Advice for Owners of Vacation Rental Properties: Maybe Don’t Have Horribly Offensive Books On Your Shelves
Posted on January 14, 2013
The five of us–my mom, my sisters, my sister-in-law, and me–drove to Brown County, Indiana, where we rented an adorable cabin on a little lake. When we pulled up to the cabin in the complete darkness of night, we were mildly unsettled by the fact that it looked quite murder-y, but once we got inside, we were set at ease by the quaint decor and the comfy beds and the plethora of quilts and blankets.
The next morning, when the sun came up and we could see our surroundings, we were amazed by the beautiful setting–the water, the woods, the sky, the grass. We spent the weekend shopping in Nashville, Indiana, cooking meals together, reading, grading (okay, I was the only one grading), and even rowing out onto the lake in the rowboat without any major catastrophic rowboat accidents.
Near the end of the weekend, as we were packing and cleaning the cabin, I took a closer look at the bookshelves. Whenever I stay in a place like this, I like to try to figure out the personalities of the people who own it. This place made it pretty easy. It was clear from the collection of books that this was a place where the owners love and want to learn more about God.
There were numerous literary Christian classics on the shelves–CS Lewis and GK Chesterton and other authors I’ve read or quickly recognize. Many of the books were older, published in the 70s and 80s, and so it felt a little bit like I was going back in time to my childhood and looking at the books in our church library.
But then I saw this:
AIDS: The Silent Killer by Don Boys.
Published in 1987, the book is one of the most offensive documents of homophobia I’ve ever seen firsthand. The author suggests kicking anyone with HIV or AIDS out of public schools, whether they are students or teachers or anything else. He says that you can get AIDS from someone sneezing or coughing near you, or perhaps using the same salad bar utensils as you did. While some of this can be dismissed as hysteria based on a lack of information, much of it is purposefully ignorant or misleading. Boys says things like one of the main goals of the adult gay man is to molest young children. He spends so much time talking about the sex practices of gay men that you wonder why on earth he doesn’t just try it for himself if he’s so interested in it.
I didn’t read much of the book. It was too hateful. I can’t give you very many specifics of what made it terrible because I didn’t want to remember the awful things that the author said about people he clearly despises.
Upon telling my friends about it online, some suggested that I steal it or burn it. Others said to “accidentally” throw it in the lake or into the woods. Part of me wanted to keep it so that I could have this documentation of how awful the religious right spoke about gays in the late 80s, as if they were actually trying to destroy the world rather than a community reeling from a disease that was heartbreaking and terrifying.
In some ways, I wanted to take my friends’ advice because I don’t think anyone should be exposed to that kind of hatred. BUT I’m still pretty convinced that stealing is wrong, and so I left the book on the shelves where I found it.
However, I also slipped a handwritten note into the cabin’s guest book. I didn’t write it in the guest book, because I want them to have the option of removing the note. I simply wrote to the owners of the house, explaining that we had had such a lovely time in their home, but we hoped they would consider removing AIDS: The Silent Killer from their collection. I explained that it was hurtful to see people I love and care about described as filthy, diseased monsters who were waiting to infect children with AIDS at the first chance they got.
My letter was careful, non-emotional, and calm.
I hope they consider removing the book. Perhaps it can go back to wherever it is they live full time.
In the meantime, if you have a vacation property, maybe it would be best to make sure that the things that are there aren’t insulting or hurtful to the people you are welcoming into your home.
What would you have done if you were me? Would you have taken the book so that no one else had to see it? Would you have left a more strongly worded note or contacted the rental property managers about the issue? I’m not entirely sure I went about this the right away.