Banned Books Week is upon us! A note from Richard McKay

Banned Books Week is not marked with a dayglo highlighter on my desk calendar. I don’t have “can’t miss this one!” in block letters and red ink in the Sunday, September 27th, square, with an arrow drawn straight through to midnight on Saturday, October 3rd.  I will not practice any mortifications of the flesh besides those to which I am already accustomed.  I couldn’t keep the holiday with any conviction because there are books that I’d like to see banned.

While I won’t be throwing anything into a bonfire this year (they beat those urges out of you in library school), I’m not fooling myself that nonviolent book banning is anything but another form of censorship.  It comes with a good pedigree, though, and you do save money on lighter fluid.  Mark Twain, for instance, was an enthusiastic basher of Jane Austen’s novels:  “…I go so far as to say that any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen.  Even if it contains no other book.”  He’s just getting warmed up.  Here’s more.  Who knew that censorship could be this fun?


I asked librarians Larry Gainor and Lynda de los Santos for their ideas on books for which a ban might do a world of good. BBW-logo

I asked them to also consider books not in our collection, on the notion that by their exclusion they may already be victims of our, let’s say, unconscious a priori censorship.  I put out of bounds esoterica not likely to be familiar to a reasonably hip reader; large, slow targets like Mein Kampf (DD 247 H5 A322 1971) or Dress for Success (TT 618 M64 1978); and holy writ, adding that non-sacred devotional works are under no restriction, but should still be treated with whatever respect the author can claim with a straight face.

Since I was the one that mentioned non-sacred devotional lit I feel comfortable nominating the work popularly known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (not in the collection, and, by gum, it’s staying that way).  This catalog of sectarian ultra-violence in England has been putting knots in the stomachs of readers like me since the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.  One vignette of gruesome nastiness follows upon another without relief.  I’m sorry that it was an instant hit when first published in England in the late 1500s.  The book went through four editions while Mr. Foxe was still alive, and I don’t want to hear another word about merrie olde England.  The episodic narrative would make it a good bathroom book for people who file their teeth.

It’s Larry’s turn to tee off.  He’s set a high standard for himself, outlawing, in his words, “…any ‘mystery’ book that features cats, clergy, or recipes; any family saga; any book that claims it will enable you to lose weight, get rich, or achieve your full potential; any book with the words tumultuous, heart-warming, or quirky in its description.”

Larry starts with Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You To Know About (not in the collection), by Kevin Trudeau.  A quick Google search of his name showed him serving a ten-year sentence in a federal prison for reneging on court-imposed fines for fibbing in infomercials about the health claims made in his books.  You may or may not be delighted that slightly over half of some 2400 Amazon reviewers gave this big stinker five stars, many of them citing life-changing improvement after acting on some nugget in the book.  Fun fact: Wikipedia says Mr. Trudeau was voted Most Likely To Succeed by his high-school classmates.

Larry gravitated quickly to John Gray’s 1992 bestseller Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus: A Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting What You Want In Your Relationships (HQ 734 G727 1992).  It’s sold more than seven million copies, and one of them found its way onto our shelves.  Ah, think of it: Dr. Gray neither knows nor cares what a bottle of Armor All Extreme Tire Shine Spray costs, or even that one exists.

I was heartened to see that Larry included Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (PS 3535 A547 A87 1957) in his index of forbidden books.  I am not here to either talk you out of or ratify your opinion of it, and I know you’ve got one.  Let me just add that in my Googling of the title I found out that there’s a Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, published by Penn State.  If Ms. Rand has an academic journal devoted to her works and philosophy, what did Ronald Reagan get in honor of his 1981 memoir, Where’s the Rest of Me? (PN 2287 R25 A3 1981), a Blue Max?

Lynda calls Steinbeck’s novella The Red Pony (PS 3537 T3234 R4) to the dock, noting “Never give a horse-loving seventh grader this book to read; I was traumatized.”  I’ll add a mega-amen to that sentiment.  I remember, as a child, pestering my parents to take me to see the Disney film Old Yeller when it came out, several geological periods ago.  I was well into adulthood before I realized why they didn’t.  I never thanked them for this, and they’ve got an ex voto martini coming to them for their foresight.

If you never got around to reading William Golding’s 1954 novel Lord of the Flies  (PR 6013 O35 L6) in high school you might think before starting.  Lynda says she still hasn’t forgiven one of her high school English teachers for requiring it.  She managed to finish John Irving’s A Widow for One Year (not in the collection) before renouncing Mr. Irving and all his works, forever.  With this level of condemnation I was interested in seeing what the kidz at ‘Zon had to say about it, so I went straight to the one-star reviews.  Uh-oh.  In violation of the Amazon canon, the Widow panners were well-spoken and particular in their reasons for zapping it, citing unlikable, one-dimensional characters, among other violations of good taste.  My favorite:  “But you won’t walk away from this book empty-handed: you’ll get a wonderful recipe for stir-fry shrimp, John Irving’s work-out routine and a few squash-playing tips. I’ll be happy if I can get $2 for this thing at a yard sale.”

Lynda adds her name to the long list of sentient beings shunning the mega-successful Fifty Shades of Grey (not in the collection; don’t even).  You may have read on the restroom wall that its popularity has little to do with an engaging narrative arc, charming and believable characters, or any of a small number of literary graces that would keep a book on your kitchen table.  In sooth, its frank portrayal of grown-ups engaging in adolescent winky-dinks has accounted for the sale of over one hundred and twenty-five million copies.  If the earlier-mentioned Dr. Gray doesn’t know Armor All from Shinola, Fifty Shades’s author, one E. L. James, must have a team of accountants incapable of computing her net worth to the nearest hundred thousand British pounds without supernatural help.

Department of Antiquities:  Back when monkeys chewed tobacco the office area now known as the Veteran’s Center was the campus library; see the attachment.  The photographer was standing at the elevator doors, looking north.  Note the no smoking sign at the entrance, just one in a series of heroic self-denials we still ask of library patrons, except that the food restriction is now, like, unenforceable except in cases of the grossest indulgence.

Until next month, avoid bonfires; there are easier ways of keeping superfluous books off your shelves.