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Ban This Column. Please!

Trying to remove “Prep” and “Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” from Emmaus High School’s summer reading list is a sure-fire way to improve their readership.

If I ever write a book, my first promotional act will be to ask some group to ban it. Publicly. Preferably at a well-attended school board meeting.

It would be icing on the cake if it also chose to burn copies in the town square – I’d give it a discount price on the hard cover.

Few things get people more excited about a book than someone trying to stop them from reading it.

“Satanic Verses” by Salman Rushdie would likely have wound up in the remainder bins of bookstores had not Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa on Rushdie for writing a novel that some claimed was blasphemous to Islam. Yes, Rushdie had to go into hiding under constant threat of death but his book remains stocked, read and discussed, and I bet his royalties are pretty good. I know authors who might consider that a fair trade.

Which is a long way of saying the parents who want “Prep” and “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” removed from the Emmaus High School summer reading list probably succeeded in getting more people to read the books than would have if they remained on the reading list for 20 years.

Since those parents challenged the books, the school district is reviewing them to see if they should be kept on the list. Emmaus students started a petition to keep the books there and have 226 signatures last I checked.

First, in defense of the parents who want them removed, let’s admit that questioning whether a book should be on a school’s recommended reading list doesn’t make you a Nazi book burner.

All but the absolutists among us would draw the line at certain books for some ages of children and teens. I’d question the judgment of any district that wanted to put “Mein Kampf” or “The Story of O” on a reading list for fifth-graders, for example. Most of us just differ on where to draw the line.

I borrowed copies of “Prep” by Curtis Sittenfeld and “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” by Tom Wolfe from the Emmaus Public Library, thinking maybe I could just find the offending passages by looking for pages that were dog-eared. Alas, no luck. I had to read the whole books. 

“Prep” is a generally well-written, if sometimes plodding, coming-of-age story, full of nuances and complexity, of teenage angst and discovery. There is some sex, about three-quarters of the way through the 406-page book, but it was by no means a ringing endorsement of promiscuity. The affair ends rather badly for the heroine.  

I’m assuming that “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” is on the reading list to give students a sense of the extreme drug culture and counterculture movements of the 1960s. It turns out that reading about other people’s drug trips is a bit like listening to other people’s dreams – not all that interesting.

Anybody who can wade through that 414-page travelogue of actual travels and hallucinatory trips should be entitled to a bit of salaciousness. It’s perhaps good for portraying the hippie culture and spirit of the times but the disjointed descriptions quickly grow tiresome.

Those readers who are mature enough and patient enough to make it through both books are probably mature enough to handle the sex scenes in “Prep” and the in “Acid Test.” Hint: If a student is looking for salacious sex scenes there are many easier reads out there.

If I were making the decision on the fate of the books, I might put them on a list for readers 10th grade and up, preferably in a context where they can be discussed in class. 

But nobody should judge a book by a few pages. The John Steinbeck classic “The Grapes of Wrath” ends with a desperately poor Oklahoma woman during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s letting a starving stranger nurse from her breasts after her baby was stillborn. Now that might seem shocking if you haven’t read the rest of the 619-page book so you understand how the desperate family got to that point.

It took me a couple of weeks to read both “Prep” and “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.” I’m hoping nobody tries to get rid of Tolstoy’s massive epic “War and Peace.” I don’t have that kind of time. 

Gracie November 08, 2012 at 06:06 PM
I'm a bit confused....this "Summer Reading List", is it a requirement that children read ANY of the books on it? I hope not. Only I should have a say in what my children can read in their free time, not the school system, who seem intent on dumbing our children down anyway. I have a child in middle school, set to go to high school next year. She loves to read, and has probably already read some of what's on the list, but I am opposed to anyone else dictating what she should read while school is not in session. Can someone please enlighten me on this subject before I go screaming to the school board?
MS November 08, 2012 at 06:07 PM
I'm thinking we should rename this post "I don't like FOX news...." lol...I know, I know, it's hard to find your clicker and change the channel...I know.
Tracy Antonioli November 08, 2012 at 08:06 PM
First--I have to say, I love this witty article. Very funny--I actually laughed out loud several times. Thank you for shedding some humor on this controversy. That being said, I have been following this controversy for years now; full disclosure, I've read both of the books ('Acid Test' when I was in high school myself and 'Prep' as an adult) and I'm a(n) (English) teacher in the district. I'd first like to say that I'm sorry you did not enjoy the books; I did really enjoy 'Prep' and I know that if I finished a whole book in high school, I must have enjoyed 'Acid Test' as well (though that was many years ago). And second--I just do not understand the problem. The books are simply on the list. Don't like them? Don't read them and don't allow your children to read them. As a parent, you always--ALWAYS--have the final word in what your kids read; you have the final word when it comes to your kids, period. There are other books on the list. Pick one of those. Or, if you don't like ANY of the books on the list, talk to the teacher. I'm sure he or she would be happy to make alternate suggestions. I know I would.
Margie Peterson November 09, 2012 at 01:20 AM
Tracy, I did like parts of "Prep" and thought it was generally well-written with true insights about the lives of teens. And "Acid Test" had some merits also. But I thought they both could have used a tougher editor.
rm November 10, 2012 at 12:00 AM
Gracie, I hope that there is a 'summer reading list' and a summer spelling list and a summer math facts list. If there is not then the school is not doing their job. If you believe that the school should not be dictating what your child reads during the summer vacation, then you have missed the whole point of the summer reading program which is to prepare or introduce the child to the material to be covered in the next grade level. I do not know where you wnt to school, but in the school that I attended we had a reading list, spelling list and math facts list. Heaven help the child who arrived at school unprepared to discuss or display the skills covered during the summer.

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