September 29, 2009
Tonight I was subbing at MCC for a colleague and conveniently immediately beforehand, Chris Crutcher, author of several young adult novels, was speaking here in the library to kick off banned book week.
He opened with a story about two penguins attempting to nurture a rock that was egg sized. The zoologists realized that it didn’t matter to the penguins so they took an abandoned egg and gave it to two male penguins to nurture. That egg succeeded and hatched, and those two male penguins raised that chick. To them it didn’t matter if there were two men or no females, etc… It was two penguins raising a baby. He segued into how this story was not about homosexuals and had nothing to do with that, and now, in today’s culture, book banning has gone to the extreme. Then he moved into a discussion about book banning.
It the 1950s and 1960s some books were banned, but then it continued to get out of hand. Conservatives argue that “If kids read stuff that they shouldn’t read yet IN THEIR TERMS, then they’re going to be bad.” Who’s to say what the terms should be? Crutcher grew up in the 1960s and after he graduated, he went to Spokane to work as a therapist.
When he wrote Chinese Handcuffs and toured about the book a young woman came up to him and asked “how did you know about my life?” The girl’s English teacher gave her the book and he had the two of them talk. Crutcher said it doesn’t matter that some people were offended by the book, but in this case, this girl was able to get the help she needed.
As a licensed therapist for over two decades, as a teacher, and as a novelist with over ten books, he understands how to skim the truths off the stories he hears; as a therapist, he knows he cannot tell their real stories, but over and over again these truths emerge from writing. “They are pockets where the author just elbows up against people’s beliefs.” Something about books get people going.
Now Crutcher is talking about Deadline, which is the book by him that I own, and about the young man who is living on borrowed time. In this book he makes education and school important; he also makes this about life and living it to the most. Crutcher read chapter 1 of Deadline about Ben Wolf discovering he is terminally ill and choosing to tell no one about it. He made the book mysteriously engaging and those in the room who’ve not read this before sat enrapt.
Crutcher thought it would be easy to write Deadline after the first chapter. He wanted to write a novel about life not about death and how a person who has a short period of time left can make his mark on the world. These “nuggets” or challenges that are thrown at Ben are how he reacts to these situations through that year. Crutcher uses people he knows and in dealing with families, he has come across sex offenders in his work, and he wanted Ben Wolf to meet and engage with this sort of person, so we can see how mankind relates to other people, including people like this who are the bottom of the barrel in prisons, people who are destroyed by the people around them and regret their own illnesses more than anyone. And Ben Wolf meets this sort of person, and by bringing up hard issues and dealing with them in his novels, of course, Chris Crutcher’s books have been banned.
Without addressing the hard issues, without pulling them out into the open, without discussing them, then these issues will continue to fester. Instead of standing up for books we DO like, we need to stand up for the books DON’T like.
Chris Crutcher ended with the paraphrases comment here, and then he opened it for Q&A.