Tag Archives: banned books week

Banned Books Week: The PC Brigade

I’m relaxing my view that books that we call ‘banned’ should legally be banned, partly because I’ve always thought this was a good story, and partly because the accused really did run into legal trouble because of a book he was reading. Also, the other posts were about how hardline conservatives banned books because of content that threatened their regime. Here, we have a story about a book that was banned because of liberal impulses. The effect was still the same, though, and the agency attempting to ban it was just as rigid and unbending as any religious government moral watchdog could be.

The story, linked below, is about a 54 year old janitor, a white male, at Notre Dame, who was also a communications major at the same school. On his break, he decided to read, and someone reported him for racial harassment, a charge the Dean  held to be valid. You see, the book he was reading had pictures of Klansmen in hoods flanking a burning cross that was planted on Notre Dame grounds. Now, at first glance, this indeed looks like an obvious case of someone perhaps trying to harass people, or maybe intimidate them, until you look at the man’s defense. The book itself, Notre Dame Vs The Clan, is about how Notre Dame, students and faculty, clashed with Klansmen in the 1920s. (An aside… As someone who grew up in the Midwest and now lives in the south, I can definitely affirm that the Klan, and Klan-like attitudes, are more prevalent in the alleged ‘free north’ than in the south, but that is a subject for another post.) Additionally, the alleged racial harasser had found the book in Notre Dame’s own library. And it wasn’t like he was going around telling people that he wished the Klan hadn’t lost. He was simply reading a university book about university history in a university break room. Yet, until FIRE (that wonderful organization that fights for free speech in educational institutions) came along, the administration refused to budge from their finding that, since he was reading a book about an abhorrent period of US History, he was guilty of racially harassing his colleagues. 

That line of thinking is what really bothers me. Our society depends on the free flow of information, as does the science of history. Indiana and Michigan and other Midwest states did indeed have a history with the KKK, and it’s important for 21st century students to know about this and study it. If people think that something never happened, they’ll be surprised when it happens again, rather than being prepared and doing what they can to prevent it. Blocking uncomfortable truths, whether to protect the majority or to protect a minority, is never the answer, and is its own form of discrimination. 

Further reading



Banned Books Week: The Satanic Bible

Today’s Banned Books post is going to be short, sweet, and to the point, since I have a few other things to put up in the course of the day, and I still have to finish a story for an end-of-month deadline. Researching today’s book also dragged up a lot of memories that I’d like to nail down to actual facts and share with you. But for now, we’re just going to talk about one book, Anton LaVey’s The Satanic Bible, and the country which saw fit to ban it as an affront to its morals. This particular country’s government was so concerned that its citizens might be led to do things that were immoral, rude, or anti-Christian, that they completely banned the book. I’m talking about South Africa. Apartheid South Africa, in particular. The book was banned from the early 70s to 1993.

Good thing they had every other problem settled, right?

As a side note, I’m most definitely not a Satanist (Jewish-Taoist more than anything else) but Satanism, at least Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan, does not equal Devil Worship. At its core, it’s worship and idealization of one’s self. The label definitely stirs up a visceral reaction among people who hear it, though.

Later, maybe we can talk about Satanic Panics… especially the conviction in the 1980s that every town hosted a Black Mass that kidnapped children from day cares and made them eat babies because a Judas Priest record told them to do it, and other such nonsense that people actually believed. I blame the extreme amounts of hairspray floating around.

Banned Books Week: Doctor Zhivago

I’ve written before about the banning of Doctor Zhivago but I thought it would be good to kick off Really Banned Books Week with this article, and another imperative to anyone who hasn’t read it yet. This truly is one of the greats of Russian literature. Boris Pasternak was a poet first, and the language of this novel, even in English, flows and resonates in a way few other novelists can manage. Also, I’ve always been a fan of being able to do things despite oppressors (whether in my country or others) desperately wanting us not to. It’s practice and preparation in case something really does get banned in this country.

Here is another article about how the CIA, working with the Samizdat (the Russian word for a unofficial publishing and distribution network… an early dark network, if you will) managed to get an important book critical of the Russian Revolution to Russians. And here is a link to its Goodreads page along with a few reviews (not by me… mine would be even more hagiographic than these) that discuss the book itself and not just its impact. Because really, that is still the best reason to read this. The story moved me to tears in places. (N.B.:  You may wish to find the original translation. I’ve not compared the two,  but Mr Pasternak’s widow, and many other reviewers, claim that the recent anniversary translation robbed the book of a lot of its power.)

Rating: 5/5. It does take a while to really get going, and if you’ve seen the movie, you’re going to be confronted with some of the changes they made right off the bat. Still, this is my favourite book about the Revolution, and one of the best written about that tumultuous period in our history.


Slack-Off Saturday: Banned Books Month

I’m spending this morning working on two stories, an old one that needs revision and a new ending, and a new one that I think might have started out as an homage to 1950s-era creature features before making a left turn somewhere in the Inland Empire and downhill to Innsmouth, perhaps. Both stories are frustrating me, but I feel pushed to finish them as well. Rarely has my Muse been so insistent that I finish something. Usually she figures that her job is to just tell me the stories; it’s up to me and the squad of Editorial Elves that live in the basement of my head to turn it into something people might want to read. This time, however, she is bound and determined to make sure I type “THE END” on these things, and in a good location, too… I’m not allowed to get away with just slapping an ending on after the main plot thread is resolved. In fact, that’s the problem she had with the story I’m revising, and I believe she is holding all of the rest of my ideas hostage until I finish it.

However, this isn’t fiction, so I can get away with typing it. This is yet another rant about Banned Books Week here in the US, which starts tomorrow. Or, as I’d like to call it, Spoiled Readers Equating Mild Inconvenience With Censorship and Fascism.

First of all, let me be clear that I think nearly any kind of censorship by any government is bad. Yes, I’m sure the contrarians among us can find edge cases where censorship is justified; works that specifically and purposesly incite violence against a person or group are one such case, stolen nude pictures of celebrities would be another. But by and large, governments have better things to do than block private consenting individuals from reading what they want to read. Parents and private companies censoring things? I don’t like it, but I also don’t think it’s the government’s responsibility to intrude, either. And regardless of who or what is doing the censorship, it would seem that unless your control is complete and absolute (and in the USA, and thanks to Internet disemination, TOR browsers, WayBack machines, and vast caches of deleted material, it rarely is) the only thing an act of censorship will do is drive up demand for whatever is considered naughty. I think I’ve read two or three Playboy magazines since turning 18, and yes, I mean I really did read them, unlike the way I, err, perused them when I was 12 or 13. And the first time I tracked down a supposedly dirty book, I was bored with the blandness of it. (Then again, I started reading Stephen King when I was almost 12, so by the time I was in my late teens, I’d pretty much read it all, from canine-induced castration to sewer orgies.)

I do like how Banned Books Week calls attention to books that school districts have seen fit to remove either from their libraries or their reading lists, since it provides a window into what kids are reading, what adults are writing for them, and what scares their parents and teachers. And, well, those of us who remember their childhood… actually remember it and haven’t just painted a pleasant mural and plastered over the bad things… when we were in Junior High and High School, we all knew at least something about how people looked, how things worked, what drugs were, what abuse was, and how sexual and personal politics and bullying worked. We also all knew that it was hard to talk about it. Finding out that the adults allegedly in charge not only didn’t want us talking about it, they didn’t want other adults talking to us about it, lest we get ‘ideas’ or some such waffling and weak excuse, just made it that much harder to acknowledge or escape a bad situation. Indeed, at least one person I know had no idea she was being abused until she had a grade-school sex education class, and I’d be very surprised if her story is unique.

However, I still draw the line at calling what we do in this country ‘banning books.’ The books are still available. No one is getting jailed or killed because he has a copy of The Catcher in the Rye or Deenie. Police aren’t entering homes looking for copies of Ulysses. For that matter, when the people behind the publication of Ulysses wanted to force a court case in order to challenge its ban, they had to point out the book to the customs officer and insist he confiscate it. Even in the early 1980s in my tiny one-square-mile-town of Vernon, Michigan, we were able to find books if we really wanted them. And now, with more libraries than McDonalds in the US, and with many diverse sources of Internet distribution, it’s silly to say that a book is ever ‘banned’ in the US. It’s akin to a five-year old scraping his knee in the driveway and then screaming that his leg was chopped off. And one further note to school administrators:  kids and teens know about the Internet. If there’s a library in their town, or if they have a friend with Internet access (or if they have it) they are most likely going to find whatever you ban. Sorry to have to break it to you this way. It’s hard to plug a hole in a chain link fence.

Do your part to fight the removal of books from school and public libraries. If you have children, talk to them about what they read. That’s what my parents did. They only once told me that I wasn’t ready to read something yet but they also took their time to explain why, and I took their word for it. (Yes, this was before the hormonal shitstorm that was my combined experience of incipient bipolar disorder and puberty hit; I was able to talk rationally once in a while.) With other books and shows, they would explain what they didn’t like about it, or what they did like. That’s the absolute least you can do for your children, really. The same directive goes for librarians and teachers and administrators. Don’t ban the books. If you think it’s a piece of sensationalist sexist racist trash, explain why you think that and let people decide for themselves. And please, please, PLEASE stop calling the mild inconvenience of people living in the age of greatest literacy, intelligence, and information distribution ‘banning,’ or ‘fascism.’ You do nothing but show your unawareness of what the rest of the world is up to when you do that.

For my part, I’ve decided how I’m going to spend the rest of Banned Books Week. Every day I’m going to highlight (and in at least two of the cases, review) a book that was really and truly banned… meaning, people went to jail or died for publishing, diseminating, or reading this book. This is my effort to show that we really and truly are spoiled here in the US when so many cheap or free books are to be had virtually anywhere. Also, I hope to point out, as citizens of the world, that there is still work for us to do when it comes to setting information free. Comments are of course more than welcome.

Have a great week!


The Book as Weapon: Доктор Живаго

Around the time that Banned Books Week rolls around, you might see me getting a little snippy about the whole thing, at least how it’s observed in the US. It’s not that I am in any way pro-censorship. (I am pro-find-out-what-the-hell-your-kids-are-reading-and-talk-to-them-about-it-if-you-don’t-like-it. My Mom and Dad both took the time to explain why they didn’t like certain things I read but they also did this really weird thing where they would tell me ‘why’ and respect my opinion, as long as I could articulate it beyond “You Suck and I Hate You.” So yeah, except when I was 13, they were able to talk to me about books.) I’ve lived and traveled in countries where books are, indeed, banned… meaning, if you’re caught with one, you would be arrested, jailed, and possibly killed. That’s what a banned book is, and trust me, I’ll be highlighting that kind of thing in September. Saying a kid has to go to a city library or request a book through interlibrary loan, and may sometimes still not be able to find the book. (I grew up in a one-mile-square town where the library was in roughly half of an old gas station… not a large one… so I understand how much of an inconvenience it can sometimes be even with a friendly and awesome librarian (hats off to you Mrs Goward and the other librarians at the Vernon Public Library… thanks for not thinking I was too horribly weird…) helping you get the books you want.) I don’t think book banning is the answer in just about any of the cases on the US list of books frequently challenged… but still, inconvenience does not equal banned. When Amazon.Com gets shut down by the government for shipping a certain book, then we can call it banned.

Anyway, all of that rant is just to preface this story about how the CIA secretly published Doctor Zhivago and shipped copies to the USSR, back when that book was banned in its home country. And during the time it was banned, the book became so big that it netted Boris Pasternak the Nobel Prize. If you haven’t read it, I’d suggest you do. It’s truly one of the good ones, and while the movie is a masterwork as well, it doesn’t come close to the majesty and awe of the novel.

And while you’re reading it, remember that it wasn’t banned because someone was upset at the existence of (*gasp!*) homosexuals, or because a teenage kid swore, something teenage kids of course never ever do in real life. It was banned because it was considered dangerous.

Doctor Zhivago and the Cold War