Politics & Other Mistakes: The wrong way to read

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Scientific fact: Books can’t make you gay. Or lesbian. Or transgendered.

But it appears books make some people crazy.

In recent months, Maine has experienced a sharp increase in cases of the latter. School districts across the state have been besieged by folks who’ve gone nuts after reading certain books. This mental-health crisis should be addressed in a thoughtful and caring fashion. But this particular type of kook doesn’t respond to thoughtful and caring, so we might have to resort to straitjackets.

Al DiamonThe books that have caused this outbreak of addle-brained idiocy all seem to deal with subjects that tight-assed adults like to pretend don’t exist. These include sex, gender, racism, and Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson’s massage regimen.

School boards are being confronted with demands that books dealing with these subjects be removed from classrooms, libraries, and the NFL. The reasoning behind these impassioned ultimatums is indicative of a severe disconnect between the thinking and speaking parts of the head.

The books in question include the occasional classic (that Will Shakespeare had one filthy mind), but most often focus on more recent publications intended for teens and pre-teens. “It’s Perfectly Normal” by Robie H. Harris was published in 1994 and deals with puberty, sex, and gender identity. “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe came out in 2019 and covers the author’s difficult passage from adolescence to adulthood.

Here, according to news reports, are some of the comments offered by people who claim to have read these books and seem to have suffered mentally from that exposure.

Robert Wilkinson of Bridgton: “I believe they are books of temptation when viewed by children. Once innocence is lost, it is lost forever.”

Vickie Shane of Buxton: “I personally agree that this book is patently immoral and undermines parental rights in our society in general. I’m concerned we are encouraging emancipatory politics, which also flies in the very face of the stakeholders you say you represent.”

Republican state Sen. Lisa Keim of Dixfield: “The evidence is overwhelming that America’s classrooms from the earliest grades are being used not to educate but to indoctrinate our children with radical ideologies, racially divisive theories, and distorted views on human sexuality.”

Let’s pause here for a small dose of rationality.

When I was an impressionable youth, I read several Tom Swift Jr. books. Unfortunately, I didn’t grow up to be a genius inventor.

Lots of kids (and adults) loved the Harry Potter series. So far, none of them has demonstrated any skill at wizardry.

Millions of people are fans of James Bond novels. Hardly any of them embarked on the life of a secret agent.

Reading left-wing books like Eldridge Cleaver’s “Soul on Ice” didn’t make me a communist. Reading “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance didn’t turn me into a fascist. I survived perusing “1984,” “Brave New World” and even “The Bridges of Madison County” without serious damage to my psyche (well, maybe a little from that last one). I plowed through the Bible, the Koran, and Bullfinch’s Mythology without seriously rupturing my religious beliefs.

Praise Zeus for that.

Books may provide readers with new perspectives on life, but they don’t fundamentally change who a person is. If you set off to be a gunslinger after reading Louis L’Amour novels, you would probably always make ill-considered life choices. If you become a hopeless doper after finishing Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” you were, in all likelihood, going to abuse substances, anyway. And if some tortured teen declares themselves nonbinary after being exposed to “Gender Queer,” the seeds of that transformation were planted long before the book was even published.

Parents who fear that exposing their offspring to complex ideas will destroy their lives would do well to deal with those influences not with censorship, but with discussion. Talking with their children about sexuality, gender identity, racism, and other uncomfortable topics is more likely to influence the next generation’s thinking than any close-minded attempt to prevent them from discovering the real world.

To do otherwise might lead to a nervous breakdown that can’t be blamed on books.

You don’t have to be crazy to email me at [email protected].