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Natick - Local Town Pages

A Banner Month For Banned Books

By Sean Sullivan  
Recall that classic scene in Tom Sawyer, when the titular character cons a rival boy into whitewashing a fence for him. Wishing to be free of that drudgery, Tom pretends it’s a privilege, thus cursing his hapless victim with an acute case of FOMO.
“Why do you call it work?” asks Tom.
“Why, ain’t that work?” asks the other boy.
“Well, maybe it is, and maybe it ain’t. All I know, is, it suits Tom Sawyer.”
Soon enough, Tom had amassed trove of treasures from neighborhood boys and conscripted them to whitewash that wall several times over. That strategy had been Tom’s intent, and it served him well.


Yet sometimes the technique can also be somewhat of a double-edged sword. Consider this quote: “Reverse psychology backfires forwards.”
That’s certainly been a dynamic throughout history,whenever this or that authority has sought to ban a book, a film - anything, really. And so when school boards and legislatures in other parts of the country have of late assumed the role of literary censor, others have heard that as a call to borrow or buy those objects of the critic’s scorn, read them ASAP.
That’s been the current historical backdrop behind the Morse Institute Library’s “Freadom” to read art installation. The interactive exhibit features a colossal wall overlooking Route 135 just outside the library’s front lawn, a space where passersby are encouraged to list their favorite banned books, and perhaps get wise to a few titles they might add to their own restricted reading lists.  
“We thought, sure, let’s try this,” said Miki Wolfe. She is Director of the Morse Institute Library, which hosted the wall of banned books throughout September. The library sought grant money to create the project, and when that fell through, staff built the wall themselves. The façade was fabricated from plywood, painted black and left as a canvas for others to adorn. 
Then a kind of gleeful FOMO took hold, as passersby couldn’t resist adding their own flourishes in the form of banned books. Library staff also drew inspiration from the American Library Association, which maintains a list of banned books as a side project of its own. Staff added many of these to the wall as the project began as a prompt to get creative and rebellious juices flowing. 
Wolfe cited the quote from author Rudine Sims Bishop, who said that books can function as windows, mirrors and sliding glass doors. The first gives readers a view into worlds and lives different from theirs. The second allows the reader to see him or herself with the pages. And lastly, the sliding glass door is the idea that a book may transport one into another world for a time, form bonds with characters and ideas that live there.      
“It’s really cool to see yourself reflected in a book,” said Wolfe.
Owing to the public and interactive nature of the project, library staff would emerge throughout the day to check the wall for untoward graffiti, edit the community canvas if necessary. As of mid-September, said Wolfe, no unwelcome additions of the kind had been found.
Staff recorded entries as the wall filled with titles, was erased, and filled anew. They have been comparing the titles listed there to data on borrowed books, looking to see if the chalkboard advertising has inspired greater interest in certain books, a literary form of FOMO.        

“There’s only one thing in the world worse than being talked about,” said Oscar Wilde, “and that is not being talked about.”
Book banning is certainly a truer form of the so-called cancel culture that’s now part of our cultural lexicon and public political discourse. Most “cancelled” celebrities and pundits often slide seamlessly into a cancellation cottage industry, where they decry their martyr status, all while their public profiles and patronage rise and rise.
And so it is with banned books. To cancel what’s written between the covers is to call more attention to it.  
Many count it a point of pride to work their way through the list and pages of banned books. An open and public celebration of freedom it can be, for those fortunate enough to live in countries with such freedoms enshrined into law.
The “Before I Die Project” was the distant inspiration behind the Freadom wall, said Wolfe. Artist Candy Chang is said to have originated the idea about ten years ago, a way of dealing with the loss of someone close to her.
She painted black the side of an abandoned house in New Orleans, with the invitation to passersby to fill in the blanks with chalk. That effort was a public-facing bucket list of sorts, and the Before I Die wall went viral over platforms digital and plywood, replicating the world over.
“That was the germ, that was the genesis of this project,” said Wolfe. “We just want to see the public engage with this art.”