June 2007

Chris Zammarelli

banned bookslut

Many Sleepless Nights Indeed

When Earl Adams discovered his two teenaged sons had seen Felice Newman's book The Whole Lesbian Sex Book at the Bentonville (AK) Public Library, he e-mailed Library Director Cindy Suter and requested the book be removed from the stacks. Suter had the book moved to what Richard Dean Prudenti described in an article for The Morning News as "a less accessible location" in the library.

Adams responded by faxing Mayor Bob McCaslin with the demand that the book be removed from the library for good because it is "patently offensive and lacks any artistic, literary or scientific value." He also requested that Suter be fired and asked the city to pay him and his family $20,000 in damages because the library violated Arkansas obscenity law.

In an e-mail to McCaslin, Adams wrote, "My sons were greatly disturbed by viewing this material and this matter has caused many sleepless nights in our house."

Adams said that his younger son Kyle found the book while browsing the library's stacks for books about military academies. It's worth pointing out that The Whole Lesbian Sex Book, which is no longer in the public library's catalog, would probably be shelved in under the 613.9 section of the Dewey Decimal System. Books on military academies, (say, David Lipsky's Absolutely American: Four Years at West Point, which is in the Bentonville Public Library collection), are classified under 355.

When asked in an interview for the San Francisco Chronicle about Adams's contention that his sons were looking for military books, Newman told Violet Blue:

"Perhaps the book ended up in the military section because the boys hid it there. Or perhaps, having found the book in its proper section, the boys were reading it in the military section, where they had told their father they would be researching military academies. Someone catches them smack in the middle of the fistfucking chapter and they make up the story as an alibi."

The library's advisory board voted to remove the book from the stacks while, as Prudenti's article notes, "a suitable book on the same topic" is found to replace it. Said board member George Spence, "A more sensitive, more clinical approach to same material might be more appropriate for the library." Adams was invited to attend the board meeting on the book, but did not go.

"I'm not sure what Spence means by clinical. Some people say my book is pretty clinical, in that it gives basic health info, etc.," Newman said in the Chronicle interview. "But if by 'clinical' Spence means boringly technical, I can't see who is going to write it, let alone read it."

Suter said that if a more appropriate book is not found, The Whole Lesbian Sex Book will be returned to the stacks. Adams responded, "Any effort to reinstate the book will be met with legal action and protests from the Christian community."

The city's attorney, Camille Thompson, told Prudenti, "There is not a valid legal concern here" because the book is not pornographic. She added that Adam's demand for $20,000 "made me question his motivation."

Suter, as it turns out, resigned from the Library Director position, effective May 31. Both she and McCaslin said that her resignation had nothing to do with the flap over The Whole Lesbian Sex Book. Suter said that she wanted to spend more time at her art gallery.

Newman sees a silver lining to the controversy over her book: "If there was one teenaged lesbian or bisexual girl in America who didn't know there was a book about the sexual experiences she so desires, she knows now."