The phone call came into the library early Saturday morning. The man on the other end was clearly agitated.
“Do you guys have any Doctor Zeus books there at the library?”
“Yes, we do,” I said. “Is there a particular one you would like?”
“I want ‘em all to read ’em to my grandchildren before they go away.”
“The library is not removing books by Dr. Seuss. I assume you are referring to the recent announcement that the estate of Dr. Seuss—”
“They said he’s been cancelled. I want my grandkids to be able to read his books.”
“There are just six books—”
“They said it was all of ‘em, and that the books are going to get thrown away or burned.”
“Who said that?”
“They said it on the news, they’ve been saying it all week. Tucker Carlson said it. They said the Left is trying to cancel Zeus for no reason.”
“The estate of Dr. Seuss said it is not going to publish six of his books any longer, that doesn’t mean the books are going away. Would you like to request any of the books that they are not going to publish anymore?”
“I want to get The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham. Obama read that book and nobody said anything about it then.”
“Neither of those two books are among the ones that were named as containing offensive—”
He interrupted again. We went round and round like that. In the end, I asked him if he would like me to request the books in question for him to borrow. I explained that our library system only had five of the six but I would be glad to put those five on hold for him.
“You got rid of it already? See, that’s why I’m calling!”
“No,” I said, “The book that’s no longer in the system, The Cat’s Quizzer, wasn’t being checked out and, eventually, it was removed from the collection.”
“You are Nazi book burners, I tell ya!”
“I’m sorry you feel that way. Culling the collection is a natural and necessary part of our job.”
“Cancel culture is part of your job? Cancelling Doctor Zeus? C’mon!”
I asked if he had seen the books that the Seuss estate was no longer going to publish, or if he had seen the images they deemed offensive.
“No, they didn’t show them on TV,” the man said.
The books in question—And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, If I Ran the Zoo, McElligot’s Pool, Scrambled Eggs Super!, On Beyond Zebra and The Cat’s Quizzer—are not ones for which Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) is especially known. They each contain drawings that are racist and offensive. So offensive, in fact, that FOX News, which is trying mightily to present itself as the aggrieved opposition and featured stories about Dr. Seuss all last week, had the good sense to not actually show them on television.
Not that this matters a smidge, but the books the Seuss Foundation has ceased printing are not big sellers at bookstores and they aren’t popular at libraries, either. Of the six of them, the one with the most circulations at the library where I work, Mulberry Street (Seuss’s first published picture book) doesn’t have a quarter as many circulations as, say Fox in Sox, The Cat in the Hat, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! or Green Eggs and Ham. The fact is, Seuss did a lot to promote literacy using fun, engaging books with whimsical creations, as opposed to the bland reading fare that kids typically got in the 50s and 60s, such as Dick and Jane. But he isn’t the only one. And now there are countless books published that are fun and engaging and whimsical, and many (though not enough) feature characters that look like real people from many cultures rather than racist, stereotypical depictions. So, no, I don’t care much about the fate of these books.
After the interaction, the man’s phrase resounds in my head: “I want ‘em all to read ’em to my grandchildren before they go away.” To me that phrase–“before they go away”–sounds rather emblematic of the death throes of white supremacy.
As it turns out, the man hadn’t been in the library in a long time, and he’ll have to first get a library card before he can borrow any titles by Doctor “Zeus.”