding wail of locomotive whistles. At the time not a soul in sleeping Holcomb heard them—four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives. But afterward the townspeople, theretofore sufficiently unfearful of each other to seldom trouble to lock their doors, found fantasy re-creating them over and again—those somber explosions that stimulated fires of mistrust in the glare of which many old neighbors viewed each other strangely, and as strangers.”    
1965, first printing, page five.

The fact is that while I can read about true crime, or in this case a “Non-fiction Novel”, when it came time to write my own book I went with the safer, less violent, cozy route—that included a nice, friendly dog. To answer the question of Why?—that was my choice.

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