Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Book Vandals and the Dust Jackets of Joe Orton

Maury County, TN Library Director Elizabeth Potts shows one of several books
which have had “dirty” words marked through. Others have editorial comments added.

Library books attacked by censors and vandals have recently been in the news. This is not strictly news; library patrons with blue pens and scissors have been a bane of librarians for centuries.

Neatnik Censor Attacks Books Neatly

According to the Columbia, Tennessee Daily Herald, someone has been crossing out dirty words in books. Employees at the Maury County (TN) Library are not amused.

“It bothers me because nobody is holding a gun to their head making them read these books,” said Elizabeth Potts, director of the county library. “If they don’t like them, they should just return them.”

Curiously, the mark-outs are not the traditional scrawled scratch-throughs; thankfully, the censor was a neat-freak.

Books? Books? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Books!

How ‘bout that trio of thirteen and fourteen year olds in Brookfield, Mass. under investigation for spitting - spitting! - into library books (and engaging in curious acts with stuffed animals)?

The intelligence level of this unholy triad of adolescent idiots can be measured by the fact that they video'd themselves and posted the results - six videos! - on YouTube. Saliva in the Stacks/Hockin' Loogies In the Library - The Series has, fortunately, been removed from the website. Crude. Artless. Unimaginative. Next stop: America's Funniest Philistine Home Videos.

This is a far cry from The Wicked Cabin of Book Defacement, a section of Abraxa’s Garden of Sadistic Delights, dedicated to defacing the Bible:

“Defacing the Bible and other types of 'holy writ' now comes to be a fond past-time of mine. I like to fill books whose laws and teachings sought to repress my sexual fantasies with images that, instead, express them.”

(Imagery NSFW).

"Libraries might as well not exist; they’ve got endless shelves for rubbish and hardly any space for good books." Joe Orton, 1967

None of these acts compare, however, with the guerilla warfare book art created by British playwright Joe Orton and his mentor, partner, and eventual murderer, Kenneth Halliwell.

“Orton and Halliwell first came to the public attention not as writers but through an elaborate and extended prank played out at their local library, altering book covers and adding new blurbs to dust jackets. Incensed at the poor choice of books at Essex Road, their local library, they began stealing books. These were smuggled out, dust jackets altered, new blurbs written on inside flaps and then surreptitiously returned.

“They had been suspected for some time and extra staff had been drafted to catch the culprits, but with no success. They were eventually caught by the careful detective work of Sydney Porrett, a senior clerk with Islington Council. A letter was sent to Halliwell asking him to remove an illegally parked car. Their typed reply matched typeface irregularities in the defaced books and the men were caught.

“While never openly admitting the reasons for the prank, these acts of guerrilla artwork were an early indication of Orton’s desire to shock and provoke. His targets were the genteel middle classes, authority and defenders of ‘morality’, against whom much of Orton’s later written work would rail against.”

If you feel a compulsion to mess up library books, stifle it. But if you must, kindly do it with style.

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