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Five books were removed from a local school district curriculum. Now, an Alaskan band is getting the novels into the hands of readers.

Photo of Portugal. The Man by Maclay Heriot.
Photo of Portugal. The Man by Maclay Heriot.(KTUU)
Published: Apr. 29, 2020 at 1:02 PM AKDT
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The long-standing popularity of five different novels has seen a resurgence after the Matanuska-Susitna Borough removed the books from its curriculum in a board vote late last week, with several groups - including a Grammy-winning Alaskan band - speaking out against the elimination and offering to put the books in the hands of students in the community.

"I kind of thought I would never have to passionately argue against the banning of books," said Portugal. The Man guitarist Eric Howk, "and against the restriction of art."

"Any book that's worth banning is worth reading," he said. "That's the Portugal. The Man stance behind all of it."

Portugal. The Man, known for both its catchy music and being vocal about its political beliefs, is offering to send copies of the five books to any locals who ask.

Howk and his bandmates now live outside of Alaska, currently scattered around the Pacific Northwest, but attended school in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

"What really resulted out of the reading of those books was conversation," Howk said. "That's the crucial point for all of it. Whether you want to call it banning books, restricting books from the curriculum - we call it banning books. Within a classroom, voices can and should be heard."

through the vote last week

:

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

, by Maya Angelou;

Catch-22

, by Joseph Heller;

The Things They Carried

, by Tim O'Brien;

The Great Gatsby

, by F. Scott Fitzgerald; and

Invisible Man

, by Ralph Ellison.

The 5-2 vote among the board removed the books from elective English courses within the borough. The novels are all

. For Angelou's classic, the challenge is reportedly due to "[s]exually explicit material, such as the sexual abuse the author suffered as a child, and its 'anti-white' messaging." Heller's war story is challenged for what the borough wrote is "a handful of racial slurs... typical 'military men' misogyny and racist attitudes of the time... scenes of violence both hand to hand and with guns, and violence against women."

Since the removal of the books, however, groups such as

and the

have popped up on Facebook, with incentives for readers who take on the five novels.

Along with those groups and much independent outcry spread across social media outlets, local businesses are also seeing the stories fly off their shelves: An Anchorage Barnes & Noble shop clerk said a teacher scooped up each and every one of the store's paperback copies of

The Great Gatsby

on Wednesday morning, while Fireside Books in Palmer has seen hundreds of comments about the books, including requests for purchase, pouring in.

"As soon as we get a case, they are already spoken for and out the door," said Mary Ann Cockle, owner of Fireside Books Alaska, adding that some are buying for themselves but others are buying the books as gifts. "We're just so pleased with the community support."

Cockle said her store is also offering several copies of the books for free to those in need.

To request a copy of any of the five books from Portugal. The Man, you can email sticksandstones@portugaltheman.com.

The school district declined a request for comment, pointing to the next Mat-Su Borough School Board meeting, which is scheduled for Wednesday, May 6.

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