Leftovers: Reading between the lines

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First of two parts.

One Flew South in Atlanta’s Hartfield-Jackson Delta Terminal E calls itself the only fine dining spot in the world’s busiest airport.

I was there before my delayed/canceled flight took off, and had time to wonder why Banned Books Week (the last full week of September) had barely been mentioned at home. Especially in light of the debate in Maine School Administrative District 6 (the Buxton area) over “Gender Queer: A Memoir.”

Natalie LaddAccording to bannedbooksweek.org the organization was established in 1982, with a goal to “highlight the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community – librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types – in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”

The website is a treasure trove of straightforward, factual information about which books were banned, and why. Digging deep and seeing titles I read and loved as far back as high school, I became saddened, outraged, mystified, confused, and finally, scared by what’s happening. (And not just about Delta Airlines.)

Bookstore sign
A sign outside an independent book store in Atlanta. (Portland Phoenix/Natalie Ladd)

Earlier in the family getaway weekend, we stopped at a local bookstore, surprised by the large display of banned books for sale. The owner was handing out bookmarks (remember them?) with quotes from authors ranging from Plato to Stephen King about the necessity of controversial books. We talked about the underwhelming PR the week was receiving at home. The bookstore owner paused to think.

“Maine, huh?” he said with a southern drawl. “Well, that’s because overall, you guys haven’t felt any pain. At least not yet.”

But there has been some censorship activity. “Gender Queer: A Memoir” was banned in Maine Regional School Union 56 (Oxford County). In response, the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance began working with Devaney, Doak & Garrett Booksellers, based in Farmington, raising money to provide copies to any teenagers in the area who want to read it.

There was also a hopeful article in the March 19 edition of Newsweek magazine, titled “Maine Library Fights Book Banning Trend Seeking Out Controversial Titles.”

Locally, this conflict has just started. Thanks for not censoring me and look here for Part 2 next week.

Natalie Ladd is an award-winning columnist, freelance writer, and Portland restaurant veteran. She loves Boston sports, California cabernets, and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. Reach her at [email protected].