A few years ago, I wrote a book called “You Don’t Sweat Much for a Fat Girl.” It was a “New York Times” bestseller, and I’ll always be convinced the in-your-face title was the biggest reason.
Today, the folks obsessed with protecting the world from anything remotely funny or colorful would change that title to: “You Don’t Show Any Physical Manifestation of Becoming Overheated And, By the Way, The Right Size is What’s Right for You!”
Now. Who wants to order a couple of dozen copies? Yeah. That’s what I thought.
I was reminded of “Fat Girl” when the publishing house Puffin announced it had revised Roald Dahl’s snarky-clever kids’ books to eliminate references deemed culturally insensitive. According to a “Washington Post” article, changes included deleting phrases like “enormously fat,” changing the description of Oompa Loompas from “small men” to “small people” and eliminating the word “stupid” in a description of chickens in “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Apparently, this last was considered insulting to chickens, who would be potentially offended if they read themselves being described in such a way. Which would never happen because, well, chickens.
There was such an outcry about the changes to Dahl’s works, the U.K.-based publisher, demonstrating a corporate spine of Jell-O, announced it would also publish a “Classic Collection.” These books would be for those who like their Oompa Loompas manly (admittedly hard to do while wearing white short-alls with chocolate-striped knee socks); their chickens scholarly; and their fat-shaming kept to a minimum.
Although Dahl, who died years ago, was an anti-Semitic jerk in real life, he did have an undeniable gift for tapping into that stinky, boogery subversive streak most kids have, getting them to …READ. I can’t tell you how many copies of Dahl’s books I sold at Scholastic Book Fair fundraisers back in the day.
Getting kids excited about reading books makes stupid people crazy. It’s why you see them peckin’ around in the dirt at school board meetings cluckin’ about what’s in the “liberry.”
I think the most frustrating thing about what’s happening to books and authors lately is watching two extreme views get all the attention when neither is right.
Well-intentioned but silly humans fretting about whether a satirical chocolate factory “reflects modern standards of inclusion, diversity and accessibility” is, academically speaking, wackadoodle.
This is precisely the sort of ill-considered claptrap that gives liberals a bad name. And as an unrepentant liberal, I just hate that.
And on the other side, the chicken people want to ban books they’re too lazy to read first because they might turn their precious spawn trans or woke.
Here’s the thing. I never liked “Runaway Bunny” all that much. The notion the bunny could never, ever get away from his mother was profoundly creepy to me. After hatching a few plans to escape, he is utterly defeated and says he might as well just give up having a life of his own and stay with her. She responds with… “Have a carrot.” Whoa. Is it cold in here or is it just me?
I know, I know. It’s a sweet story cherished by millions but not me. So what? We don’t all have to have the same taste; we just need to quell the hysterics on both sides.
I don’t need to ban books because censorship is—borrowing a phrase from Dahl’s “The BFG”– something only the most “repulsant snozzcumber” might do.
Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and columnist. Write her at [email protected].