We’ll state flatly that we weren’t at last night San Ramon Valley Unified School District board meeting. We just couldn’t bring ourselves to go.
It’s not that we’re afraid of the “Angry Parents,” the description most often used to describe people upset over, well, just about anything these days, all looking for an opportunity to make their case before a – hopefully, for them – receptive audience of like-minded riled up parental units.
Having been ordered to cover, oh, a thousand or so similar board meetings as fledgeling reporters and now much older, wiser, and with precious little time to spare, we drew the line and said “nope, not this one, not tonight.”
It’s not that a proposed topic of discussion – book banning – would have been like taking a blow to the solar plexus for bibliophiles who used to read just about anything we could lay our hands on under our covers and by the light of a hand-held Cub Scout torch. It’s not that we find the topic achingly, historically galvanizing for segments of the community unwilling or unable to consider alternative views or passages from books they find “offensive,” “godless,” or “pornographic.”
And, yes, the current, elevated state of school district angst did remind us of the attached scene from “Field of Dreams,” which is about the healing impacts of baseball, but which also took a moment to address some weightier, collateral issues known for their innate ability to raise the tempers and voices of “angry parents” or governments looking for available scapegoats and publications they could toss on their bonfires.
And while some of the books we were reading literally undercover late at night when Mum and Dad were in their beds may not have passed parental muster we were no less enthralled with them, on Pitcairn Island with The Bounty mutineers as they unraveled and turned on one another, or trying to control our breathing while questioning why the characters behaved as they did in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
We consumed those books and others on Hitler’s shortlist of Books for the Fires and made it to adulthood without any – or many, depending on who you speak with – evident character flaws. We mean, we managed to live amongst people gay and trans and Q and whatever else, counted many as friends and never feared them for whatever mysterious power some felt they might have over us. And, it turned out, many of us had grown up reading the same books.
Now, however, it appears we’re headed once again for more school board meetings, more Annie vs. Beulah confrontations, and more averted eyes as we pass one another, silent and seething, in the grocery store. Once again, we are hearing the rising drumbeat of a needed return to loyalty oaths, for the rejection of certain books from library bookshelves, for a return to lives ruled by evangelical mandate.
Why? Over words. Words that deign to make us think, to consider the lives and troubles of others, to step into their shoes at least for as long as it takes to turn a page and perhaps learn what is important to them.
Or not. Because it takes less time to light a match than it does to read a book.