In 1944, when I was a 16-year-old high school student in Missouri who had writing ambitions, I went to the library to check out a book, “Ten Days That Shook the World.” My writing coach said it was well-written. (It’s still on some top 10 best-written lists.) Its American author John Reed had gone to Russia in 1917 to cover the revolution.
It was in the card file but not on the shelf, so I asked at the desk if I could reserve it — get a call when it was returned so I could come check it out.
“What do you want with it?” the lady at the desk asked.
“I want to read it,” I said. (What else? Swat flies with it?)
Then the longtime library director asked me the same question, and I gave her the same answer. She said it wasn’t on the “public” book shelves. They’d stored it away, but after some hemming and hawing, she gave me the OK.
Interesting. Why did I need personal permission to read something? My assumption has always been that she wanted to protect young, little me from turning communist.
And that makes me wonder if she had ever read the book. To anyone who grows up in a democracy, that book is a “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie. Reed narrates how revolutionary leaders were knifing each other figuratively, and their cohorts on the streets were doing it literally. Peasants who dared to protest their own hunger and suffering were mowed down by soldiers. When it came to caring about the Russian people, the revolutionaries were no better than Czar Nicholas’ court. Communist Lenin conspired against and annihilated democratic Kerensky; Trotsky had to flee to Mexico to save his life, which didn’t work, because a secret agent sneaked into Mexico and killed him. Meanwhile, lurking somewhere in the background was a violent college student who had just changed his name to Josef Stalin.