It’s Groundhog Day: the national pandemic holiday, where we all live in Bill Murray’s repetitive rewind world. But, the more things stay the same – the more things are changing – and not in a good way.
The folks who we’ve relied on in our local libraries and neighborhood independent bookshops to provide relief from plague monotony, and escape with recommended reading, are now defending themselves and the creative community of writers they curate from attempts to ban books.
That’s why this date resonates with another observance.
On this day, one hundred years ago, a Paris bookseller, Sylvia Beach published James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’. An American in France delivered a book into a world intent on censorship.
“All hope of publication in the English-speaking countries, at least for a long time to come, was gone. And here in my little bookshop sat James Joyce, sighing deeply.
It occurred to me that something might be done, and I asked: Would you let Shakespeare and Company have the honor of bringing out your ‘Ulysses’?
He accepted my offer immediately and joyfully. I thought it rash of him to entrust his great ‘Ulysses’ to such a funny little publisher. But he seemed delighted, and so was I.”
Today, a century later, in America, the folks who go to work each day in bookstores and libraries find themselves targets as parents and legislators redefine culture.
“So far, efforts to bring criminal charges against librarians and educators have largely faltered, as law enforcement officials in Florida, Wyoming and elsewhere have found no basis for criminal investigations. And courts have generally taken the position that libraries should not remove books from circulation.
Nonetheless, librarians say that just the threat of having to defend against charges is enough to get many educators to censor themselves by not stocking the books to begin with. Even just the public spectacle of an accusation can be enough.
“It will certainly have a chilling effect,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s office for intellectual freedom. “You live in a community where you’ve been for 28 years, and all of a sudden you might be charged with the crime of pandering obscenity. And you’d hoped to stay in that community forever.”
In the past two years, the expertise of so many folks has been questioned: public health professionals, doctors, nurses, educators…. Vital members of our communities who are now ostracized for doing their jobs. And now librarians. A town with a compromised public library loses its community center. Without a diverse range of narratives, we become dull and incurious. That may be the objective.
But then there’s the century old lesson from Sylvia Beach.
“Undeterred by lack of capital, experience and all the other requisites of a publisher, I went right ahead with ‘Ulysses’.”
Keep reading. Reread. Visit your local library. Be curious, fearless and undeterred in your choices.
BTW – The groundhog saw his shadow.
Sylvia Beach quotes from ‘Shakespeare and Company’ by Sylvia Beach 1956
Photo credit: Manhattan Beach pier – Daniel Genuth @RoundhouseMB