Isis of the Check Out Line


Crossposted to the People’s Republic of Seabrook.

Isis (not her real name) works cash at the Sobeys down by where I live. She reaches out with long arms and long fingers to grasp the groceries halfway down the aisle rather than using the conveyor belt. She overstuffs the bags and flattens out the money before she puts it in the till. She speaks with a soft lilt that suggests France or Spain, but she doesn’t seem interested in conversation. Her worldweary stare keeps me from wanting to find out.

I called her Isis because she wears dark eyeshadow around the perimeter of her eye, with a point at the side, like the death mask of Tutankhamen. Her hair is unarguably black and gleams like the Orient. Her face beneath her long bangs is pale, and her lips are thin. Her eyes are the colour of her shadow.

She is incongruous in her green Sobeys jacket and black pants. She is drab when she should be wearing long dresses of black with thick, gold jewellery. She should be dancing, arching her back at parties, splayed fingers almost touching the ceiling. She is taped down behind the counter. She is imprisoned among the breath mints. She needs to glitter. She won’t, today.

I pay for my groceries and go.

Read For Freedom: Read a Banned Book

Did you know that this is Banned Books Week? From September 24 to October 1st, the American Libraries Association shines a spotlight on various attempts at libraries and schools across the country to ban literature:

Books usually are challenged with the best intentions — to protect others, frequently children, from difficult ideas and information. See Censorship and Challenges and Notable First Amendment Cases.

Censorship can be subtle, almost imperceptible, as well as blatant and overt, but, nonetheless, harmful. As John Stuart Mill wrote in On Liberty:

“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” — On Liberty, John Stuart Mill

It may seem odd for me, with my socialist tendencies, to get behind something like this, but as I am a man, I contain multitudes. Seriously, I believe in checks and balances, and while I get behind government programs and initiatives that interfere with the economy and our powerbook, I back the checks and balances of information and knowledge. Government can easily get out of control, and start to tread upon the very people they’re supposed to serve: the individual. Through knowledge and openness, we can keep our government on a leash. At least, that’s the way it should be in a perfect world.

According to the ALA, the most frequently challenged books of 2004 were the following:

Three of the 10 books on the “Ten Most Challenged Books of 2004” were cited for homosexual themes - which is the highest number in a decade. Sexual content and offensive language remain the most frequent reasons for seeking removal of books from schools and public libraries. The books, in order of most frequently challenged, are:

  • “The Chocolate War” for sexual content, offensive language, religious viewpoint, being unsuited to age group and violence
  • “Fallen Angels” by Walter Dean Myers, for racism, offensive language and violence
  • “Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture” by Michael A. Bellesiles, for inaccuracy and political viewpoint
  • “Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey, for offensive language and modeling bad behavior
  • “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky, for homosexuality, sexual content and offensive language
  • “What My Mother Doesn’t Know” by Sonya Sones, for sexual content and offensive language
  • “In the Night Kitchen” by Maurice Sendak, for nudity and offensive language
  • “King & King” by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland, for homosexuality
  • “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou, for racism, homosexuality, sexual content, offensive language and unsuited to age group
  • “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck, for racism, offensive language and violence

Off the list this year, but on the list for several years past, are the Alice series of books by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, “Go Ask Alice” by Anonymous, “It’s Perfectly Normal” by Robie Harris and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain.

Also interesting are the list for most challenged authors between 1994 and 2004:

  1. Alvin Schwartz
  2. Judy Blume
  3. Robert Cormier
  4. J.K. Rowling
  5. Michael Willhoite
  6. Katherine Paterson
  7. Stephen King
  8. Maya Angelou
  9. R.L. Stine
  10. John Steinbeck
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