When Stephen King reviewed Celeste Ng’s Our Missing Hearts for The New York Times last September, he called it “a meditation on the sometimes accidental power of words.”
The book is about 12-year-old Noah Gardner, known as Bird. He is a Chinese American living with his father in Cambridge, Mass. America is living under a new kind of USA Patriot Act, this one called PACT, or the Preserving American Culture and Traditions Act. Noah’s mother is on the run because she wrote a poem considered subversive. Noah wants to find her.
Books are not burned anymore, they’re merely pulped. As a librarian puts it: “Mash them up, recycle them into toilet paper. Those books wiped someone’s rear end a long time ago.”
So Noah’s bookshelves are empty. Why? “Because,” writes King, “students must not have access to books that ‘might expose them to dangerous ideas.’ This isn’t dystopian fiction but actual fact, as rancorous school curriculum meetings and protests across the United States have proved. The Florida Parental Rights Bill, signed by Governor DeSantis in March of this year, is basically a free pass to text censorship.”
Monday evening, a rather joyless Flagler County Commission–a commission stocked with unabashed admirers of Ron DeSantis–unanimously approved a proclamation designating March as “Flagler Reads Together” month in the county. That’s the annual festival, now in its 22nd year, when the Friends of the Library, with admirable, enduring idealism, encourage everyone in the county to read the same book, while the library builds a series of events around the title.
This year’s book: Celeste Ng’s Our Missing Hearts.
“This is a thought-provoking and timely story that depicts acts of racism, book banning and political protests,” reads the proclamation, using words that in Florida public school settings could be deemed inadmissible. “Celeste Ng also pays homage to Librarians as they become part of an underground network sharing information to help reunite families.”
The Flagler County Public Library’s staff, under the leadership of its long-time director, Holly Albanese, has been its own vanguard against a pronounced movement in Flagler County to ban many books from school library shelves. The movement is led by a group of people who mostly do not have children in school, but who want books others read banned all the same. (See: “At Flagler Public Library, Freedom Readers’ Club and Other Page-Turners Boldly Defy Book Bans.”)
Commissioners did not comment on the rich ironies on display. Commissioner Dave Sullivan tersely read the proclamation at the opening of this evening’s commission meeting, then said to Albanese and Carl Laundrie, who heads the Friends of the Library group, “thank you for being here.” Laundrie was a former spokesman for county government, and reporter and editor before that.
Albanese, after distributing “Flagler Reads Together” goodie bags to the commissioners, thanked the commission and touched on the theme of the book only lightly. She noted that the kick-off of Flagler Reads Together on March 4 will be an open-mic poetry reading from 1 to 2:30 p.m. There will be a book discussion on March 22, and finally, the showing of the 1990 “The Handmaid’s Tale,” based on Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel of an America turned–well, Floridian.
Curiously, and as if from a page of Our Missing Hearts, Albanese was barred by what she described as “licensing restrictions” from mentioning the title of the movie. But she gave enough of its basics away to make it obvious.
Staying mum on the book or the month-long celebration, commissioners invited Albanese and Laundrie for the traditional picture. Only Commissioner Leann Pennington seemed to smile authentically before the obligatory fake smiles for the picture. There was no applause, there was no additional commentary, as there almost always is when, say, commissioners are proclaiming something–anything–with a uniform attached to it or the slightest flutter of flag-waving.
County Commission Chairman Greg Hansen then hurriedly moved on to the public participation segment of the meeting, only to be reminded, by Commissioner Donald O’Brien, that the commission had not voted to approve the proclamation. The slip spoke more loudly than anything the commissioners had said, or not said.
LAW ABIDING CITIZEN says
They all need to GO, ADIOS, all of them ,except for Leanne Pennington, their interest lie with the developers and the Tally
dark money crew who tell them how to vote, she is the only one up there who even most likely reads any books or is in the know about agendas. Leanne Pennington is smart ,bright women who loves our county, the residents and taxpayers, they are not in her league, and whatever happenned to Andy Dance who was once a ray of hope he seems to be so detached from it all. Heidi Petito needs to go also she is just a puppet making a very hight salary. This county and its residents deserves much better.
The dude says
This county and city has exactly what it deserves. A governing body that is truly representative of its population, horrible.
It’s too bad for the kids. Don’t worry about them though, they’ll be gone as soon as they are able since there’s no reason for them to stay.
Deborah Coffey says
Well, LAW, the residents are getting exactly what they voted for. The rest of us deserve much better.
What was the name of the forgettable book that was on the table for being banned ? It’s more famous for that than anything else ? Whoever has read it, got whatever there was to be had for content. The rest of Flagler county just want to go play pickleball.
Cindy Small says
Thank you Ms Albanese and the library staff for not succumbing to the pressure! Your strength is inspiring.
James Mejuto says
Folks, now we can see how gov’t corruption corrupts all. There is no way in hell that Flagler Library Director, Holly Albanese or anybody could not give the title of a movie to be shown or even be frightened to do so. This is the Republican state party corruption Florida has to endure, as its governor is launching his 2024 run for President.
Ms. Albanese, who is clearly not intimidated by anyone who would suppress access to books, cited licensing, not political, issues regarding the title of The Handmaid’s Tale.
James Mejuto says
So! . . . What difference does that make?!
I always wondered how Hitler managed to convince so many people to support him. Now, I’m watching DeSantis, in real time, doing the same thing. I cannot imagine these book banners have read very many, or any, books. If they had, they would not be in their current mental state. It’s like a happiness of dumbing down more people to make the banners feel better about themselves. There’s a better way; read some books!