Would You Ban These Books?

Cover of "Going Rogue: An American Life"

Cover of Going Rogue: An American Life

An unofficial exhibitor set up shop this past Sunday at Chicago’s Printers Row Lit Fest with a white poster board filled with covers of provocative books traveling the political spectrum from the Communist Manifesto to Mein Kampf, and everything in between. He asked passers by if they would be interested in trying to ban any of these books.  Participants could pick three and mark tally with a red Sharpie.

I happened to hit his time there when I had some time to kill before a reading event I wanted to check out.  I stopped by the Independent Publishers table and met the guys at Knee-Jerk MagazineI also won a solid round of Rocks-Paper-Scissors to score a $2 discount off their print edition.  Definitely the coolest round of the classic game I ever played.  Thanks, guys!

Our Guy with the Poster Board was set up along the curb across from the tent.  I definitely experienced my own knee-jerk reaction of amusement, especially after seeing the wide range of choices.  My first reaction to things like that is often Observe and Move On.  Which sometimes leads me to Participate and Do.  And I wanted my brief time this weekend at the Fest (where I also helped out at the NewTown Writers table) to involve some participation.  So I took the Sharpie, and made my marks under Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue, Glen Beck’s Broke, and Ann Coulter’s Guilty. Even though I have not read any of them.  Other choices in addition to to aforementioned political manifestos included Bill Clinton’s My Life and books by President Obama, Michael Moore, Ayn Rand, and others. I haven’t read any of those books either, though that’s not to say that I wouldn’t.  My political-historical non-fiction reading tends to fall more under WWII memoirs and books by Sarah Vowell.

Then I noticed the little video camera and was like Great.

Because honestly, I would never actually seek to ban the books I chose–or any of the ones I didn’t choose.  Though my default setting for the three I chose is that I’d really like them all to just shut up and go away.  Then I move on from there to more intelligent thinking. I’d be pretty pissed if any books of mine were ever banned.  I was also riled up by my recent trip to Denmark whose way of life is more socialist than this country would ever have the balls to try.  And also I’m in the homestretch of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna which finds its main character brushing up against the post-WWII HUAC investigations.

After the reading, I headed back over to see what the final results were.  My picks definitely had to the most marks. Though all choices were marked–one older guy have all three marks to Michael Moore.  The Knee-Jerk guys told me that security and other nearby official exhibitors were giving him trouble.  I’d heard our friend with the poster board say that he was conducting “research.”  Okay, so since I participated and was caught on video, I wanted to know more about what was up.   By this time, he’d moved off to the side and was talking to someone.  I approached, listened some, and joined in.  Our researcher (whose name I didn’t get) basically wanted to conduct a social experiment to see how many people would actually, at a Literary Festival FULL of books, would seek to actually ban books.  The correct answer, which many people gave him, which I should have given, which my Ernie would’ve given was “Sorry, no books should be banned.”  Later, over vodka pineapple martinis on our back patio and dinner from the grill, a friend suggested that instead of banning particular books, we should ban book contracts.  Which is also funny in that knee-jerk kind of way, but still has serious undertones and sends my brain spinning toward the business side of things, but that’s a whole nother, if related, topic.  The other guy talking to our researcher–who expressed more regret with his participation than my little bout of paranoia had given me–said that the experiment was less about banning books and more about banning people, which is where I myself immediately went.

So this project, our researcher plans to put together a YouTube video and sending it to the world (which two days later, I have not found).  After learning that our researcher professed that he was “as far right as you could get” the suspicion felt by the other guy is that the project aimed to expose some sort of left wing hypocrisy by way of duping us with tongue-in-cheek humor (he also suggested that while his range of books was varied, the 3 books I chose and that “won” were all on the top line along with one other–that the arrangement was skewed to prove some point).  Ernie was like You fell into their trap!  Though I don’t think it was a trap.  It’s a rather interesting idea for a–shall we call it a stunt?  And he ran with it.

The other guy asked that he not be included in the video.  And since he went there, I asked to not be included as well.  Our researcher said that his intent was not to unravel us in any way, and that he’d respect our wishes since we took the time to talk to him, and that we’d just have to take his word.  Not that I really feel that my participation in this, as a writer and a reader and a person, will be my undoing.  But hey, just in case, right?  I could not talk about it–or write a blog post about it.  Heck, maybe this post will be more of an undoing than being “caught on video.”  Maybe this post is a sort of preemptive “damage control” strategy.  Actually, it’s just writing about an experience that went from lighthearted to heady.  And maybe it’ll strike up a conversation if people find it and are inspired.

Actually, can we just talk about banning leaf blowers instead of books?  As I finish this, my building’s maintenance is polluting the air with noise and gas fumes just to blow some tree droppings and dust to another part of the grounds, something a broom would just as effectively take care of, thank you.  Seriously, in my daily life, leaf blowers rile me up more than the State of the Union.

UPDATE 7-11-11: So, the video is up and running!  Went live today and is already all over the “red” side of the interweb. I had to stop reading the comments on YouTube and other sites I found it on.  Just had to. True to his word, I was not featured. Having trouble posting the video, so I’ll just include the link, if only for the sake of context and completion. Here’s the link: http://youtu.be/OCcYSRACwx0.