By: guest blogger Britt McGowan
In celebration of Banned Books Week, University of West Florida’s Britt McGowan constructed conversations between banned book characters, using only the words their authors gave them. Who’s your favorite character? Reply in the comments!
In Tavern 451, an establishment that lay beyond the boundaries of their familiar fictional settings, characters from frequently banned books talked about their own love of books and the peculiar situation they found themselves in. While some of them looked as if they had just fled the scene, as it were, others slouched in their chairs and kicked their feet up on the tables. These characters looked at home, finally, because they had never felt at home in the pages of their books, just as their books could never just belong in classrooms or libraries.
The one with the hunting cap and houndstooth jacket took a drag from his cigarette, and began as he exhaled, “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.”
Arnold Spirit (a.k.a. Junior), a self-proclaimed “book-kisser,” nodded. “Every book is a mystery. And if you read all of the books ever written, it’s like you’ve read one giant mystery.”
They were delighted to find they could carry on conversations about their love of books using only the words their authors had given them. If nothing else, their very outcast-ishness provided them some common ground.
Unfortunately, Offred’s own relationship with books was one of being deprived. She spoke of seeing books for the first time, after being without them for so long. She described a room full of shelves of books as “an oasis of the forbidden.”
At that, Holden stamped out his cigarette, “People are always ruining things for you.”
Offred nodded and continued to speak of her barriers to freedom and reading while the others saw that even seemingly free society had its own trappings. Many agreed you became aware of these constraints as a child, surrounded by adults who considered you too delicate or impressionable to handle books’ mature themes.
Holden, for one, was fed up with it. “I get bored sometimes when people tell me to act my age. Sometimes I act a lot older than I am – I really do – but people never notice it. People never notice anything.”
Junior offered, “I’ve learned that the worse thing a person can do is ignore their children.”
Overhearing, a man with long gray hair and an equally long beard turned from the bar and offered to the group, “Age is foolish and forgetful when it underestimates youth.”
They continued to speak a while about the process of growing up as unique individuals in societies that rewarded sameness.
“They tell you to do your own thing but they don’t mean it,” Jerry Renault said. “They don’t want you to do your thing, not unless it happens to be their thing, too.”
Invisible Man nodded, “And my problem was that I always tried to go in everyone’s way but my own.”
Offred considered this for a minute, and when she spoke, her voice sounded as if it came from the point on the back wall where her eyes were fixated. “A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze.”
Invisible Man picked it up again, “Whence all this passion towards conformity anyway? — diversity is the word.”
“That is just the way with some people,” Huck cut in, plainly. “They get down on a thing they don’t know nothing about.”
Junior agreed, his book’s scenes were always and forever being taken out of context. He remembered what his friend, Gordy, had told him once and repeated it, “Listen you have to read a book three times before you know it.”
The characters continued to speak about conformity, books, youth and authority. Some decided that they didn’t really care to belong but that they did want those readers who also didn’t belong to read their stories. There was some hope toward the end of the night: They felt they would continue to make their ways into these readers’ hands so long as their prior readers championed their stories. They would shake things up for a while.
Jerry said, “Do I dare disturb the universe? Yes I do, I do. I think.”
Huck was impressed with Jerry’s statement except for the wishy-washiness that came with the “I think.” But, he was getting sleepy, was tired of the yacking back and forth, and wanted to end the night. Finally, he stood up and delivered his author’s disclaimer that he thought would have saved him from getting thrown off all those reading lists for all those years, “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.”
Britt McGowan is a humanities reference librarian and interlibrary loan coordinator at the University of West Florida, where she enjoys writing the bathroom newsletter, The Stall Street Journal. She is assisting with a Banned Books Week Roundtable discussion this week.