It’s weirdly fun, on the cusp of Banned Books Week, to look at the titles of books that have been banned: Gone with the Wind; To Kill a Mockingbird; Beloved; The Great Gatsby; The Catcher in the Rye; and, of course, Ulysses. And the bylines: The authors of the aforementioned, along with Voltaire and Defoe, Chaucer and Aristophanes, Rousseau and Paine, Pascal and Steinbeck and Hemingway and Faulkner and Twain.
Okay, “fun” may not be quite the right word (although Brave New World was banned as recently as 1980 for making “promiscuous” sex “look like fun”). But can’t you just see censorship committee members, one more sanctimonious than the next, poring over page after page to find a “filthy” word or an “indecent” scene? Oh, the outrage these men must suffer in their noble venture! The vicious arguments they must have over the subtle differences between “lewd” and “obscene”; between “filthy” and “indecent”! What a responsibility! And all to protect us from…..from what? Alice Walker’s The Color Purple was banned for its “troubling ideas about race relations, man’s relationship to God, African history and sexual relations,” all of which troubling ideas are the reasons she wrote it.
The first book I wrote was banned. Walmart took one look at The Erotic Silence of the American Wife (pictured above) and refused to carry it, calling it “a dirty book,” even though its spokesperson admitted that they hadn’t actually read it. The cover of the hardcover edition, a lovely black-and-white stock photograph of a woman’s bare back, is the reason it was deemed “dirty.” KMart followed suit. I was stunned—and angry.
Rebecca West called banning books “a practice as indefensible as infanticide.” As a new breed of the Super Righteous begins an insidious, rabid new form of censorship—actually attempting to alter famous authors’ own words and to insert the amended ones into books retroactively–the idea of murder does cross one’s mind. Not of babies, though. Of censors.