Wednesday, June 6, 2012

American Yin and Yang

I only have to drive a few miles north to get to Harford County, Maryland, the county known as "The Gateway to Cecil County, Maryland." 

And from there, it's just a couple of bridges to New Jersey.

But I like Harford County, and in the past week, that land of 244,000 people spread out over 526 square miles has shown us the best and the worst in American attitudes.

Let's get the worst out of the way first and give the big stinkeye to the woman who runs their library system, one Mary Hastler, who decided that the print version of the novel "Fifty Shades of Grey" is just too salacious to carry on library shelves that sag wearily under the weight of the Danielle Steel bodice-busters that sit there. 

Apparently fearing that she would wind up being castigated by the community as a latter-day Marian The Librarian from "The Music Man," the Shirley Jones character who "advocated dirty books!  Chaucer! Rabelais!  Balzac!", Ms Hastler took a bold step forward into the past.  Remember George W. Bush, a minor political figure from earlier in this century?  He once stepped up at a time when he and his friends had a chance to make a bundle in the war munitions field, and set out to make war, after first reassuring an anxious nation that "Somebody has to decide...well, I'm the decider!" 

Ms Hastert is given a budget and many buildings to run.  She is the literary decider for the taxpayers who pay her and grant her money to run a library. She is supposed to fill the buildings with books.  A popular book that is in demand (the waiting list for "Grey" is in the thousands here in Baltimore County's library) should be on the shelves, but Ms Hastert deemed otherwise.  Dirty, she said, and also: not well written.

Which would seem to rule out Danielle Steel and most of the "I'm feeling pretty doggone happy - how about you?" books that clutter Self-Help shelves from here to Silicon Valley. 

(In New York, the Self-Help section is called the "Hey, Whassamatterwitchoo?" section.)

My point is, banning books is close to burning books. Put the ideas and the written words out there, and let the public decide what's good and bad. 

And I will tell you right now about something I think is good!  In that same county, there was a tornado touchdown last Friday.  Rabid readers of this blog (and there are shots available at the clinic) will remember how Peggy and I tried to go see Laura and the girls, only to be turned away by diluvian rains.  Up across the county line is Fallston, a town where the last real excitement was caused by a visit from Ronald W. Reagan to the local high school in 1985.  Having recently seen "ET The Extra-Terrestrial," Reagan, a minor political figure of the 20th Century, spoke to the assembled students that December day of the ever-present threat of alien invasion. Not "aliens" as in people from Paraguay or something...he thought the little purple people eaters were coming to get us. Well.  Here's the video, if you can stand it. 

Harford County, MD
Fallston was hit pretty hard on Friday by an invading tornado, and we saw the best in people (with the exception of the people running the local WaWa store, who locked their doors in the face of the daughter of a friend of mine, who ran to the store seeking shelter from the wind and the rain.)   We saw neighbors helping neighbors and we saw that most purely American concept - the volunteer fire department - in action.  These are men and women from the community who leave their homes and families and businesses and rush off to help others in need.  And they do it, free for nothin'.

That's what's best about America.  I could write a book about it, but would Harford County's library stock it?


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