Jocelyn's Other Desk

The writings of Jocelyn Smith, aspiring author, soon-to-be lawyer, once and future politician, all-around opinionated twentysomething.

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Location: Orlando, Florida, United States

I'm a lawyer in Florida, working on three novels, a screenplay, and half a dozen pieces of fanfiction at any given moment.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

A Righteous Wrath-Inspired Book Recommendation!

As if I wasn't ornery enough already, I had to go read Tod Goldberg's blog!

Fucktards Rebuked At The Gate (The Latest Round of Book-Banning in Dear Ol' Kansas)
The news story that inspired Tod's wrath (and mine)

It's about the latest effort by American Fascists United (also known as Citizens For Literary Standards In Schools) to ban certain books from high school reading lists.

The challenged books?

  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison(yeah, heard of it, that one's getting attacked all over the country)
  • Boy's Life by Robert McCammon (don't know anything about this one)
  • The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy. ('t.)

Yeah. As you can guess, I shall now write you my recommendation of Mr. Conroy's novel...and give my most articulate thoughts on this latest campaign against it.

My History With This Book

I read The Lords of Discipline for the first time at the oh-so-tender age of 16--in 11th grade AP American Lit. Yep, I'm ClassKC's poster girl: "the innocent teenaged child."

Some relative of ClassKC had obviously got their nosy claws into my teacher too, because I still remember what she told us about The Lords of Discipline. She was including it in a collection of books we could choose from to do a project about (other books in the selection included Catch-22, My Antonia, Snow Falling On Cedars, and The Awakening, if I recall). She gave us a little summary of each, and it came to LoD, she told us, "I've gotten in trouble with parents for including this book. They accuse me of trying to 'entice young men' with it. It is very graphic, with sex, violence and profanity--but it's about military school."

I knew that was going to be my book. My teen rebellion consisted of reading "age-inappropriate" books. I smuggled Jurassic Park and Christopher Pike's cheap mysteries around in my backpack when I was twelve because my folks didn't approve.

In high school Lit, I hated much of what we were assigned. Hated Hemingway (that thrice-damned For Whom The Bell Tolls project in the spring semester nearly gave me a nervous breakdown from sheer boredom), hated Faulkner (As I LayDying, I thought I was dying), hated Winesburg, Ohio (indescribably bad), hated The Glass Menagerie (I didn't sympathize with a single character.)

The Lords of Discipline wound up being one of only two books from my entire high school reading career that I ever read again (Pride & Prejudice was the other.) It remains one of my favorites.

The (to use Tod's most accurate descriptor) Fucktards

The parents said Toni Morrison's "Song of Solomon," Robert McCammon's "Boy's Life" and Pat Conroy's "The Lords of Discipline" contained profanity, vulgar language, sexually explicit scenes and violence.

  • Yes, they do. But is the presence of those things the only factors that should be considered when determining the quality of a book?

Must we wallow in the sewer to recognize filth?" asked Sherri Millen, who challenged the McCammon and Conroy books.

  • To shallow individuals like this, obviously not. Then again, Filthy people tend to see filth everywhere, so it makes sense.
  • In other words, she didn't read the books.

Parents who wanted the books removed from the lists read many passages from them.

  • HA! Both in the board meeting AND at home, I'll wager.
  • In these cases, you'll find that the Prude Police will at most scan the book for "naughty content" and never actually read them.

From's description of The Lords of Discipline:

This book purportedly describes life in a fictional military academy, similar to The Citadel in South Carolina. The student requirements include endless marching, battle drills, memorizing of useless information, dress codes, bedroom checks, humiliation/hazing by upperclassmen, etc. Some may argue that this is a “true picture of life in the military.” But is it necessary for our minor children to be asked to read and study this crude content in order to understand one man’s idea about military school?

  • Emphasis not added. The presence of that emphasis says a lot, don't you think? Objections aren't only to the crude aspects, I think. Sounds like ClassKC prescribes to the Bush Administration definition of free speech--should I be surprised?

The "review" continues on with nothing but quotes from the book--all containing the provocative words. Feel free to read them on the website, I'm not going to bother reproducing that here.

Rather, I shall give you some DIFFERENT quotes. The ones that stuck in this teenaged reader's mind:

Though I will always be a visitor to Charleston, I will always remain one with a passionate belief that it is the most beautiful city in America, and that to walk the old section of the city at night into the bloodstream of a history extravagantly lived by a people born to a fierce and unshakable advocacy of their past.

  • You see, this book is about history, and society's endless fascination with and search for it--and both the good and bad results of those searches and the fascination and the desire to recapture history.

At first, I thought I had wasted my college years, but I was wrong. The Institute was the most valuable experience I have ever had or will have. I believe it did bring me into manhood: the Institute taught me about the kind of man I did not want to be.

  • This book is about Vietnam-era military education.

My virginity was settling in hard on me. It seemed both silly and rather affectingly pitiful that a twenty-one-year-old male with awesome enthusiasm and all his parts intact had not managed to make love to a single woman.

  • This book is devastatingly (and often comically) accurate about the mentality of 21-year-olds. I find that I have learned new lessons from this book as I have gone from high school to college, starting out younger than Will, the narrator, going through the years he did in the story, and then looking back at them as the past--as he does in the story.

"My support of the war is simply an act of faith in America..."

  • This book pays due attention and empathy to the other points of view that existed at the time, and still do today.

"Do you need to have the clap to know you don't want it?"

  • (Chuckle) Maybe I'd be more sympathetic to the attitude of Sherri Millen if she'd said THAT!

"Are you a coward, Will?"
"Of the trembling, quivering, knees-knocking, teeth-chattering variety."

  • This book is witty.

"Have y'all noticed that everytime a knob brings cookies, cakes, sandwiches, or candy into the barracks, the upperclassmen take it and eat it all?"
..."What are you going to do, Tradd?" I asked, "Lecture the upperclassmen on rights of property?"
"I plan to smuggle some food into the barracks."
"So what?"
"It's going to be something delicious," he said.
"So what?"
"It's going to be something we make."
"So what?" Pig asked.
"It's going to be something we want them to eat."
All of us screamed the same word at the same time.

  • This book is funny.

I loved the train. It passed through my dreams at 11:42 every night and at different times it passed through malarial jungles, arguments with my mother, the slopes of mountains, the gardens of Annie rumbled through my dreams each night at the exact same time and I am sure I would have known if some accident had derailed it somewhere along the desolate tracks that cut through the marshes...

  • This book has a way of connecting the reader with their own life. (I-395 isn't quite as romantic, but it invades my dreams every night.)
  • It's also beautifully written.

Athlete. The word was beautiful to me. When I played basketball, I was possessed by a nakedness of spirit, a divine madness when I was let loose to ramble between the lines. Always I was reckless and moving at full speed, and I had never learned the potency of stillness, the craft of subtlety.

  • This book connects with any athlete. I was in my third year of the high school cross-country team at the time of that First Read, and it was at this passage that Will and his story went from Very Good to Profound Impact.

"I believe The Ten exists, Mr. McLean...I believe they exist and I am afraid of them...If it was just a club they would not censor history books. They would not enter a man's house to steal letters. Nothing else was moved or disturbed. One single letter disappeared...That they stole the letter is unspeakable. That they eradicated their name from my historical account is unspeakable."

  • This book is a mystery novel.
  • This book also teaches a serious lesson about wrong and right, about morality and decency and honor. About "American values," if you will.

"Did you interview any boys or men who were run out of the Institute?"
"Of course not...I was writing about the men who made the Institute great, not the swine who could not bear the stern test of her ministries!"
..."Yes, sir," I said...."But they might be able to reflect directly onto the history of The Ten."
"Scoundrel!" he cried out, thumping me on the shoulder. "There is a very minor historian beating his way out of that thick Irish skull of yours. Very, very minor, but a presence nonetheless."

  • This book is about teachers and the impact they have: good and bad.

"One last thing, Mr. McLean. Do you ever think about your place in history? What do you think your place will be in the history of the Institute? I already know my place. But what about yours? Tell me about your place in the history of the school."
He was laughing at me, mocking me, and I turned, loathing every single thing he stood for on earth. "General," I said. "I want you to hear this and I want you to think about it."
"What do you have to say, Mr. McLean?"
"I plan to write that history, sir."

  • This is a book for writers of all ages and experience.

Only a complete mental defective could read this book--REALLY read it, not just flip through searching for dirty words--and say that it is inappropriate for a 16-year-old.

From Some of the language includes motherfucker/fucker/fuck/fuckstick, pussy, cunt, douchebag, poontang, slut, suck my dick, shit, piss, asswipe, bastard.

According to a Blue Valley West CA IV syllabus, this book is "a huge student favorite."

  • Ever bother to really read it and ask WHY?!

My Final Review

To sum up this rambling condemnation of censorship, Pat Conroy's The Lords of Discipline is a compelling, powerful story for any person of any age, but not only is it not rendered inappropriate for a minor teenager by its language, its message is what makes it vastly MORE appropriate than some of the insipid "classics" that no high school student will ever read by choice.

It is about youth and adulthood. It is about education--the purpose of it, the realities of it, the use and misuse of it. It is about love and all its varieties--and its twisted, debased imitations. It is about honor--and the self-delusion of honor. It is about history.

The profanity was heavy, but by the second chapter, I pretty much didn't notice it. Use a word often enough in a book and it gets filtered out. There is violence, very graphic violence, but not gratuitous, and its description served the purpose to (successfully) show both the realities of a twisted, self-righteous way of life and the hideous results of racism and elitism. There is graphic sex once (and a lot of graphic discussion of sex) that might incite giggles in some less mature readers, but honestly, it wasn't that important to the plot or the characters (other than Will.) So I didn't really focus on it because I was too busy thinking about the more powerful plot devices.

There is tragedy and ugliness and every depth that human beings can sink to. But in the end, there is hope, and there is a keeping of faith to the values of right and honor and loyalty.

Pat Conroy's The Lords of Discipline is a good book. I recommend it to any reader.

I especially recommend it to teenagers.


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