I’ve made reference to it on occasion, but I’ve never really gone into a good analysis of my beloved “Bookshelf of the Banned” and why it exists. Well, now is as good a time as any.
Anyone knows that my love for physical media has waned substantially over time.
In fact, over the years I’ve purged my shelves from time to time specifically because of a pact that I made with myself that upon my death, my loved ones should be able to wipe away those objects within 48 hours.
I won’t get into specifics why I go through those phases, except to say that I’ve seen what happens when people hold on to a lot of things. Most of those things end up in a dumpster, and it’s a gigantic pain in the ass. So my parting gift to my family when I die will be an easy process to purge my junk.
But sometimes, purchases are made with a specific intent.
The first purchase wasn’t officially for the Bookshelf of the Banned. I just picked up a copy of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov because it struck me that I’d read it, I recognized why it was controversial, and I also knew it was painful art. It’s a benchmark piece in how your perception of a thing can change as your perspectives change. I’d read some article about how it had been banned at different points in time, and it moved me to get my own copy.
It planted a seed for later in my life, I guess. I didn’t have a bookshelf dedicated to things that had been, or could be, banned up to that point and I don’t think I made an effort to seek out things to become some underground librarian.
Anyway, Lolita became the seed that led to minor things like picking up a copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn after I got into an argument with a well-meaning acquaintance who was very much in favor of wanton censoring and re-editing of old works, without the consultation of the artist or the estate, as sensibilities changed.
He was many years ahead of his time.
Then there was a controversy that led to the official establishment of The Bookshelf of the Banned.
During a controversy about a flag (you know the one) that Amazon then decided never to sell again, setting off a slow-motion change that’s still in the process of resolving itself, I set about purchasing some things. I didn’t purchase them because I particularly wanted them – and no, I wouldn’t buy the battle flag of a country that declared war on mine – but because I saw them as potential collateral damage in the electric discourse of times to come.
One of those things was a couple of seasons of The Dukes of Hazzard on DVD.
Now, I have no particular love for The Dukes of Hazzard. Like everyone else my age, it was simply on TV in my youth and I enjoyed watching it because once a week, while my parents played cards with their friends, I got to watch a crazy car chase. I liked the sound of the horn, completely unaware it was playing “Dixie.”
Much like my dad explaining to me that certain things from his youth reflected some ideas that weren’t that great, I understand why people might not think the show as worth preserving.
At most, I think of it fondly just because it tugs at a small nostalgic heartstring, reminding me of years long gone and memories that are a little harder to hold onto than they used to be. Those were great memories with family friends and, at best, what was on the TV was just an excuse to keep the kids away from the adults who wanted to relax after another boring week at work.
I’ve never even unwrapped the boxed. They sit there, shrinkwrapped, like any other collectible I have in my office. Whether it’s an autographed Sybok action figure from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, a poster of the first James Bond movie I ever saw (The Living Daylights), or the original landspeeder toy from Star Wars that I still own in all its battered glory, these things are frequently just talismans of memory that prove that life is not a dream.
The Bookshelf of the Banned acts mainly as a monument to that cultural memory. Like the character Finch in V for Vendetta, I keep these things tucked away in a place that simply proves they exist. It may make no difference whatsoever in the course of history. My entire house could be obliterated and this collection would be gone.
But so long as I can, I want to hold onto the things that once were important. Like an archaeological site, you cannot understand the journey of a civilization without understanding the development of its arts and entertainment.
The Bookshelf holds books. It contains movies. It has music. It even has copies of things that I consider philosophically repugnant. But they remain.
We understand the Romans because we know what they did for fun, even though to us those activities might be odious in the modern era. We understand the Ancient Greeks because we have their plays, as puzzling as their social mores might have been when we read Oedipus Rex.
And while I know it’s just one shelf in one tiny spot, at least I know these things are safe somewhere. They might even get tossed when I die but, maybe for this one shelf, I hope they escape to be carried forward. Heck, people keeping copies of books tucked away is what enabled civilization to continue after the Library of Alexandria burned.
Maybe they knew what was up.