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Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017

I read banned books

Posted Tuesday, February 16, 2010, at 8:01 PM

It happened almost 50 years ago, in the winter of 1961. One minute, I was a shy and innocent schoolgirl, and the next, I was a wild, uncontrollable adolescent temptress, bent on corrupting my classmates. And on top of that, I was a liar.

At least, that's how Sister Mary Alice saw it.

As the oldest child of four in a military family, an Irish Catholic one to boot, my life was bounded on all sides by rules. And at the very top of the list of rules was the most important one, the one that must never be violated:

You must not do anything, anywhere, at any time and especially NOT AT SCHOOL to cause any trouble.

I was 14-going-on-15, at that awkward stage where nerdy kids like me begin to recognize the true dimensions of their nerdiness and to despair of ever overcoming it. My goal every day was to melt into the landscape and draw as little attention to myself as possible. Although there is deafening laughter from all quarters when I say this today, I was so quiet, particularly when called upon in class, that teachers were forever reminding me to speak up.

My grades were good. When it came to The Rules, I bent over backwards to obey them. I certainly didn't color outside the lines, or ever talk back to anyone -- absolutely not to my parents and certainly not to my teachers.

Like nerdy kids everywhere, I read voraciously. I read absolutely everything that fell under my eyes, including, of course, the backs of cereal boxes, and when I was bored and had nothing else to read, I would pick up a volume of our World Book encyclopedia and read whatever seemed interesting.

My parents were readers, too, especially my father. So it wasn't altogether surprising, although it wasn't something he did often, that he handed me a slim paperback book one Sunday afternoon and said, "Read this and tell me what you think."

I looked down at the book and read the title aloud.

"The Catcher in the Rye," I read. "What's it about?"

"Just read it and see what you think," he said.

Dutifully, I sat down and started to read. And was immediately bored witless.

When the book was published in 1951, a reviewer for The San Francisco Chronicle said, "Mr. Salinger has an unusual talent, to put it quite inadequately, and "The Catcher In the Rye" is one of the most unusual novels in a long time."

And on the other coast, The New Yorker said, "A brilliant, funny, meaningful novel."

Obviously, we had different standards.

I'm a fast reader, but it was impossible to speed through that book. So the next morning I plopped it on top of my books and took it to school with me.

Holy Family Catholic School, that is, staffed by Benedictine nuns.

Sister Mary Alice, our principal, was standing at the doorway, as always, greeting students as they came in from the cold.

"Good morning, Kathleen," she said.

"Morning 'stir," I mumbled in my usual barely-audible fashion.

And then she gasped.

I stopped dead in my tracks, wondering what rule I had broken without knowing it, as she reached down to pluck the book from the top of the pile in my arms.

Holding it in two fingers, she dangled it in front of my face.

"And where did you get THIS?" she hissed, red-faced and angry.

"My father gave it to me," I whispered, speaking directly to the floor and the tops of my shoes.

"Speak up, Kathleen," she thundered from her vantage point far above me. She was the tallest nun I'd ever seen and I was the next-to-smallest person in my class

"My father gave it to me," I whispered again, looking now at the tops of her shoes and wishing for the earth to open up and drop me directly into hell.

"For the love of God, Kathleen, speak up!" she demanded, which rendered me speechless.

"Into my office," she said, when I didn't respond. This was not going well, I thought.

In all my years of school, I had never seen the inside of the principal's office. Oh, I'd heard about it, but Goody Two-Shoes that I was, I'd never been sent to the office for discipline.

She gestured to a chair and I sank into it, grateful for the support to my now-rubbery legs.

"Now," she said, "Tell me where you got this disgusting book. And do not lie to me."

"My father gave it to me," I said again, this time with just a speck of courage.

"Kathleen, I know your father and he would never give you a book like this to read. If you insist on repeating that lie, I am going to have to call him."

I would like to say it was a defining moment, but it really wasn't. I didn't suddenly decide to become an outspoken, obnoxious teenager. But I knew I wasn't a liar.

"Then call him," I said. "And he will tell you."

I barely got those words out. Talking back to any adult was one of the greatest sins. Talking back to a nun ... well ... eternal punishment was now a definite possibility.

"You can be sure I will do that," she said, and then dismissed me to my classroom.

There was whispering when I took my seat in Sister Verona's class. I tried very hard to be even more invisible for the remainder of the day.

Just before it was time to go home, Sister Alice called me to her office again and handed me the book.

"Do not bring this filthy book back to school. If you must read it, then read it at home, and don't be giving it to any of your classmates," she said, and sent me on my way.

When I got home, my father told me he had spoken to her.

"She's pretty upset that I gave you that book," he said. "She thinks it's dirty."

"Dirty?" I said. "What's dirty about it? I think it's just boring," and handed it to him.

"So did you finish it?" he said.

"Nope," I said. "I didn't like it."

Well, that's not really true.

The thing is, I didn't understand it well enough at 14 to like or dislike it. I suspect that Holden's adventure with a prostitute is one of the things that offended Sister Alice the most. She needn't have worried. At that age, I had no idea what a prostitute was and a trip to the dictionary was not enlightening. I missed entirely any reference to homosexuality, and in any case, wouldn't have understood that, either.

Maybe one of these days, when I have nothing else more pressing to do, I'll take another stab at reading it. I suspect I will be as bored now as I was then.

"The Catcher in the Rye" still ruffles feathers. In 2005, it was one of the most-challenged books in libraries, according to the American Library Association. Author J. D. Salinger's death in January has brought renewed interest in the book and will probably also renew interest in banning it. All that succeeds in doing is making it more popular; it consistently sells about 250,000 copies a year. Controversial it may be, and boring to teenage girl nerds, but it's profitable.

Showing comments in chronological order
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Nice one Ms. Fairchild, not a phony thing about it.

-- Posted by Oklahoma Reader on Tue, Feb 16, 2010, at 11:42 PM

Being rather nerdy I loved the book when I read it when I was about 15 or 16 (I'm 54 now). But being in Public School in Saline County it was required reading.

However my Mother though it was a dirty little book. When we discussed it when I was in my thirties. Now I imagine it just seems a little tame and old fashioned by today's standards.

-- Posted by movaldude on Wed, Feb 17, 2010, at 1:40 AM

I also found Catcher in the Rye to be insufferabky boring - I think it's the only book I ever bought Cliff Notes for when I was required to read it in school!

-- Posted by koeller77 on Wed, Feb 17, 2010, at 8:34 AM

I am a reader too, as noted by my screen name. It wasn't unusual to see me plopped in front of the bookcase with an Encyclopedia open reading. Of course that was back when to learn something we had to look it up in a book, not depend on various internet sites...that may or may not be valid. People tell me I have "random useless information", which I figure is from all my reading.

As far as The Catcher and the Rye, I am searching my memory bank and I am coming up empty. So either A) I have read it and it didn't hold my attention long enough to store it or B) I haven't read it. Which having gone to Marshall Schools I am concerned it was required reading as movaldude pointed out.

Although I am wondering if I shouldn't order a copy from my book club, to have siting in my pile of "need to read".

-- Posted by Scarpetta on Wed, Feb 17, 2010, at 10:11 AM

Scarpetta I too read encyclopedias by the hour when young. I was a nerdy little one, slow to develop physically and socially so I had plenty of time to do that. ;)

I think that Holden was the first youth since Huck to successfully go on an odyssey filled with such biting criticism of the society through which he passed. Granted their journeys differed in physical scope, but not in the social, and moral ground they covered

I recommend it. Take care.

-- Posted by Oklahoma Reader on Wed, Feb 17, 2010, at 1:04 PM

There is one significant thing that, at least in my experience, divides those who like the book from those who don't - sex. Most men I know like the book, most women I know do not.

OKReader, it's interesting that you point out the criticism of society - that's actually something I do recall from the book, and my thought then was expressed best as, "And who do you think YOU are, sonny?" And LOLOLOL, I still think that!

-- Posted by Kathy Fairchild on Wed, Feb 17, 2010, at 4:25 PM


Great column! I can almost imagine the nun's face when she found out you were telling the truth!! LOL

-- Posted by Marcia Gorrell on Thu, Feb 18, 2010, at 7:34 AM

I did not read books in high school.When I was in my 40's I discovered books.It wasn't until I was in my 60's before reading Catcher in the Rye. I enjoyed it. Now I am in my 70's and I always have 4 or 5 books that I'm reading.2/3's non fiction and 1/3 fiction. I have many favorite books but one in particular I remember is The Iron Heel by Jack London.

-- Posted by izaak on Thu, Feb 18, 2010, at 8:39 PM


Thank you for your story.

I know understand your general dislike for Christianity, and the reason you spoke on behalf of several "graphic" novels.

-- Posted by ceymore on Tue, Feb 23, 2010, at 12:08 PM

Ceymore I know your comment was directed to Kathy. However, am I the only one that did not understand it?

Could you be more explicit?

-- Posted by Oklahoma Reader on Tue, Feb 23, 2010, at 8:40 PM

ceymore, you know nothing of the sort. This is not the first time you have insulted me by making these kinds of accusations and I'd appreciate it if you would stop.

-- Posted by Kathy Fairchild on Wed, Feb 24, 2010, at 5:45 AM

Oklahoma Reader - ceymore has in the past suggested I am anti-Christian and wished to have the Bible banned from the library.

When our local library was asked to remove graphic novels from its shelves in the fall of 2006, I spoke against censorship at a public meeting on the subject. To illustrate my point I used the Bible as an example of a book that contains objectionable material (adultery, murder, etc.) and said that if we banned other books, we would have to ban the Bible, too, and then added that I was not actually suggesting that.

Clearly, ceymore wasn't listening closely on that day 3-1/2 years ago, wasn't listening when I explained this the last time it came up, and probably will not listen this time, either.

I should add that I had been working at the newspaper for perhaps a month or so when I spoke at the meeting, and wasn't a reporter then.

-- Posted by Kathy Fairchild on Wed, Feb 24, 2010, at 5:52 AM

Thanks Kathy for the explanation. Thank you ever so much more for standing up for intellectual freedom.

About every ten years I rent Farenheit 401 to remind myself of our innate capacity to devolve.

-- Posted by Oklahoma Reader on Wed, Feb 24, 2010, at 10:28 AM

Funniest thing NanaDot I have never seen Glenn Beck.... not to say that he should be banned. (;~/)

-- Posted by Oklahoma Reader on Wed, Feb 24, 2010, at 11:56 PM


i challenge you to show any blog where I accuse you of not being a Christian, or being one.

You throw the ennuendo's - show one instance.

-- Posted by ceymore on Wed, Mar 17, 2010, at 9:45 AM

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Kathy Fairchild received a Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration in 1986 from Marycrest College, Davenport, Iowa. She is also a 2003 graduate of the paralegal program at New York University. She moved to Marshall in 2006, following a career of more than 30 years with the world's largest farm equipment manufacturer. She is an Air Force brat and grandmother of four.
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