In the morning and evening, when I go upstairs to turn on or off the lights at the bookstore, I pass our Classics section, which has probably doubled since I became the book buyer three years ago. I’ve been bringing in books I’ve known and loved, old friends from my youth, before some of them were considered classics. In that long ago and far away time, some of these books were new, just being published.
Most of the world swoons over F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” while I rever “The Beautiful and Damned,” still rattling through me with questions, decades after I first read it.
Nestled next to each other on our shelves are the Kurt Vonneguts, read in high school and college. His catch phrase, “So it goes,” from “Slaughterhouse Five” still finds its way into my writing; when it does, I find myself smiling, and for a moment, revisiting the world of Billy Pilgrim, its main character.
I read Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” in high school, prep for playing Mr. Bennet in a stage version, “War and Peace” by Tolstoy, the summer before Humanities 101, knowing I couldn’t read it and everything else in one short quarter, I was getting a jump start. Ah, Natasha Rostova…
Steinbeck stares out, his “Grapes of Wrath,” next to “Cannery Row” and “Travels with Charley.” “To Kill a Mockingbird” generally sits facing out, beckoning one into the Classics corner. Turn that corner, you find Toni Morrison, whose “Beloved” rests on a high shelf, next to “The Bluest Eye,” her first novel.
You’ll find “Catcher In the Rye,” a book beloved of adolescents as it captures the angst of those years. Dystopia is represented by Huxley’s “Brave New World,” or “1984” with Orwell’s “Animal Farm” not so far away.
I revel in this section, glad others find “The Beautiful and Damned” worth reading.
Though one morning, not too long ago, before the store opened, over a cup of coffee, I sat near the Classics, thinking how many of them are being banned, not right here in our River City, but in River Cities all across this broad country.
These great books are threats to some people. “To Kill a Mockingbird” is challenged due its honest portrayal of race relations with honest use of language, offensive to many. “The Beautiful and Damned” is on the list of 100 most banned books. I stretch to find the reason. Many classics are being “challenged.” The list is astounding: “The Color Purple,” “Beloved,” “The Great Gatsby,” “Lord of the Flies,” “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” and on and on — a list of great books threatened with removal from our shelves.
Judy Blume, one-time summer Island resident, is one of the most banned authors in the country.
“Challenges” to books nearly doubled between 2021 and 2022. Five states have passed laws allowing imprisonment for librarians who provide books deemed inappropriate. More states are weighing similar measures.
Books contain thoughts, which we can choose to accept or reject, and need to be available. Does not discourse about ideas help make us a vibrant society?
Mathew Tombers is the manager of Edgartown Books.