David Bruce: The Funniest People in Books, Volume 2 — Books, Censorship

Books

• Isaac Newton once studied a very difficult math book by René Descartes. He read a few pages, then had trouble understanding the material, so he started reading the book again from the beginning. This time, he got a few pages further before he had trouble understanding the material, and once again he started reading the book from the beginning. He kept doing this, each time getting a few pages further into the book, then starting again from the beginning, until he finally understood the entire book. Later, after Mr. Newton published his ground-breaking Principia in 1687, one of his students saw him walking and pointed him out to a friend, saying, “There goes the man that writ a book that neither he nor anybody else understands.”

• The responses author Nancy Garden has received to her book Annie on My Mind, which portrays lesbian characters in a positive manner, have been mostly supportive. For example, she once received a letter from a straight teenage girl who had been asked by her mother, a newspaper reporter, to read the book in order to find out an average teenager’s response to the book. At first, the girl didn’t want to read about “those people,” but she enjoyed the book and wrote Ms. Garden, “Those girls are just like any other girls falling in love.” Ms. Garden says, “That was great, because that’s exactly what I wanted to say in the book.”

• Helene Hanff died on April 9, 1997, at age 80. In her charming book 84, Charing Cross Road, she wrote about a friendship that sprang up during a 20-year correspondence between her and Frank Doel, a secondhand book buyer in London. In one of her letters to Mr. Doel, she wrote, “I do love secondhand books that open to the page some previous owner read oftenest. The day Hazlitt came he opened to ‘I hate to read new books’ and I hollered ‘Comrade’ to whoever owned it before me.”

Censorship

• Sometimes the board of education trusts students more than the principal trusts them. In 1974, Priscilla Marco wrote an article for her New York high school newspaper. The article listed instances of censorship of the school newspaper and pointed out that students had not been given copies of a board of education pamphlet describing their rights. However, the principal refused to let her article be printed. Ms. Marco contacted school authorities about the censorship; she also contacted the American Civil Liberties Union. Eventually, the school chancellor ordered that Ms. Marco’s article be published, but even then the school principal refused to allow it to be published. Therefore, the board of education printed a special edition of the student newspaper which contained discussions of the First Amendment and how it affects young people, as well as both Ms. Marco’s original article and an updated, revised version. On June 23, 1975, protected by security guards, members of the board of education entered Ms. Marco’s school — the Long Island City High School — and passed out copies of the newspaper.

• Ralph Nader’s father, Nathra, was a strong believer in free speech. In the small town where he ran a restaurant, people said that a nickel would buy you 10 minutes of talk about politics in addition to a cup of coffee. Sometimes, people advised Nathra that he could make more money if he didn’t talk about politics and his opinions so much. Nathra, who had immigrated to the United States from Lebanon at age 19, always replied, “When I sailed past the Statue of Liberty, I took it seriously.” Occasionally, a customer might take an “America: Love It or Leave It” approach. Nathra would then ask, “Do you love your country?” The answer would come back, “You’re damn right I do.” Nathra would then say, “Well, why don’t you spend time improving it?” Ralph’s mother, Rose, took the same approach with her children. For example, she would ask, “Ralph, do you love your country?” He would reply that he did. She would then say, “Well, I hope when you grow up, you’ll work hard to make it more lovable.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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