The featured photo is a screenshot from Greg Locke’s book burning video on YouTube.
Last night, I finished reading Maus, the graphic novel by Art Spiegelman that the McMinn County School Board of Tennessee decided to remove from its curriculum for eighth grade students last month. As I have mentioned in several recent posts about Maus, I had not heard of this brilliant Pulitzer Prize winning work until it made the news. It was originally published in its entirety in 1991, having taken Spiegelman thirteen years of work to complete. Portions of the book were published sooner than 1991, with comic strips having been published in the defunct magazine, Raw. I mentioned yesterday that the first volume of Maus was published in 1986. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until Maus was banned by a school board that I finally decided to read it. I’m so glad I did that. I have the good people of McMinn County, Tennessee’s board of education to thank for that, as their decision to ban Maus only made it more attractive to me.
Yesterday, my friend Mary Beth commented that she, too, has ordered a copy of Maus to read. She read one of my blog posts about it and discussed book banning with her fifteen year old son. It turns out Mary Beth’s boy is a World War II buff, and Maus is about The Holocaust. When Mary Beth told her son that Maus is a graphic novel, meaning that there are many comic styled pictures, he asked her if he could read it. Mary Beth agreed, and she says they will read the book together.
I passed my copy of the book to Bill, and now he’s just started reading Maus. By my count, that’s already four people who have decided to read a book that school board members in Tennessee have opted to ban. Remember when I wrote about the Streisand effect? Looks like it’s happening. Maus is selling like gangbusters, and lots of people are reading it and passing it on to others. We have Tennessee to thank for that. In a way, those school board members are inadvertently educating people well beyond the borders of McMinn County. In their attempts to quash a remarkable work of literature, the school board has only made it much more popular. Mary Beth says that Maus is still backordered. I see on Amazon.de, it’s no longer backordered, but there aren’t many available copies. It may not be long before Maus is out of stock again.
How did I like the book? I loved it. But it wasn’t just because of the story about The Holocaust. I’ve read a lot of books about The Holocaust, most of which were non-fiction accounts of people who experienced prison camps. What set Maus apart from those books, besides the fact that it’s done in comic strips, was the way Spiegelman managed to capture his father, Vladek, and how his experiences during World War II changed him. First, there was the syntax of Vladek’s speech. Spiegelman managed to capture the broken English that often comes from non-native speakers. One thing I’ve noticed, living in Germany, is that a lot of Germans are quite fluent in English. But sometimes, in spite of knowing English well, their syntax is like it would be if they were speaking German. They use certain expressions and constructions that English speakers don’t typically use. For instance, I notice that a lot of Germans say or write “therefore” and “already” more than Americans do. Or they say things like, “I don’t dare to” instead of “I don’t dare”, or they write “who”, instead of “whoever or whomever”. I remember hearing a German tour guide say, “Who wants to go to the WC can do so now.” A native English speaker would phrase it differently.
Likewise, Art Spiegelman manages to capture the voice of someone who isn’t a native English speaker. He had a lot of experience listening to his father, so he knew just how his dad would put things. He doesn’t write the dialogue the way an American would speak, even though his father spoke English from even before the war. He writes it the way a Polish person would speak English. That technique made Vladek come alive for me. I could practically hear his voice in my head as I read. Not only did I hear his voice, but I could imagine the mood, as if I had him in my head, speaking aloud.
Art Spiegelman also captures many of the quirks that would come from someone who had experienced the trauma of losing everything and being force to live on whatever he could find. As I mentioned earlier, I have read a lot of Holocaust stories. One common thread is that many people who survived the Holocaust could not bear to see things wasted. I read one Holocaust account by a man who used to get furious at his children when they turned their noses up at food that was offered to them. Likewise, Vladek Spiegelman drove his son crazy because he could not throw things away… except things that really were priceless. Vladek throws away Art’s mother’s precious diaries when he has a bad day. But he collects odds and ends– piece of wire, scraps of paper, used nails. He is extremely miserly and doesn’t want to hire anyone to help him with odd jobs around the house, even though he’s not capable of doing the work that needs to be done. Instead, he asks Art to help him, even though Art is busy with his own life and isn’t particularly as handy as Vladek was forced to become. Even as Art expresses annoyance at frustration with his father and his father’s constant demands and idiosyncrasies, his love and concern for Vladek comes through in a moving way.
I think the very truthful interactions between father and son, depicted as mice and rendered in illustrations, are what really touched my heart. There are also elements in humor in Maus that make it less grim than it could have been, even though there are many sad and tragic events in the story. There was so much loss and grief that came from The Holocaust, and yet sometimes there were happy and even humorous moments that kept the human spirit alive. The people who managed to survive the camps and lived to tell their tales were endowed with resilience and luck. Or maybe they weren’t actually the luckiest ones. Art’s mother, Vladek’s first wife, Anja, couldn’t cope. She committed suicide in 1968, and Vladek remarried another Holocaust survivor, Nala, who constantly complained about Vladek’s quirks.
I’m happy that I read Maus. I’m glad others will read it. I’m heartened to know that I influenced at least three people to read the book through my blog, even as I was influenced to read it because some people in Tennessee decided it should be banned. It just goes to show that actions have consequences, but sometimes the consequences turn out to be good things. As I sit here marveling at what I’ve just read, again, courtesy of a school board in right wing Tennessee, I also shake my head at the news that came out of Mount Juliet, Tennessee yesterday. “Pastor” Greg Locke, head of Global Vision Bible Church, is in the news again. This time, it’s because he hosted a massive book burning last week.
I’ve written about Greg Locke a couple of times. A few years ago, when I was still running my Blogspot version of The Overeducated Housewife, I wrote about how Greg Locke cried on camera after he got disgraced in the wake of divorcing his wife after cheating on her with her best friend. Locke called adult film star Stormy Daniels a “hooker”, as he reminded everyone that Trump was still president. I reposted that entry from 2018 last summer, when Locke was in the news again. In July 2021, Locke was in the news again for demanding that his followers attend services unmasked. Locke vowed to kick out anyone in his congregation who showed up wearing a face mask. Then, halfway through one of his videos, Locke launches into an absolutely bat shit crazy anti-liberal rant.
Well, Greg Locke is in the news again because last Wednesday, he invited followers to burn their copies of Twilight and Harry Potter books. Locke claims that the books, as well as any young adult fantasy books, tarot cards, crystals, and voodoo dolls, are of the occult. Locke said,
“Bring all your Harry Potter stuff. Laugh all you want haters. I don’t care. IT’S WITCHCRAFT 100 PERCENT,” Locke said in an Instagram post Monday. “All you [sic] ‘Twilight’ books and movies. That mess is full of spells, demonism, shape-shifting and occultism.”
Why anyone with sense listens to this hateful moron, I will never know. But again, it’s Tennessee, land of Trump love. I mentioned in previous posts that these are the people who clutch their pearls at the word “God damn” in Maus, but will enthusiastically endorse a man who obviously disdains the poor and brags about sexually abusing women. They claim to love Jesus Christ, and yet they behave in ways that are not Christ-like. And they denounce books about supernatural fantasies and creatures, as they believe in the Bible, which is full of stories about violence and supernatural occurrences, and has led to many people being killed in gruesome ways. See Maus for a lesson on that, as Jewish people died for their beliefs.
I was glad to read that there were counterprotestors who showed up at Locke’s book burning. At least one person threw a Bible into the fire. It’s not that I support burning books of any kind, nor am I an atheist. I just think book burning and banning is stupid, and simply leads to the dumbing down of populations. And as I learn more about what’s going on in Tennessee, I realize that in a way, it’s kind of a sophomoric place. You know that word, sophomore, right? It stems from Greek. The word is a blend of sophos, which means “clever or wise”, and moros, which means “moron or fool”. The news out of Tennessee has made me smarter and enriched my life by prompting me to read Maus. And it’s also making me shake my head as I consider the stupidity of a supposed “man of God” live streaming his event that highlights burning books.
“We have a constitutional right and a Biblical right to do what we’re going to do tonight,” Locke said in the livestreamed video. “We have a burn permit, but even without one a church has a religious right to burn occultic materials that they deem are a threat to their religious rights and freedoms and belief systems.”
Indeed… and how interesting that this comes up now, as Tennessee has made news over Maus, a wonderful book about a man’s experiences in The Holocaust. Many people who heard about Greg Locke’s book burning were reminded of Nazi Germany, where books were routinely burned. It’s no secret that Greg Locke is a huge supporter of Donald Trump and his ilk. And it’s not lost on me that Trump works a room much like Hitler did, back in the day.
I know people get offended by the comparison of Trump to Hitler. They think it cheapens the horrors that people like Vladek Spiegelman endured in the 1940s. But dammit, Hitler didn’t start his madness by murdering people. He started by whipping up “us vs. them” sentiments and hatred, promoting other-ism and ignorance, and making people think they had the right to be destructive and divisive. Hitler got his start by throwing a figurative lit match into a seething inferno of disenfranchised people who feared losing power and were pushed to the point of murdering those people they considered “undesirable” in the most vicious, horrifying, and brutal of ways.
I really hope an event like The Holocaust doesn’t happen again, but when I read stories like the ones that have been coming out of the United States lately, it really makes me fear for the future. I worry so much about where our country is going, as obviously terrible people like Donald Trump are put in power. Otherwise decent people ignore how terrible he is, just because they get a few extra bucks in their paychecks and, maybe, a lower gas bill at the pump. They ignore his history of fucking people over and being hateful to anyone who doesn’t do his bidding. But what makes me even more frightened is that even if Trump isn’t re-elected, there is no doubt someone younger, more handsome, and much more intelligent waiting in the wings for the right time to emerge. And people like Greg Locke’s followers will be all too ready to embrace that person.
Don’t believe me? Consider that Adolf Hitler got his ideas about The Holocaust after seeing how the world ignored the Armenian Genocide. Armenia, as you know, also has a place in my heart due to the two years I spent there. I had never heard of the Genocide before I lived in Armenia. I now live in Germany, where Hitler carried out his monstrous plans for world domination. If we don’t learn from the atrocities in history, we are doomed to repeat them. See below:
I hope that people will remain vigilant and keep reading good books… and not necessarily the Bible. Resist movements that discourage thought, compassion for others, and personal growth. Book burning is not an activity that kind, intelligent, compassionate people engage in doing. It’s certainly not “Christ-like” behavior. As NBC News points out:
Locke’s book burning event comes amid a growing effort to ban certain books from schools. Books about racism and sexuality are being pulled from Texas school shelves in record numbers — a majority of books targeted feature LGBTQ characters or explicit descriptions of sex. Some of the books that aren’t explicit include picture books about Black historical figures and transgender children.
Why is this happening now? Why are schools being targeted? It’s the movement of so-called Christians who want to take over the country. These people– so-called Christians– are really only Christians in name. They aren’t behaving in merciful, compassionate, and kind ways. They are promoting hatred, ignorance, and violence in order to push their moronic agenda.
I mentioned that I think Tennessee is the “sophomore state”. I think there are wise people in Tennessee who can stand up to this craziness. Unfortunately, Tennessee also seems to be a hotbed of people like Greg Locke, who encourage book burning among those who seriously need to read a lot more. Locke and his ilk just want people to be stupid, so they’re easier to manage. So I would certainly advise everyone to keep reading. And yes, I think you should read Harry Potter and Twilight, if that’s what you like to read… and read Maus, too, while you’re at it. I have provided a handy link below. You’ll learn more from reading almost ANYTHING than you ever could from listening to Greg Locke.
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11 thoughts on “Tennessee is the “sophomore” state…”
I absolutely love Art Spiegelman and the way he writes the dialog in “Maus.” Especially Vladek and his European syntax:
“A wire hanger you give him! I haven’t seen Artie in almost two years – we have plenty wooden hangers.” Now, that’s awesome writing, and true to life. (I can almost hear Ben Kingsley or Topol saying these lines in a movie version or a play.
I’m glad your blog posts have inspired others to read this book.
Never underestimate your talents, or your ability to persuade. You’re a gifted person in many areas.
Thanks, Alex. It’s nice to hear that from a friend.
Oh, you’re welcome.
As Stevie Wonder once sang, “And I mean it from the bottom of my heart.”
I learned of Maus through the news. I ordered it from Thriftbooks this week, and yep, it’s on back order.
As for Tennessee, I worked a contract in Cookeville for 2.5 months. This was in early 2011. I was treated very well, and allowed an hour each day to go to my hotel, eat, and get my German Shepherd out to potty.
I am glad, however, that I am not working there now.
Bill’s dad’s side of the family lives in Tennessee, and I have cousins in Nashville, including one who is a professional musician. I have nothing against the state. My beef is with the people who have surrendered to the right wing religious/political Trump cult, which is everywhere. It’s just that Tennessee happens to be in the news for a lot of stupidity right now. I imagine this could have been Mississippi or Arkansas or even Virginia.
I have a friend who just read the two Maus books also, and now I want to read them! Unfortunately, it looks as if they’re out of stock on Amazon again.
Thank you for your review and insight. You’re absolutely right; book burning is senseless and hateful. Those kind of people promote “sheeple” who follow others blindly. They want you to burn a book, which may be fiction, and therefore someone’s interpretation of a subject. They want to wipe out things that they don’t deem righteous. Yet, we’re supposed to read the books THEY promote. Hypocrites. Not to mention, a lot of them claim to be loving christians. Ugh.
Yup. I have seen little evidence that these types love anyone who isn’t just like them.
After years of avoiding these books, I’m finally ready to take the plunge. And my order is on backstock. Oh, well…
Wonderful post. Glad you read it and enjoyed it. Glad others have read it, too.
As for book-burning, what a sideshow.
I hope you will be as moved as I am! Thank you for reading and commenting.
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