If you pretend it’s not there, it won’t go away


Oregon is such a quaint little state. In so many ways it’s such a cultural backwater. Why, just this week, a book was banned in Prineville, at Crook County High School. The offending book was The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie. Alexie is a member of the Spokane/Coeur D’Alene tribe, and grew up on the Spokane Indian reservation according to his biography on his Web site. This particular book is an award-winning book that had been assigned to a ninth grade class.

So what’s the problem, you ask? Glad you asked, friend.

Turns out a Mr. Hank Moss “didn’t feel comfortable” with the fact that the book discusses masturbation, and in fact said the whole book seemed “trashy” to him. The article in the Bend Bulletin quotes Mr. Alexie:

“Everything in the book is what every kid in that school is dealing with on a daily basis, whether it’s masturbation or racism or sexism or the complications of being human,” he said. “To pretend that kids aren’t dealing with this on an hour-by-hour basis is a form of denial.”

“The world is an incredibly complicated place, and our literature must match that, especially literature for our kids,” Alexie said. “The book is incredibly positive about the world we live in, and people from vastly different politics and groups end up being friends. … If they read the book, it’s a celebration of the values of what they (parents who oppose the book) hold dear.”

I’ve heard of Mr. Alexie, but have not read any of his books. Yet. This one may be first.

Honestly, if the worst thing in the book is a short mention of masturbation, how bad can it be? When I was in school, The Catcher in the Rye was the scary book. I have to wonder if Mr. Moss allows his son to play violent video games. I have no doubt he’s a hunter, and taught his son to shoot. That’s what they do out there in eastern Oregon. And hell, most of the rest of the state. Guns=good, honesty=bad. I think it’s safe to say most 14-year-old boys are aware of masturbation, no? This is a scary place.

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12 thoughts on “If you pretend it’s not there, it won’t go away

  1. (in my best Brooklyn accent) Right? I read on another blog someone was going to buy a copy of the book, read it, then donate it to the Crook Co. Public Library since their one copy is reserved until January. Not a half bad idea. 😉

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  2. Shudder. I’m so grateful we never had any of this b.s. where I grew up.

    I know years back, some places banned Judy Blume’s books for discussing menstruation and masturbation. When are people going to get over their hangups? We’re talking normal, natural things here! Is there a girl on this planet who doesn’t get her period?

    And yeah, it’s safe to say 14-year-old boys (and girls) discovered masturbation a long, long time before.

    I’m willing to bet humans discovered that pleasure before the printed word came about. lol

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  3. Yeah, Judy Blume’s books are always on someone’s hit list!

    This Hank Moss person contended that these conversations should happen at home, with parents. Yeah. Right. How many of us EVER discussed masturbation with our parents? Something leads me to believe this is not a topic that’s going to come up at his house either, or on a fishing trip, or camping or while out hunting and gutting a deer. If the kids don’t talk about it with their friends, and this could be a great catalyst for that conversation, like most teens they will keep silent and just wonder “Am I normal? Does anyone else know about this? Am I a freak?” Books like this are an excellent way for kids to figure out they’re not alone.

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  4. wow…thanks for this info… i may repost it b/c I am definitely anti-censorship! It particularly bothers me when people focus in on one element of a book instead of the greater whole!

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  5. Hi Jan,

    By all means. There’s a link to the original article in the Bend Bulletin, and I think the Seattle Times had an article on it as well. Hank Moss claims he read the whole book and found it “trashy”. Somehow I doubt his credentials as a literary critic, especially since his opinion of it flies in the face of all the awards the book has won.

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  6. This comment : “This Hank Moss person contended that these conversations should happen at home, with parents. Yeah. Right. How many of us EVER discussed masturbation with our parents? Something leads me to believe this is not a topic that’s going to come up at his house either, or on a fishing trip, or camping or while out hunting and gutting a deer.”

    It totally cracked my husband up, too.

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  7. ok, i might get in trouble here, but i often think in ways that get me in trouble. here goes — with the caveat that I haven’t read the book or looked any further into the entire issue: in my opinion, the book should not be banned from the school library. in my opinion, i would not have assigned the book to the entire class. in my opinion, parents always have a say over what their child reads in my class (as long as they’re willing to help in coming up with an alternative assignment).

    of course, the last time I taught 1984, i completely forgot about the prostitute scene. we made it through just fine, though.

    Seriously, most problems usually comes down to relationship issues. If you dig deeper, I highly doubt the entire problem starts and ends with the Alexie book.

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  8. Aw hell, join the club, Alex! 🙂 Frankly I tend to re-evaluate my position whenever I find myself agreeing with the masses.

    I still haven’t had a chance to pick up the book to read it, but from the description I read in the Bend Review article, it sounded like the topic in question constituted a very small part of the book, a page or two but I’m not entirely certain. I’m not sure I’d be comfortable letting parents dictate what the kids read in class, judging by the educational level and sophistication of most people in this state. And Bend is not exactly a bastion of higher education. I’m sure you’re right when you say the problem doesn’t start or end with the Alexie book. I guess these days though you have to be careful to let parents know ahead of time how you’re going to corrupt their little darlings. I would bet real money that the idea of masturbation is not new to any of those kids anyway.

    As far as 1984, of all the issues in that book, I don’t even remember a scene with a prostitute so I would say I wasn’t traumatized by it. And I think we read that in 8th grade, I know it was before high school. By high school we were onto “Catcher in the Rye” and while I vaguely remember the scene between Holden and Sunny the prostitute I don’t think it scarred me for life. I didn’t require trauma counseling afterwards. I went to school back east, a long time ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and I bless each and every one of my English teachers for turning me onto good literature.

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