One of the running jokes we’ve had on our tour over the years is how any piece of literature that is dirty or offensive, gets banned, gets a lot of criticisms for obscenity or lewdness….well they tend to sell very well. This continues to be tried and true.
Howl by Allen Ginsberg,
Edna St. Vincent Millay’s a Few Figs from Thistles
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (still often on the top 10 most banned books in the last decade)
It kind of goes on and on. In fact our running gag is saying if you want kids to read literature, forbid them from doing so. Put Shakespeare on the highest shelf, tell them there’s too much sex and violence, that they are not allowed to read it. They’ll have it memorized.
I’ve often wondered, had I been a high school English teacher, what if I assigned a Free Reading book- students choice, put a big list of books on the chalkboard and then clearly and succinctly inform them they were in no way whatsoever allowed to pick any book or author on that list….would they read them? Obviously wouldn’t put that in for the assignment, but could you actually influence kids to read more literature outside of the curriculum this way?
Several years back we did a tour for 120 high school kids. Obviously we did not go to bars (well, the guides did afterwards to commiserate, but not on the actual tour). We broke them up into 4 groups and walked them through the village.
They were hands in pocket-eye-rolling-heel-dragging bored about as much as a high school kid could be. (As a former high school kid, I can testify that we can get super bored). We reached an Edna St. Vincent Millay house, and on a whim I tried something. I said (approximately)
“Millay wrote a lot about feminism, she wrote a lot about female sexuality and lesbianism, about love affairs and…..oh geez actually I probably shouldn't be talking about this. Let’s keep moving, don’t tell you folks or your teachers, I probably shouldn’t have come here.”
And we continued the tour. At the end of the tour the chaperones came up and told me that almost every kid in my group asked them for the name of that poet, who it was that I was talking about.
So teachers, we already have a problem with kids and adults not reading. Why not? Give it a try? Forbid them from reading some great works, and lets see what happens. You might just reach a couple kids.
And then maybe they’ll come on our tour.
We get a little hashtag crazy on the tour sometimes. When we started 20 years ago, a hashtag was called a pound and it was of little use in the world. Sometimes it was useful after the transition from rotary phones to touch tone, but otherwise it was just 4 lines. We’re slowly getting savvier with ours. When we started posting the #weresearch, it was partially in response to the March 29th NY Post article entitled “Everything You Know About the Village is Wrong.” In it they discussed much of the standard fare of legends in the village that have been covered by tours over the years, that are incorrect. We were 100% accurate. Maybe 99.9%, I might need to go back and look.
We’d actually also debunked several other myths in the Village over the years that the Post did not mention. #weresearch
To be fair, there’s a lot of misinformation out there in legitimate sources. Mistakes can easily happen. We usually say right off at the beginning that there’s as much legend as fact on the tour. Stories change over time. It’s been scientifically proved that our memories are unreliable. A bartender tells a customer, who goes back a year later and tells her cousin, she mentions something to a young writer for a guide book….with each retelling the story changes.
We started trying to find the root of the story. We started to dig, and thus the collection expanded. This isn’t even all of them. I’ve ordered several more since these pictures were taken.
You can see that 20 years of Greenwich Village history is 20 years of collecting books. What interests me is that many of these discuss the same stories in much the same way. Which has me wondering how many other legends still have mysterious roots? How many of these books reference each other that the actual story has been lost. Or never happened.
To quote one of the greatest TV shows ever made: The Truth is Out There.
(That was X-Files if you didn’t get the reference). We’ll still keep digging. We promise. If you come drinking, we’ll keep talking but we’ll also keep digging. One day you’ll have a drink with us and learn the truth. I relish that day. And I relish the process.
That’s the passion we bring. Please come #getlitiwithus. (That is a hashtag that says Get Lit With Us. [it’s a double entendre. It means both get literary, as well as to “get lit” as in to “tie one on,” “get buzzed,” “become inebriated” or “intoxicated.” You get it.])
I hope you enjoyed my use of brackets and parenthesis.
I need a new book case.