From Dear Author comes the latest story of the library police banning objectionable books. This time, it involves a cute children’s book titled And Tango Makes Three. It’s about a couple of male penguins trying to hatch an egg. Something about penguins brings out the worst in these guys. Two years ago, Michael Medved slagged the film Happy Feet, claiming it had a gay subtext.
Yes, a gay subtext.
I’m sure a lot of kids bought the book and saw the movie and thought the penguins were really cute. Meanwhile, And Tango Makes Three joins the list of beloved and admired books that the thought police hate. Sigh…
Do books have a future? This question has been asked again and again and again. The answer is always the same: Of course. How could anyone doubt otherwise? For proof, just look around you the next time you’re on a train, bus, or subway. You’ll see dozens of your fellow passengers, reading and reading and reading. How would we survive business trips and weekday commutes if we didn’t have books? (Books are particularly effective during subway delays. If nothing else, you can throw them at the wall in frustration when the conductor announces there’s a sick passenger.)
When people talk about a book, they’re speaking mainly of the kind that’s printed, bound, and, eventually, dog-eared. Will the book survive in a different form? Perhaps. But there’s is only one way to ensure that books survive at all: by encouraging people to read.
In the early 1990s, multiculturalism was the hot topic in academia and the press: Should all those white European guys make room for women and people of color in the canon? Amidst this debate, Nation columnist Katha Pollitt pointed out the real problem: It wasn’t what people were reading, but rather, the fact that reading, for pleasure and personal enrichment, was devalued. This has changed with the Harry Potter franchise and the Lord of the Rings movies. I remember Borders the day Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows was due for release. Not since the days of the Grateful Dead, when Deadheads descended on Madison Square Garden in their tie-dyes and flowery skirts, had I seen anyone so zealous as the Potter fan base in the bookstore that night. (Besides, Harry Potter’s better looking than Jerry Garcia.)
The Guild, of course, has an active literacy program. More recently, Steve Bedney has launched a new campaign to help New Orleans rebuild its public libraries. (See here for more details.) There’s a larger issue: changing people’s attitudes toward reading. Book-based franchises can make reading exciting and cool and wonderful–even sexy. (“A whole world full of hot guys like Viggo Mortensen and Orlando Bloom? Squeeeeeeee!“)
But how do you move beyond that to interest readers and future readers in other genres and other subjects? How to motivate people to read when there’s no new movie adaptation in the works? That’s another, larger challenge. And one, I expect, that holds the real key to the future of books–in whatever form they take.