Decolonize Your Bookshelf? No.

By Lawrence “Mack in Texas” Hall

“It’s noticed, you know. Oh, yes, your attitude’s been noticed!” 
-Soviet Deputy to Yuri in Doctor Zhivago

There is a fashion – and as fashions come, they go – of decolonizing one’s bookshelf.  The idea is that the reader should self-interrogate his (the pronoun is gender-neutral) cultural influences and determine if they are not right, not approved, not liked. Or, as Pasternak’s officious, oppressive, busy-body Soviet Deputy says, noticed.

The reality is that readers do not colonize their books in the first place, as if one’s library were occupied by Colonel Blimp and Dr. Watson’s 5th Northumberland Fusiliers. The books you and I choose for instruction, for enlightenment, and for delight are not self-referential echo chambers.

Within reach of this made-in-China computer y’r ‘umble scrivener can access, among other books:

The Way, by Josemaria Escriva (Spanish)
Mao Tse-Dung’s Little Red Book (Chinese)
Saint Benedict’s Rule (Roman)
The Stripping of the Altars, Eamon Duffy (Irish)
Book of Longing, Leonard Cohen (Canadian)
The Penguin History of Canada (Canadian, eh)
Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl (Austrian)
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Helen Simonson (English, but a woman, so there)
The 1940 edition of Q’s The Oxford Book of English Verse (well, yes, English)
Collected Poems, Joseph Brodsky (Polish)

On the wall behind me are some rascally Russians: Pasternak, Solzhenitsyn, Ahkmatova, Turgenev, Pushkin (not a very nice man), Tolstoy, Tsvetaeva (I can’t spell her name), Vasily Grossman, Gogol, Gorky, Yevtushenko, Dostoyevsky, Dostoyevsky, and more Dostoyevsky.

Is that diverse enough for our increasingly nosy and judgmental domestic comrades and comradettes, both Blue and Red?

Today I began Doug Swanson’s Cult of Glory: The Bold and Brutal History of the Texas Rangers. When I have finished I will shelve it next to Carrie Gibson’s El Norte: The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America.

Under the protections of the Constitution I am free to do so.

Next on my reading cycle is an anthology of poems by Elizabeth Bishop, who played for the other team, so for one set of Ms. Grundys shouldn’t she balance two beastly white males?

Auden was also on the other team, so he’s okay, and Robert Bolt (A Man for All Seasons) was a Communist, so he’s okay too, but not to the other set of Ms. Grundys. Tolkien, Lewis, Churchill, Remarque, Byron, Shelley, Keats – probably “noticed.”

As an American who finds all the constitutional amendments to be right, just, lawful, and ‘way cool’, including the 1st, 4th, 5th, and 6th, I advise all the Ms. Grundys to follow the Constitution and mind their own darned business about what books people read and what movies people watch. Censorship is un-American (and the president, too, should be mindful of that).

https://www.nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/the-erosion-of-deep-literacy
https://www.npr.org/2020/06/06/870910728/your-bookshelf-may-be-part-of-the-problem
https://www.huffpost.com/entry/why-men-dont-read-how-pub_b_549491
https://www.rbth.com/arts/2014/10/21/film_censorship_in_the_soviet_union_39163
https://www.publicdiplomacycouncil.org/2020/05/18/china-censorship-and-book-translations/

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