There has been some conversation in the news lately about Sarah Palin’s attempts to pull books from the library when she was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, and I’m not quite sure what to make of it.
I actually like it that newsstands now put a paper cover over the naked women on the men’s magazines, at least in the airport newsstands where children are likely to pass by them. I have always found those covers somewhat offensive, even if most of the males I know do not. A lot of the books that I read, even the ones that are really serious literature, have a sexual element in them that I wouldn’t feel comfortable with children being exposed to and some of them are way too close to some pretty disgusting stuff for even my wizened eyes.
The summer before my ninth grade year my mama caught me with a rather racy novel. It was one of those heaving bosom, aching groin romantic things, but was couched in a respectable dark blue linen cover with the title stamped in gold.
The book in question was titled “Kitty”, coincidentally my own sister’s name, and had been left on the bookshelves of the house we had just moved into along with about a hundred others. I was forever hungry for something to read, and having access to a whole library of new books made me feel truly wealthy, even if the creaky old house did not. Those books filled long summer days with a kind of excitement I'd never been exposed to. The bookmobile that stopped at the Junior High had nothing like this on its shelves. I must have known it wasn’t appropriate, because I kind of sneaked around hiding it and reading it on the sly. I don’t remember exactly how Mama caught me, but I do remember that I wasn’t allowed to finish it. Now that’s censorship in action.
I wonder how I would have felt about my own teenagers reading “Kitty” in the eighties and nineties. By that time, we had become kind of numbed to sex in novels, beginning with “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret” when my own girls were in middle school. Mama herself was known to read a few of those romance novels in her later years, but they were always disguised in a cute little fabric cover, designed to hide the titles and cover photos. That’s what happens with things, you get used to them a little at a time, and then it takes more and more to be titillating enough to satisfy.
It’s a new world out there today. It’s common now to talk about things that were only discussed by adults in hushed tones when I was a kid, if they were discussed at all. Things like divorce or breast cancer or incontinence or sexual orientation...actually most things involving bodily functions. I’m okay with most of this openness, but I really don’t want to have to explain to an eight year old what Cialis or Tampax are for either.
My daughters basically never have the television set on until their kids go to bed, and that’s sad to me. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of nights when homework was done and my family gathered around the television set to watch “I Love Lucy” and if we’d been really good “December Bride”. With my kids, it was “Little House on the Prarie” and “The Brady Bunch”. Today, there is some programming suitable for all ages, but precious little, and there are those ads to dodge even in prime time.
I hope that families find new ways to share a common experience in an entertaining way. I hope we’ll self censor ourselves enough that “they” don’t have to do it for us.