As a reader of books nothing outrages me more than being told that I am not allowed to read a certain book. Censorship, thought-control, and book banning is older than Christ. Ironically, in today’s book marketing world, the more institutions that ban a particular book, the greater the blessing for the author. Take Sherman Alexie for example. Alexie’s book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, is a novel about a teenage boy growing up on the rez—something Alexie has first-hand knowledge of. The book has been banned in several communities around the country—a move that delights Alexie’s pocketbook.
Alexie is an Idaho native nephew—a Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian, raised on the Washington state Wellpinit Reservation just across the border with Idaho. His work has been lauded by a PEN/Hemingway Award, Readers Digest Writers’ Award, Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists award, National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, among a long string of other praise. But he is no stranger to the crazy world of banned books. The vote by the Meridian, Idaho school board to ban The Absolutely True Diary from all school district libraries and curriculum in 2014 touched off a firestorm of debate that echoed across the country and even rang up a headline across the pond in The Guardian.
“A tiny minority of parents are controlling what is to be taught . . . parents who have forgotten what brought them joy when they were teenagers,” Alexie commented as he entertained a sell-out crowd at The Cabin’s Readings & Conversations series in Boise. He applauded the courage and strategy employed by Mountain View High School student, Brady Kissel in defending the book and arranging to have free copies handed out in a local park. He asked Brady to stand and receive acknowledgement from the audience.
It’s ok, Alexie assured his squirming audience, Boise is a tiny pond of bleeding heart liberals cast adrift in a state of red-neck Republicans. Then, in his self-deprecating manner, he puzzled at the irony that there is no more red-neck enclave than reservation Indians.
Storytelling seeps from Alexie’s pores and shows up in the form of poetry, film, lectures, and stand-up comedy. For over two hours Alexie wandered the stage and enthralled the crowd sans notes with acerbic wit and unflinching honesty about topics ranging from gay penguin parents raising foster babies in the Bronx Zoo to the faux exoticism of his brown skin and heritage.
So banning Alexie’s books, or anyone’s books, does no harm to the author. Quite the contrary, “Go ahead and ban my books!” Alexie declares as he smiles all the way to the bank.