Alan Riquelmy: The librarian wouldn’t approve

Miss Jean wouldn’t have yet reached high school when she tried to check out the book from the library.

Everyone in town knew of it — some salacious tripe no one would dare read in public. Enough people apparently had a desire to read it behind closed doors, though, that the local library in the 1930s acquired a copy, and kept it safely behind the front counter.

That meant you couldn’t just pluck this book off the shelf and check it out. You had to ask for it. And the librarian, in her judgment, had to deem you worthy.

Miss Jean, precocious at a young age, so I was led to believe, wanted that book, she told me. She marched up to the librarian one day and requested the title. A firm look, her fingers gripping the desk’s edge.

“Miss Jean,” the librarian told her, likely with a scowl, “your mother wouldn’t approve, and neither. Do. I.”

It seems like that librarian is in a lot of people these days, and never really stepped away from the front desk. One study states that over 1,500 books have been banned in America’s school districts over the past several months. Many of them are about race and LGBTQ issues, or their authors are minorities.

These are right-wing and conservative groups targeting the books, according to PEN America, a group that says it works toward protecting freedom of expression. More fodder for the red-versus-blue wars, more ammo for a Thanksgiving meal with the crazy uncle.

Not to give a pass to the right-wingers, but no group has a monopoly on book banning. Someone’s always upset with “Harry Potter,” for different reasons. The old ultraviolence doesn’t fit well with modern sensibilities. And that Holden kid, smoking cigarettes and trying to get a rum and Coke? What a crumb-bum.

It’s not the same, but there’s an analogy to be made with the PMRC of the 1980s. Shine a spotlight on the material you want banned, or restricted, or outright destroyed, and watch the queue form at the record store.

They, obviously, were not going to take it.

It’s the same with books. Book clubs have appeared across the country — kids and young adults meeting to talk about the banned books they’ve read. They might as well have slapped a “Parental Advisory” sticker on the cover and called it a magnet. What better way to get kids to read than tell them they can’t?

Yeah, but that’s too easy an argument. There’s more to this than some groups finding certain books objectionable. They find the very topics, and their authors, offensive. They are subjects to be regulated, withheld. Don’t talk about race, or sex, or the segments of this country a number of people want nullified, forbidden.

You don’t need to read a library book to know how that plan works out.

You may despise Patrick Bateman and want him gone, but he’ll always be lurking near the video rental store for that one movie. And Holden, cursing, will always keep asking, Well, did you give her the time?

Maybe the struggle between the book banners and the freedom of expression folks is necessary. It’s a battle that must play out over the years, repeatedly, with free expression slowly making its gains, and more books filling the shelves as the decades turn, leading to more battles, more victories.

The old librarian hiding the banned book behind the front desk might not like how the times are changing.

As for the rest of us?

Well, pass me a rum and Coke and let’s talk about it.

Alan Riquelmy is the editor-in-chief of the Sierra Sun and the editor of The Union. He can be reached at or 530-477-4249


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