High school administrators get cold feet over ‘In Cold Blood’…

September 26, 2011

If high school students are not ready for Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood”, then what are they ready for?

I write this in reaction to a story I just read in the LA Times online site that said administrators at Glendale High School turned down a request by English teachers to put the book on the reading list. The story was brief, with no real explanation of the ban.

I  saw the movie “In Cold Blood”, then much later, during a hospital stay, I read the book — much better than the movie.

To me it was far more than a murder story (a true story at that); it was a bit of Americana. It was a slice of American culture. It was literature in the best sense.

I think the news story about the ban said the book was thought to be a little too macabre.

I suppose it was macabre (but only briefly), but we’re talking about high school students, who these days see and hear (and do) about everything under the sun, and much of it for no purpose whatsoever.

Although the novel is about the true story of the murder of a Kansas farm family by two mentally unstable ex-cons, it is also about much more. It’s about good and evil. It’s about a way of life out on the great plains amid the wheat fields that a lot of high school students would not otherwise have a clue about. It is a true story. And that is another reason to read it. It’s a true account, albeit the interpretation of the author, based on interviews, written in the form of a novel. That provides another element to discover for the young mind — life as literature.

Not having “In Cold Blood” on their reading list won’t destroy the students’ education. And they could discover it and read it on their own — and that is where one really starts an education.


Sometimes I am not terribly original. I think I used that same opening or lead (as we used to say in newspaper writing) for another post I did on book banning. Guess I was just thinking the same thing. Here we go again.

Changing the words takes the literature out of literature…

January 5, 2011

I don’t want literature turned into Orwellian newspeak. What makes literature literature as opposed to entertainment or drivel is that is says something about life, about the times in which it is supposed to have taken place, and it has staying power.

I’m saying this in reaction to something I just read about someone publishing a new volume of Mark Twain works, but he is going to take out the dreaded N word (well it is used some 200 or more times in Huck Finn) and other “objectionable references”, such as Injun Joe being changed to Indian Joe in Tom Sawyer. Oh, and that N word is being changed to “slave“.

While just using the N word does not necessarily make something literature — I often note that word is used quite often in literature of the past — changing the author’s original words degrades the work and does indeed take the literature out of literature. Twain said that the difference between one choice of a word and the right word is something like the difference between lightning bug and lightning.

Some people just want to be entertained and have no real use or interest in literature, just like apparently a whole lot of people just want entertainment fare on television and the movies, skip the quality.

But a society that strips itself of its literature (and I include written and other forms, such as movies), strips itself of its soul and its historical understanding of itself.

Now certainly requiring school kids, especially young ones, to read works that have offending words in them is a touchy subject. There needs to be explanation, and perhaps it needs to be figured out which books are age appropriate.

Strangely, though, I read the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when I was real young and just thought it a highly entertaining story. I already knew that he was using a no-no word (or words), but my parents had explained the deal with that word to me already.

I hate to admit it, but I did not know until I took a college literature class that Huck Finn was considered THE American novel.

I have to assume learned people, historians and others, have concluded that Twain was, besides being quite colorful in his descriptions, accurate in his depiction of Americana of the era in which he wrote.

If you change his words, it’s no longer accurate.

I understand there have been past attempts to tone down or water down Twain.

What’s the point?

If students can’t handle literature, how can they handle life?


The item that induced me to make this post is: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/us_revising_mark_twain;_ylt=AlG6DxmG.qqcjJvlAUdD8Fqs0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTNyZjNmdWttBGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMTEwMTA1L3VzX3JldmlzaW5nX21hcmtfdHdhaW4EY2NvZGUDbW9zdHBvcHVsYXIEY3BvcwMxMARwb3MDNwRwdANob21lX2Nva2UEc2VjA3luX2hlYWRsaW5lX2xpc3QEc2xrA25ld2VkaXRpb25yZQ