By Hardy Jackson
My first experience with book banning occurred when I was about 12.
My father was a reader and on his shelves were books he particularly liked.
I had free run of this “library.” I was never told what I should or should not read.
One rainy afternoon, I found myself bored and sought entertainment in those shelves.
Now if you have ever been a bored 12-year old, you know that mischief possibilities are many. You also know that mischief is possible even when it is unintended. In fact, you know that you are likely to get in more trouble through unintended mischief than intended, for any 12-year-old worth his/her salt knows not to engage in intended mischief without a ready excuse to explain why he/she did it.
If you are caught in unintended mischief you have to think fast or suffer the consequences.
I was about to get into unintended mischief.
Most of Daddy’s books were hard cover and thick – Book of the Month Club selections –too much for an afternoon’s entertainment. However, down at one end of the highest shelf was a thin paperback. It had been out of my reach until recently, when what passed for a growth-spurt added a couple of inches to my unimpressive height. Now, on tip-toes, the book was mine.
The cover was not particularly enticing – a knothole in a fence through which you could see a rundown cabin in a barren field, a rusted out automobile in front, an outhouse out back. But the title intrigued me, God’s Little Acre.
So I opened it up and before I knew it I was in the world of “illiterate Southerners, with their canalized appetites, their barbaric instincts and their animal jealousies,” just like the “introduction” said I would be. It was a world populated by people both familiar and exotic.
There was Ty Ty who promised an acre to God, but moved the acre when he suspected the gold he lusted after might be there. There was Plato who lusted after Darling Jill who didn’t lust after him in return. And Griselda who was lusted after by all, especially Will who lusted after her and everybody else.
There was a lotta lust in God’s Little Acre.
I was well into this lusting when my Mama came in and saw what I was reading.
She didn’t say a word, at least not to me.
Instead, she went right straight to Daddy and in a tone that was as accusatorial as interrogatory, I heard her ask, “where did your son get that book.”
It was clear from her phrasing that no son of hers would pick up such a book on his own, which of course was what I had done.
Daddy realized that like any good prosecutor, Mama had asked a question to which she already knew the answer. So Daddy decided to hide behind the truth.
“What book?” he asked, for to this point he was entirely the innocent.
God’s Little Acre!!
“He must have found it on my bookshelf,” he confessed, shifting as he did the blame from himself to me.
All this did was make us both guilty – he for giving me unlimited access to a library that contained such a book, me for taking advantage of my father’s liberality.
Listening to all this I realized that even as Mama was trying to stake out the moral high ground she was revealing that she, herself, had read the book and was familiar with what it contained.
Her banning was based on knowledge, not ignorance, which too often is not the case.
Meanwhile, I read on, trying to get through as much as I could before Daddy came and took the book away.
Only he didn’t.
Out of my hearing he must have calmed Mama down, reassured her that God’s Little Acre was not going to set me off on the slippery slope to degeneracy. Maybe he reminded her that she had read it and remained the paragon of virtue she had always been. Whatever he said, it worked.
I finished the book and put it back on the shelf.
All this came back to me after my father died. Going through the papers he left behind, I found that very copy of God’s Little Acre.
I have it beside me as I write this, sitting there to remind me that banning books seldom accomplish what the censor intends. Often it backfires.
Google up the Top Ten Banned Books. Some will surprise you. Then make yourself a promise that this year during Banned Book Week (September 22-28) you will read the ones you haven’t read already.
Yes, I bet you have read some of them.
To Kill a Mockingbird is one.
Bet you are none the worse for the reading. You might even be better for having done it.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.