AUGUSTA — When her teenage son came home from school toting a book titled “Kafka on the Shore,” Amy Arata of New Gloucester decided she ought to give it a read.

What she found within the pages of the 2002 novel by Japanese author Haruki Murakami appalled her.

“It was very, very specific and graphic,” Arata said, and at one point made it seem as though a woman desired rape.

Arata, who was elected in 2018 as state representative for House District 65, is taking steps to try to make sure books she considers obscene don’t wind up in the hands of schoolchildren.

The Republican lawmaker introduced a bill that would revise a state law governing the dissemination of obscene material to minors to remove an exception for educational purposes that allows public schools to use obscene matter.

She has support for her bill from Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Benton, and Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake. Her measure will likely be considered by the Legislature’s Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety.

Arata said that college students and adults should have access to Murakami’s novel, but its “very vivid descriptions” of sexual scenes make it inappropriate for public school students, especially given the consequences that could follow from reading rape scenes that falsely portray the crime as potentially pleasurable.

The book she is targeting is widely considered a modern-day classic, included on The New York Times list of the 10 best books of 2005 for a translation by Philip Gabriel.

It brings readers into a world where, as one teacher put it, “cats talk, fish fall from the sky, and spirits slip out of their bodies to make love or commit murder.”

Author John Updike, one of America’s most famous novelists, called it a “real page-turner, as well as an insistently metaphysical mind-bender.”

But it has its critics as well.

The novel is banned for sale in Hong Kong, where it carries a “Class II: indecent” classification reserved for what authorities call obscene materials. What that means in practical terms is that the book can’t be distributed to anyone under the age of 18 and has to be sealed in a wrapper with printed warnings.

Maine law defines obscene materials as items that appeal “to the prurient interest” in the opinion of average people applying contemporary community standards “with respect to what is suitable material for minors, considered as a whole.”

Obscene material “lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value,” the law says, and “depicts or describes, in a patently offensive manner, ultimate sexual acts, excretory functions, masturbation or lewd exhibition of the genitals.”

The obscenity law doesn’t apply to noncommercial distribution or exhibition “for purely educational purposes by any library, art gallery, museum, public school, private school or institution of higher learning, nor to any commercial distribution or exhibition by any art gallery or museum.”

Arata’s bill would simply strip away the exception for a public school.

She said public schools shouldn’t be handing obscene material to students.

“It’s not about banning books,” she said. It’s about making sure that students are given age-appropriate materials they can learn from.

The obscenity law established “a really high bar” that doesn’t apply to much. She said she has no interest in pushing classics out of the classroom.

But, Arata said, she doesn’t want teenagers reading graphic descriptions of rape scenes that might give them a false idea of the horror involved in the crime.

She said the Murakami book’s lewdness is so extreme that “I don’t know how I’m going to testify on this book. I’m not going to get up there and read it.”

She said her proposal is “just a common-sense bill” to rein in the most extreme volumes.

Not everybody agrees with her, though.

A 2017 column by two students in The Clarion, the school paper for Grover Cleveland High School in Portland, Oregon, admitted the novel has graphic, troubling scenes that their teacher should have warned the class about.

But, they said, “when you read ‘Kafka on the Shore,’ it will become clear that this novel is more than its few graphic scenes.”

They said the volume “illustrates themes of destiny and family through displays of personal pleasure and violence.”

“None of these topics should be new to any high school student,” wrote Ariel Harmon and Brooklyn Pierce, who were juniors when they read the book.

“Similar scenes are common throughout books, shows, and movies that appeal to the demographic of high school students,” they said. “And seeing that many high schoolers are in tune with what is happening in the real world outside of the boundaries of Cleveland, the events that transpired in this novel are nothing we have not seen before.”

Arata said that when she read it, she found its obscenity outweighed any possible value for students who are still minors.

As a member of the School Administrative District 15 board of directors, she said, she spoke with the superintendent and a teacher about the assignment and the book was ultimately withdrawn from classroom use.

But, she said, it was just lucky that she happened to pick up the volume and read it.

It shouldn’t be so easy for something so offensive to wind up as a class assignment, she said. Changing the law is one way to tackle the problem, Arata said.

Before her bill can advance, it will be the subject of a public hearing, not yet scheduled, and would need to win a majority of both houses of the Legislature and Gov. Janet Mills.

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