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Another SacredBull piece from early 1997.

You Are What You Read?

I want to proclaim loudly, immediately, and for the public record, that my personal library contains several Dr. Seuss books, a well-thumbed set of Lord of the Rings, dozens of cookbooks, several English style manuals, four biographies of St. Bernadette and at least a couple of Bibles.

Now, before you decide that my personal library is about as interesting to you as my personal gall bladder, let me explain.

I am expecting to be arrested someday. Oh, I don't know for what. But I'm a political hellraiser, so they'll think of something. Maybe they'll say I stepped on some endangered species of microscopic rug-bug when I got out of bed one morning. Or maybe the folding stock I put on my .223 before the bad-gun ban will do me in. Or maybe that catnip my honey keeps in the kitchen for his kitty will be mysteriously transformed into a less politically correct herb in the chaos of a fedraid. Who knows?

But when they come for me, one thing you can be sure of: the newspaper accounts in the dirty aftermath of the raid will include a list of selected books taken from my shelves.

Have you noticed that? Every time somebody gets arrested for a particularly juicy crime these days, the cops trot out a list of books found on the miscreant's premises. These titles are designed to show what a Bad Person the reader is.

A favorite, of course, is The Turner Diaries. By all golly, when the cops find a copy of that one in your household, they must dance little jigs. Because of course, mere possession of TTD proves beyond a doubt that you are a hate-spewing white racist. And being a hate-spewing white racist proves beyond doubt that you are capable of -- and probably guilty of - every crime from spitting on the sidewalk to the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.

If they can't find The Turner Diaries all kinds of other books will fill the bill. The Anarchist's Cookbook is another fave. (Never mind that anyone who follows the recipes given there is likely to blow him or herself to bits before doing harm to anyone else.) But if you've been following this interesting trend of Guilt By Literature, you'll realize almost any book or magazine will do.

Hapless arrestees have been "accused" of possessing copies of Playboy and Hustler (Guilty Of Rape By Reading Habits), various speculative SF novels, war novels, military histories and books on pagan religions.

Recently, I read about two boys arrested for a multiple murder. Now, there is considerable evidence to conclude that these kids dunnit and deserve to be punished. But what did the local rag choose to mention in the opening of its front-page article on their arrest? The fact that one of the boys owned a Stephen King novel. Yes, a Stephen King novel.

Aha! Are the hairs on the back of your neck beginning to prickle as you contemplate what Guilt might be Lurking on your bookshelves?

So, for the record, I want to state right now that, if anyone is going to subject me to Trial By Bookshelf, I am guilty of...just about every darned thing you can imagine.

I confess, I _do_ have a copy of The Turner Diaries in my collection. I bought it while doing research on white racism, and for safety's sake, I even wrote on the cover something like, "This piece of trash is for research purposes only." If it ever appears coverless in a courtroom, you'll know I've been framed.

However, I also confess a sincere fascination for true crime books, which no doubt indicates I am a sociopath with a propensity for serial murder. No one, including me, has noticed this yet. But I have the books, so it must be true.

I not only own a number of books from the Loompanics Unlimited catalog ("We are the lunatic fringe of the libertarian movement."), but -- Oh Heavens! -- I wrote one of them!

I have shelves full of books on survivalism and preparedness. This, of course, proves that I am a right-wing fanatic planning to overthrow the government so I can revel in eating dried lentils for years after civilization collapses.

However, I also have, somewhere, some quotations from Chairman Mao and a few books by other left-wing revolutionaries, so this proves that I am a left-wing fanatic, planning to resurrect the corpse of Che Guevarra or whatever else it is lefties want to do these days.

But mostly, I just have books, books and books. And my honey, who reads as much as I do and never gives anything away, has even more books on everything from the Roman Empire to the obscurest computer stuff I can't even pronounce. Thousands of the things.

Why do I suspect this small fact will never be mentioned in those news stories following my (or our) arrest?

Instead, since we made the ultimate bibliophile's relationship commitment and Mingled Our Book Collection when we got together, my dear love will be dragged through the literary mud with me. You will learn of the two, or 10, or two dozen, of the most Guilt-Inducing titles we possess, and there won't even be a need to hold our trial after that.

So if you read about my arrest and the Scandalous Books I am Guilty Of Reading, think kindly of Dr. Suess, Alice in Wonderland and the brave little hobbits. Shake your head over my curiosity about odd individuals from Catholic saints to serial killers, and dispute my taste in novels, if you must.

But if it's really true that We Are What We Read, would somebody please tell me why, with all those cookbooks, I still can't boil pasta? And why, with all those books on grammar, I still can't figure out when to say "whom" instead of "who"?

And while you're contemplating the answer to that, maybe you should go have another look at your own book collection. It might be instructive to discover What Sort of Dangerous Person You Are before Janet Reno or the Washington Post does.

© 1997 by Claire Wolfe. This article may be reprinted for non-commercial purposes, as long as it is reprinted in full with no content changes whatsoever, and is accompanied by this credit line. The article may not be re-titled, edited or excerpted (beyond the limits of the fair use doctrine) without the written permission of the author. For-profit publications will be expected to pay a nominal reprint fee.

This piece originally appeared on the SacredBull political satire list.

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20 November, 1997