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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

It's Only Crazy When You're Wrong

Sometimes real life events unfold like one of David E. Kelley's wacky courtroom dramas. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's priceless.

A friend recently sent me a link to an article from the Sun Journal of Maine, detailing the story of JoAn Karkos, 64, who refused to return a book she had checked out from the Lewiston library after determining that it was inappropriate for children. The book in question? It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health
by Robie H. Harris. The contents of the book seem self-explanatory, but in fairness I think the customer comments on the book's Amazon page perfectly capture the disparity of opinions over the book's contents and why there might be cause for some objection.

Unfortunately for Karkos, who first attempted to buy the book before refusing to return it, this is not a legal means to removing it permanently from the library. So the city took her to court to get their book back.

The Sun Journal article, written by Christopher Williams, hilariously recounts some of the courtroom drama. Hilarious to me anyhow:
[Judge] Stanfill ruled that Karkos had violated the library's policy and ordered her to return the book. The judge asked Karkos where the book was.

"I have it in my possession," Karkos said. She paused, then repeated that general answer each time the judge pressed her. Finally, Karkos said she had the book with her.

"Then return it right now," Stanfill said.

"I'm going to hang onto the book, your honor," Karkos said. Stanfill advised Karkos she could be held in contempt of court if she refused to comply with a court order.

"Please return the book," the judge said.

"Your honor, I cannot return the book," Karkos said after a pause.

"I am ordering that book be returned today," Stanfill said. She told Karkos she would have to stay in the courtroom until she gave up the book.
Karkos, it appears, was prepared to go to jail to protect the children of Lewiston from the contents of that book. According to the article, Karkos admitted under cross-examination that she was informed in a letter by Library Director Rick Speer how to formally challenge the book, but in her words, "I knew I didn't stand a chance."

As much as I disagree with Karkos' position on this book (I am decidedly against book banning of almost any kind), I have to respect her gumption. We are a culture that seems to admire civil disobedience only when we have the clarity of hindsight, when history proves the act noble. In the present, acts of civil disobedience take true courage, a focused purpose, and absolute conviction of one's beliefs. Though I find humor in the way she faced down a judge and refused to hand over a book, I also realize that it's not an easy thing to do.

According to a follow-up article in the Sun Journal, the city of Lewiston has given up their demands to get the book back and are requesting a $100 fine. So Karkos will not be jailed over her refusal to hand over the book, but in my opinion, that she was willing to is something to admire.


Sven said...

Maybe Palin should have lent this out to her daughter?

stu said...

Strength of conviction, possibly, but not a particularly admirable action overall. The sheer arrogance of her deciding that she gets to decide for everyone else what they should and shouldn't read outweighs that.

Stephanie said...

Stu, I think every act of civil disobedience is in some ways an attempt to force your opinion on the community. It is resistance or challenge to either a law or widely accepted social order, outside of the proper channels. I'm making the argument that we only view that kind of behavior as arrogant or inappropriate when we disagree with the argument that motivates it.

In this case, we don't approve of her behavior because, and both I and the law agree with you on this point, she does not get to decide what her community is allowed to read.

But I still admire what I see as her genuine desire and willingness to do whatever it took to protect the children of her community.

It's worth noting that though they're not fighting her for the book any longer, they now have multiple copies of the book available at the library that have been donated from all over the country since the brouhaha began.

Anonymous said...

There's something very "Inherit The Wind" about all of this. But alas, there is quite the difference between books and monkeys. Ironically, she winds up supporting an argument I've long held against Oprah's Book Club: some people should not be exposed to some books due to the risk of dangerous misinterpretation. Now mind you, I don't mean banning. Any writer with brains about them is against banning... I just think that occasionally ignorance is not only blissful, it's beneficial.

That aside, what guts! Were I not afraid of her ideals, she'd be my hero!

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