Idol Chatter

51vFColY3QL._SL500_AA240_.jpgDavid Michael Slater’s first book, “Cheese Louise,” was about a piece of Swiss cheese who doesn’t like her holes. You’d think the cheese lobby would get up in arms about that calumny, but no, it wasn’t until the Oregon public-school teacher had published a young adult novel that questions the factuality of the Bible that people got upset.
Who’d a thunk? Certainly not the author, who wrote on his blog recently, “I certainly never dreamed of getting my books noticed because people want to burn them.”

As Jana Reiss reports on Publisher’s Weekly, Slater is getting heat for his series of young adult novels, Sacred Books, which Portland Monthly has summed up thusly: “Original touches lie not in Slater s plotline (heroes triumph, lessons are learned, and everyone makes it home before suppertime), but in his flawed and realistic protagonists: a pants-wetting, dyslexic boy and his shy, bookwormish sister.”
Cool, but in the series’ second installment, “The Book of Knowledge,” the pair stumble on “clues to the original Garden of Eden and discover that the record of primordial events recorded in Genesis may not tell the whole story,” according to Reiss. In response, Christians have asked that his books be banned from libraries.
Slater professes nothing but surprise. “I didn’t intend to court controversy, but I did intend to tackle subjects that would make a reader think,” he told The Oregonian newspaper.
I have no beef with what I’ve read about Slater’s biblical analysis–even my conservative Catholic high school taught us that Genesis was didactic fiction. And of course he should be able to publish what he likes.
I have a harder time taking Slater at his word. He also told The Oregonian that he got the idea for the Sacred Books from Harry Potter and Philip Pullman’s “The Golden Compass,” both of which drew highly visible fire from Christian commentators. As a children’s author–he followed “Cheese Louise” with 15 picture books for children–married to a librarian, he must have realized he’d tick off some portion of the population.
The only evidence to convince me otherwise is Slater’s palpable, and seemingly unexpected, glee about the sales bump he’s getting from the controversy. “It has been surprisingly painless,” he writes, again on his blog, “being called an evil Satanist who uses his all-powerful position as a public school teacher to brainwash students.”
If Slater is as shocked–shocked!–as he says he is, I’m not worried that, as he suggests, that the book burners are going to outlaw the entire dictionary. Rather, I’m stunned at how blind the combatants in the culture war have become to each other. Portland, an island of progressive urbanity, is surrounded by some of the most conservative Christian country near the American coastline. But intellectually, Slater and his neighbors–possibly even some of his students–might as well occupy different planets.

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