Nobody's Looking | Newberry

Nobody's Looking

I was chatting with some relatives a BIT younger than I am about the television cartoons they weren’t allowed to watch when they were small. It will pinpoint their era if I mention, oh, Cow and Chicken or Ren and Stimpy. (I am not of that generation: MY mother stood between us and the television when the news put up an important scene from The Graduate.) Thanks to the Internet and/or digital discs, they are now free to watch as many episodes as they want nowadays.

One of the great joys of the Book Fair, of course, is that of running across movies you weren’t allowed to see or books you weren’t allowed to read, when the watchful eye of your parents was upon you. I have mentioned before one of my volunteers who picked up several books in the Elsie Dinsmore series, which her mother had strictly forbidden. Elsie, if you have not read her adventures, grows from girlhood to grandmotherhood in a series of umpteen volumes, all of which are a testimony to the good life which can be led by little girls who are Real Christians (that is to say, NOT Roman Catholics.) Reading these for the first time at the age of seventy, she said she hadn’t missed much in the text, just the joy of chattering about the books with the other girls on the playground.

It’s true: these books cannot take you back to third grade and make you one of the cool kids. On the other hand, it can give you a brief jump back to bygone days. Another volunteer, picking up a copy of the now-rarely-read-hut-once-scandalous Forever Amber, remembered when a bunch of her sorority sisters clubbed together to buy it and took turns reading it: only after hours, by flashlight. She was only mildly surprised to find that the pages dogeared in this copy were the same ones which had been dogeared in THEIR copy in 1948.

Another volunteer was cast back to about 1977 by a book called A Pictorial History of Morals, which is a cute title for a book that could equally well have been called A Summary of the History of Erotic Art. “And it was published by The Philosophical Library,” he pointed out. “So if you were reading it late at night you had to be a philosopher!”

What weren’t you allowed to read as a child, and why? (One parent told me some years ago, “I don’t keep my kid from reading Harry Potter on religious grounds. I just don’t want him wasting time on garbage.”) One of our customers revealed that she was never allowed to read Little Orphan Annie or Dick Tracy because they were in a REPUBLICAN newspaper (the Tribune.) Another gave one of the oddest reasons for piling up cookbooks, a taste widespread enough that it hardly seems to NEED explanation. “My mother kept such a kosher kitchen she wouldn’t let cookbooks in the house that weren’t up to her standards.”

Over the years, I have heard from customers who had been forbidden books on witchcraft (“Too many people believe in that stuff”, his mother told him), the Royal Canadian Air Force exercise books (women in leotards), an old Boy Scout manual (there was an anti-masturbation section; Mom didn’t even want him to KNOW about such things), Dante’s Divine Comedy (Gustave Dore’s nude sufferers in the Inferno), and the romance novels of Georgette Heyer (her characters tend to exclaim “Good God!” We actually get copies with that phrase crossed out wherever it appears.)

If there are books you weren’t allowed to peek inside, be sure to write them down on your shopping list for July. We can’t guarantee you’ll get to the Elsie Dinsmores or the Judy Blumes before anybody else does, but we’ll have ‘em for you. And when you buy that stack of Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld comic books, we won’t even wink at you. Your secret is safe with us.

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