Sunday, February 25, 2007

Word Power

All day I have been thinking about two things:

  • The power of words
  • Julie Amero

Both topics engender sad feelings. The word in particular I have been thinking about is scrotum. Because of this word, the 2007 Newbery Award Winning book is getting tons of publicity, as are librarians. The book may actually profit from the attention, since making public that a book has CERTAIN WORDS or other QUESTIONABLE CONTENT tends to have that effect. The impact on librarians and librarianship seems to be more deleterious. Because of a few unfortunate quotations and a lot of hype, the NYT article about the controversy over this word has grown legs, as news types like to say. They talked about it on “The View,” and bloggers are incensed. Librarians were described in the article as more than ready to BAN the book. Alas, the story may be inaccurate and full of misstatements and overstatements, but it is out of the box now, like Pandora’s suddenly released ills. As librarians, we are going to have to do damage control regarding how we acquire books, starting with a clear description of our SELECTION POLICIES and the standards that we bring to bear on our choices for library materials. Librarians who are putting the book out on the shelves are much more likely to run into challenges due to the wide publicity it has experienced.

All this brings to mind the book I just finished enjoying via audio, The Book Thief. It too is about words, of course. I wonder what Papa would have done if Liesel had asked him about the word in question. Would he have rushed out to call the word police? They were certainly around in those days, as vividly depicted in the book burning scene. But I think not. I think it is just possible he would have given her his gentle smile and explained its meaning with accuracy and without horrified gasps. I find it depressing how close we come at times to the mindset of people in Hans’ and Liesel’s world. Real words offered in books that dare to question and challenge are vilified, and political doublespeak is promoted. So yes, my thoughts about the power of words, for today, have been sad.

And what of Julie Amero? That is another sad story, and one I will treat in another entry. In her case as well, though, the hysteria that can erupt over the thought that children may be exposed to something QUESTIONABLE has led to a sad miscarriage of justice. Her life is irrevocably marred by the extreme reaction of the media police in her community.

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