Ashes to Ashes



Let’s be clear – I’m against it.  I have a degree in English, I teach English, I think reading (and writing about what you read) is one of the most important things in the world, and I’m against censorship and “banned book lists” and so forth.

That said, while preparing my extra bedroom for company, I found an old tattered paperback on the guest room bookshelf, and I burnt it.  I don’t remember ever reading the book – it looked like something I picked up at a garage sale or used book store thinking I’d read it some day and never did.  It’s a murder mystery by an author whose work I never got around to sampling – but whom I discovered just several weeks ago to have committed murder herself.  She was convicted of the crime, and served time as a juvenile offender.

It was not an accident.  It was a brutal killing that was carefully planned.  The victim was the author’s best friend’s mother, and the murderers’ diaries detailed their plans, as well as the anticipatory excitement they experienced.  It came to light during the investigation that the victim struggled, fought, and vomited as her head was being bashed in.  As a result, she was held down while the assault continued.  This means that this author either held the victim down while her accomplice completed the murder, or completed the murder while her accomplice held the victim down.  I was so disturbed by the accounts I read that I was physically ill.

Yes, the author served her time.  She was a teenager, and is now a middle-aged/elderly person.  It is possible she is deeply repentant – I hope so.  However, and judge me if you will, I’m not willing to have her work on my shelves.  I’m not even willing to pass it along to a thrift shop.  I took that book and burned it.  Much like her human murder victim, it refused go easily.  It took a few attempts.  But finally…ashes.

The same article that led me to this discovery led me to a search of Marion Zimmer Bradley, an author whose Darkover stories I devoured (I never cared for Mists of Avalon, in spite of the raves it received [and in spite of what my name might lead you to believe]). If you have a weak stomach, don’t look up the allegations made by the late MZB’s daughter about both her parents.

It has been many years since I had a Bradley book on my shelves, and I’m grateful for that, at least.  I’m ashamed of what my money helped enable, ill to think that while I was babysitting to earn money to buy her books, her daughter was enduring very real torture – both psychological and physical – terrified to speak out or even beg for help because she was sure no one would believe her – her parents were acclaimed authors, after all.

I continue to oppose censorship.  I allowed my children to read all manner of things that offended their fundamentalist father (and even made me uncomfortable, sometimes).  They are, I firmly believe, better people for it.

But if I find a stray Darkover book, I will burn that too.  I won’t even throw it away.  Someone might rescue it from the bin.


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