Monday, September 20, 2010

The Dirty Dozen: Twelve Books Guaranteed To Turn (Almost) Anyone Into A Censor

By Nancy Mattoon.

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller.
One of the "Usual Suspects,"
On The London Libraries Banned Book List.

The American Library Association's Banned Books Week, annually held in the United States during the final week of September, has a new ally this year. Public Libraries in the city of London have produced a traveling exhibit of 50 books which are "Mad, Bad, and Dangerous To Read." Falling into four categories, the books are listed, and sometimes cross listed, as "Corrosive To Young Minds," "Politically Incendiary," "Downright Sexy," and "Just Wrong." All have been challenged at, or removed from, public or school libraries in at least one country.

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale,
Another of The London Library's Selections.

For British journalist Boyd Tonkin, literary editor of The Independent, the London list plays it way too safe. It contains, for the most part, what could be called the usual suspects of banned book lists, such as Huckleberry Finn, To Kill A Mockingbird, Brave New World, 1984, and Catch-22. According to Tonkin, "this selection errs too much on the cosy side," and will "reinforce a glib sense of superiority towards redneck Bible-bashers, small-town prudes and Stalinist apparatchiks." He responds by creating his own list of 10 additional titles, which "might stir a tougher discussion of the costs, and benefits, of truly free expression."

American Psycho By Bret Easton Ellis.
Also Found On The London Library List.

Tonkin's thought provoking list is reprinted below, with annotations and some historical context added by Booktryst. Two titles which immediately came to mind as possible additions are also included here. Tonkin claims that "almost everyone – secular or religious, radical or conservative – believes in censorship at least some of the time." He maintains that while none of the titles should be banned, not all should be included in the collections of public libraries. (For the record, this writer has worked in public libraries that have stocked multiple copies of eight out of the twelve titles.)

1. The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones. This novel's original publisher's blurb read: "Married at nine to the much-older Muhammad, Aisha uses her wits, her courage, and her sword to defend her first-wife status even as Muhammad marries again and again, taking 12 wives and concubines in all." Random House dropped plans to publish the book in the United States, in part because a respected professor of Middle Eastern Studies, given an advance copy for review, informed the publisher it was a "very ugly, stupid piece of work," bound to cause a Satanic Verses style backlash, including possible violence. The home of its original UK publisher, Martin Rynja of Gibson Square Books, was firebombed shortly after plans to market the title there became public. It was ultimately published in late 2008 by the American firm, Beaufort Books.

2. Lord Horror by David Britton. In 1990 this graphic novel became the last book to date to be officially banned in the United Kingdom. An exploration of what might have been if Hitler had won World War II, it mixes anti-Semitism, sado-masochistic pornography, and the holocaust in a cocktail so incendiary author David Britton was sentenced to four months in prison for obscenity.

3. Messages To The World by Osama bin Laden. Brings together the al-Qa'eda leader's public statements from December 1994 through September 2004. On the dust jacket Michael Scheuer, a former senior CIA analyst, maintains that: "Bin Laden has been precise in telling America the reasons he is waging war on us. None of the reasons has anything to do with our freedom, liberty and democracy but everything to do with US policies and actions in the Muslim world."

4. Did Six Million Really Die? by Richard E. Howard. A holocaust denial manual written by a British National Front Neo-Nazi. The Supreme Court of Canada found that the book "misrepresented the work of historians, misquoted witnesses, fabricated evidence, and cited non-existent authorities." In the book, Howard (pen name of Richard Verrall) claimed that the Nazi Holocaust was a fabrication by the Allies to justify (among other things) the dropping of the atomic bomb, Stalin's gulags, the firebombing of Dresden, the creation of the state of Israel, and Israeli war crimes against Palestinians.

5. The Global Bell Curve by Richard Lynn. A treatise on the genetic roots of intelligence, which establishes an I.Q. hierarchy based on race. Lynn is a Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Ulster, who claims that the average I.Q. scores, ranging from highest to lowest, of various groups are as follows: East Asians (105), Caucasians (99), Inuits (91), Southeast Asians and Amerindians (87), Pacific Islanders (85), Middle Easterners (84), East and West Africans (67), Australian Aborigines (62), and Bushmen and Pygmies (54).

6. 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade. This 1785 landmark of pornography remained unpublished until the 20th century. Four wealthy male libertines set out to experience the ultimate orgy with 46 unwilling victims, while all are locked away in a secluded palace. Four brothel keepers record their adventures in ever escalating levels of debauchery, abuse, torture, and slaughter.

7. The Story of O by Pauline Reage. A female take on de Sade, written under a pen name by respected French journalist and translator Anne Desclos, in which extreme masochism provides the ultimate in sexual passion and freedom for a willing slave. Parisian photographer "O" finds her bliss by being blindfolded, chained, whipped, branded, and pierced, all while being constantly available for oral, vaginal, and anal intercourse to a group of anonymous male partners.

8. The End of Alice by A.N. Homes. Jim Harding, of Britain's National Society For The Prevention of Cruelty To Children called Amy Homes's novel narrated by an imprisoned pedophile and child killer "the most vile and perverted novel I've ever read." It details the correspondence between the middle-aged prisoner and an anonymous 19-year-old girl, who seeks his advice on how to seduce and entrap a 12-year-old neighbor.

9. Milestones by Sayed Qutb. A manifesto for Islamic extremists, whose author was ultimately hanged by the Egyptian government in 1966 for "subversion." It advocates the creation of a perfect Islamic state and culture by any means necessary, including violence. Here the ultimate freedom is to be found in the total submission of all men and women to Allah.

10. Mein Kampf by Adolph Hilter. Boyd Tonkin included this "usual suspect" on his list due to continuing controversies about the disposition of its royalties. In the UK they were funnelled to an unnamed charity, revealed in 2001 to be the German Welfare Council. Once named, the charity returned the royalties to publisher Random House, and refused to continue the arrangement. Royalties are now given to various other unnamed charities, according to Random House. All major UK Jewish charities have publicly refused to benefit from what are viewed as tainted profits. The book is now published by a subsidiary of a German company, Bertelsmann, although its publication is still forbidden in Germany. The Federal State of Bavaria, controls all rights to the book except the English-language editions, and surviving distant relations of Hitler have consistently refused any and all revenues it generates.

And Booktryst's two additions to round out the list:

10. Hitman: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors by Rex Feral. Published in 1983 by Paladin press, this how-to manual on discovering the exciting career of a killer for hire was ruled in 1997 to be "not protected by the free speech/free press clause of the First Amendment." This left the publisher officially liable for aiding and abetting a triple murder inspired by its contents. Paladin Press's insurance company arranged a multi-million dollar out-of-court settlement with the murder victim's families, and further agreed to destroy the remaining copies of the book in their possession, and to surrender any rights to reprint or reproduce the work. It remains available online, and through the sale of used copies by individual sellers. "Rex Feral" was allegedly the pseudonym of a Florida housewife, who began the book as a crime novel.

12. The Turner Diaries by Andrew Macdonald. Written under a pseudonym by white supremacist William Luther Pierce, this novel depicts a violent second American Revolution which includes abolishing the federal government, unleashing nuclear war, and exterminating all Americans who are Jewish and/or non-white. It has been called "the bible of the racist right," and has been named as the inspiration for dozens of real-life crimes, most notably the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people.

Tonkin's list, along with the two additions, contains something to offend even the most liberal sensibilities. Which of these titles do you believe deserve shelf space in public libraries, particularly in these days of slashed book budgets? Can you think of other titles which should be added to "The Dirty Dozen?"



  1. Thanks for this. The alternative list passed me by. When I posted about the Banned Books I was taken to task by an American born reader - very nicely - because I expressed surprise that Wizard of Oz was on the UK library list as being too socialist for some US states...she maintains (with approval) that it is an out and out socialist tract.
    And when we think about book banning we should never forget the late great Irish writer John McGahern who lost his job as a teacher for daring to write about priests and child sexual abuse

    1. The Wiz of Oz was indeed a socialist fable. Several articles have been written about the symbiolism-Dorothy is Middle America, Scarecrow is Agriculture, Wicked Witch of the East is Eastern Banking interests; Tinman = Industrial labor, the powerless Wizard who uses fraud to maintain his position irepresents Politician, etc. It was caught up in the gold vs silver standard issue for backing US Currency-should the US use Gold (favored by the wealthy) or silver (more friendly to the working classes)-get it: "OZ" (abbreviation for ounce) and the "emerald" (Green= money) city. In the book Dorothy's shoes were silver-not ruby (the silver standard would carry the US "home" to its ideals of equality). Interestingly enough Baum's great grandson is a Conservative douchbag who is trying to make a buck peddling "new" stories he has written of Oz-I ran into him signing books at the MGM Grand in Vegas once. I mentioned the socialist metaphor thing and he went absolutely ballistic-he's a Teabagger and Limbaugh fan. He assumed I agreed with him and said some pretty awful stuff

  2. A few of the 10 I have read-shocking really to think that books are the problem in this day and age-any of it is on the net or less cyber places.American Psycho and O -honestly I got solid bored.

  3. There are actually whole books on this subject. Our public library has these but there are undoubtedly others:
    Karolides, Nicholas J, Margaret Bald, Dawn B. Sova, and Nicholas J. Karolides. 120 Banned Books: Censorship Histories of World Literature. New York: Checkmark Books/Facts On File, 2005. Print.
    Foerstel, Herbert N. Banned in the U.s.a: A Reference Guide to Book Censorship in Schools and Public Libraries. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1994. Print.

  4. Of the few I know, I could never read 120 Days of Sodom or Story of O on account of the falling asleep problem. Though neither could be as boring as Henry Miller or Anais Nin. I love American Psycho, have read it several times, and it always makes me laugh. Best novel I know about the Reagan years. But do books ever make people do things? Books are books. Those who believe in their magical properties, usually because they never read them are always trying to ban something. If we ban Huck Finn (a lousy piece of work in my opinion but not malicious just full of itself) why don't we ban the truly nasty Gone With the Wind?

    I don't agree about Holocaust deniers being banned because I don't think anyone reads them except those who already hold the same views. We most often ban books to make a statement about ourselves: I believe in a world in which such thought is not allowed and so I ban this book to make clear my purity of thought. I'd like to see any random kid today read his or her way through Mein Kampf.

  5. Excellent writing as always, Ms. Mattoon!
    - Sybil

  6. Personally, I believe banning a book does exactly the opposite of its intent: it increases readership for the "forbidden" volume.

  7. How about books by Dr. David Duke such as "My Awakening"?

    Or the new "Racism Schmacism" by James Edwards?

    Any book the press mentions "was found" during an FBI raid should be included as books "They" don't want you to ever get a chance to read. Hitman, Mein Kampf and the Turner Diaries are good examples, rightly included.

    My huge public library has one copy of Mein Kampf, but the book has a lengthy introduction written by a Jewish spindoctor. That is censorship, too. What other books on the list have introductions written by the author's enemies?

  8. In Germany, people have been arrested for WHISTLING The Horst Vessel Song-- my bid for the most ludicrous example of censorship. I am Jewish, and certainly no Nazi sympathizer, but I have just never been able to see how a melody can be so dangerous. My (US) high school "fight song" was always sung to the tune of "Deutshland uber alles", but to my knowledge, that never caused any of us to want to conquer the world!

  9. If "Hitman" was determined not to be protected by the First Amendment where does that leave "The Anarchist's Cookbook"?

  10. Working at a large public library... where the same people who proudly put up lists of things someone has unsuccessfully challenged and call them "banned books" see no problem with rejecting free books that espouse positions with which they're uncomfortable ("that's not in our collections goals")... I am pleased that *someone* is pointing out that it's not just repressed/repressive right-wingers that are a bit uncomfortable with putting some books out there!

    (For a slightly related anecdote: One of my coworkers wanted to raise a big public stink because a parent pointed out that hentai didn't really belong in the same under-12 section as the Calvin & Hobbs books, and - gasp! - the library agreed and moved it to the general graphic novels section. That's censorship, apparently, not just accurate cataloging.)

  11. I'm not really for any kind of book banning- even when books make me uncomfortable- after all, I can just choose not to read them.
    But I would think that Did 6 Million Really Die? would be a book that we should definitely question publishing, not for its obviously objectionable subject matter, but because it's been proven (apparently, according to this article) to have misquoted and misused, and sometimes fabricated evidence. If we remember James Frey's "memoir" that turned out not to be true, you'd think that publishing fabrications under "non-fiction" would be something that publishing houses would be wary of today.
    I'm not even sure this book (pamphlet?) is even still in print, though. I've never seen a copy of it myself- not that I've been everywhere.

  12. I think it is far more dangerous to squelch the opinions and thoughts of people like Hitler or the white supremacists. To do so is to deny what has happened, and what we as humans are capable of doing to eachother. To hide our mistakes is to almost readily assure that they will be repeated without irony.

  13. There is no written text that would turn me into a censor for the masses. People should be allowed to chose what they want to read. Censorship is wrong, no matter what the subject.


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