Taking a Look at the Banning of Books

Angie Thomas with her compelling novel. (Teen Vogue photo.)

When a Tennessee school district last month removed from its curriculum Art Spiegelman’s Holocaust graphic novel Maus, book banning was once again in the news.

I, like most avid readers, oppose book banning. (No surprise there.) If you don’t like a book, don’t read it. Nothing would make me read, say, an Ayn Rand novel, but others are welcome to do so. Some will even survive the experience. 🙂

Then there’s the matter of book banning often making the banned book more popular — as exemplified by Maus climbing current best-seller lists despite it dating back to 1980 (when it started to be serialized). It’s not a banner day for a book banner when there’s a sales spike caused by curiosity and/or people wanting to push back against narrow-mindedness.

Of course, the vast majority of book banning is perpetrated by people and groups on the right. Many conservatives don’t like books that feature anti-racist elements, sexual candor, LGBTQ themes, criticism of negative aspects of organized religion, “bad” language, anti-war sentiment, the depiction of violence that’s unfortunately so prevalent in real life, etc.

But liberals are occasionally in the book-banning camp as well, with one example being past efforts against Adventures of Huckleberry Finn spurred by discomfort with its many uses of the “n-word.” I hate that facet of Mark Twain’s iconic novel, too, even as the issue is complicated by knowing that the book showed “of their time” attitudes and that Twain was mostly anti-racist in Huckleberry Finn as well as in his personal views.

Why did Tennessee’s McMinn County school board ban Maus? Reportedly because the graphic novel contains some swear words, nudity, and suicide. Disturbing to some, sure, but, as Art Spiegelman has noted, the Holocaust was disturbing. Way, way beyond disturbing. If anything, Spiegelman often underplayed things in Maus, from my memory of reading it many years ago. I much more recently read Herman Wouk’s superb War and Remembrance, and the explicit concentration camp and gas chamber scenes in that novel will haunt me for the rest of my life.

The Nazis, of course, banned various books and burned enough copies of them to make the doings in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 look like a picnic. Among the Third Reich’s targets were All Quiet on the Western Front and other writings by German author Erich Maria Remarque, who was disdained by the Nazis for his admirable anti-fascist and anti-war views. Remarque had to flee Germany, and lived the rest of his life elsewhere.

Many other excellent novels have been banned anywhere from once to often. In some cases, banning happened to books that were sexually frank at a time when that was especially frowned upon — with D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers (1913) and Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928) two prime examples. LGBTQ-themed novels, including James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room (1956) and Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle (1973), have also been “cancel-cultured.”

Race can of course be a very fraught topic, as we’ve seen recently with conservatives pushing for students to be taught only history and current events that sanitize America’s virulent racism. One novel banned periodically since its 2017 publication is Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give because of its uncompromising depiction of racism and spotlight on an unjustified shooting of a young Black man by a white police officer. It’s a compelling book, and one really relates to its teen girl protagonist who witnesses the murder by cop.

Even the modern classic To Kill a Mockingbird has seen some challenges from people on the right who don’t like its lens on American racism and also (less frequently) from people on the left who don’t like the idea of a “white savior” (Atticus Finch) being the star of Harper Lee’s 1960 novel. Well, maybe the co-star with his daughter Scout.

The Handmaid’s Tale has also had bouts with banning. Not a shock given that Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel depicts an nth-degree level of patriarchy and oppression of woman. Plus it’s clear that the author’s target is at least partly America’s far-right Christian evangelicals, who like to think they’re ultra-moral but are anything but.

Surprisingly, there’s also been some banning of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books because of their depiction of magic. Gee, as if young readers would take all that witchcraft literally rather than literature-ly.

I’ve read every novel I mentioned in this post, and they were all well worth the time. I learned a lot, I felt rage for and sympathy with victims of social injustice, and I was entertained. What a loss to be prevented from reading such works — although determined people can usually get their hands on banned books, whether in print or digital format.

Thoughts on this topic? Some of your favorite novels that have been banned?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com every Thursday. The latest piece — about masks in schools and more — is here.

150 thoughts on “Taking a Look at the Banning of Books

  1. Banning equals to censorship… I’m totally against censoring art or books.In the East it’s the government which becomes the moral custodian and takes it upon itself to ban books, movies. Totalitarian regimes have banned books, threatened writers to name few, Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasreen.
    In the west I guess some right-wingers have taken it upon self to ban books to keep children in oblivion. I don’t know what will it yield. It’s also an extension of cancel culture or a counter reaction??
    I remember India was the first to ban “ Satanic Verses” even before Iran…students smuggled books ( including me) from places where such banned books were available. Somehow such notoriety turned even average books into cults, case in point; “The Satanic Verses”
    How about Lawrence’s “ Lady Chatterley’s Lover” which was banned in US and Canada some 100 years ago for being too explicit…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Tanya, for the strong and wide-ranging comment!

      I agree that book banning is essentially censorship, and totalitarian regimes and U.S. right-wingers are among those often very willing to do it. The less-educated the populace (including young people), the more those “leaders” like it. 😦

      I didn’t know “The Satanic Verses” was banned in India first! And, yes, it was not a great book, but the threat to Salman Rushdie helped turn it into a bestseller.

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  2. Dave, again on recalling and banning TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD !
    Why is it because they had N words in them?
    That is one of the best books that I have read as you have too .
    Here Gregory Peck was Atticus and Robert Duvall was Boo Radley ( autistic?) , who saves Jem and Scout time after time ,

    Then as we have discussed many times after decades when Harper Lee was in her late ago her lawyer convinced he to publish ” Go Set a Watchman”

    Wish I had never have read the book which was Lee`s first book but never published. The book made Atticus a racist.

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      • ” But some, including Lee (at least in private), criticized his willingness to alter facts and situations to fit his narrative. She would later describe Capote in a letter to a friend, noting, “I don’t know if you understood this about him, but his compulsive lying was like this: if you said, ‘Did you know JFK was shot?’ He’d easily answer, ‘Yes, I was driving the car he was riding in.’” “

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  3. THOUGHTS ON TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

    The book was edited, spectacularly well, by Tay Hohoff, if the intent of author and publisher was the production and sales of a best-seller— which I think it was. After all, that’s more or less the intent of every bigtime publisher (and most career-minded writers) when they print a book.

    In the process, as can be seen in the early draft aka Go Set A Watchman, more than little reader-pleasing fiction was stirred in, much of it involving that ‘white savior’ motif. And more than a little of Lee’s character model’s true opinions and doings were edited out.

    Reminds me of something I read about dreams long ago— maybe out of Freud, maybe not. Theory was: you can only dream up to the limit of what you can stand to face, even in disguised form. In the 1960’s, when civil rights was on the march nationwide, the white book-buying public needed something by which they might compliment themselves for having read— about a person they imagine embodies the best impulses of people like themselves, were they to find themselves not in the comfort of their easy chairs up North, but rather, in such extreme moral circumstances as Olde Time Alabama.

    In the ensuing decades, it comforted the discomfort of America’s school children, born into a bewildering world of racial hierarchies they were encouraged to see through the backward-looking lens of Lee’s novel, when encouraged, as a matter of education, to see it at all.

    Nonetheless, “To Kill A Mockingbird” is a fine piece of fiction, well-wrought, though I somewhat see the point behind it being no longer part of a public school curriculum. It deserves to be read for what it is, in the context of time and place, of both setting and creation.

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    • VERY well stated, jhNY! “To Kill a Mockingbird” is indeed in various ways a “feel good” book for white liberals (among others) and was definitely designed to be reader-friendly in its way. But as you allude to, Harper Lee still wrote a (revised) novel that was quite sobering and thought-provoking even amid the making-it-more-“palatable” effort. I agree that “TKAM” feels a bit “dated” now, but it certainly had quite an impact when it was released in 1960 and in the years after.

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  4. TWO SUPPRESSED POETS

    I may have missed a mention, but I don’t think anyone’s mentioned banned or suppressed poets on site, so I will name two: the Russian Osip Mandelstam, whose life after he came to the punishing attention of Stalin, was spent in and out of prison/labor camps. He died in 1938 at the age of 47, having once been a poetic leading light in the fraught years before the Bolshevik Revolution, and the first flush years of the hope-filled communist state. So successful was the state’s suppression of his work that few Russians, by the time of glasnost, had read him. Now he is revered by poetry-loving Russians, not only for his spare, enigmatic yet pointed verses, but for his personal courage under existential duress. For a good selection of his poems, and a sampling of his prose, I can recommend “Black Earth”, translated by Peter France, and “Osip Mandelstam: 50 Poems”, translated by Bernard Meares, with an introduction by poet and essayist Joseph Brodsky, himself, after emigrating to the West, a vocal champion of Mandelstam’s poetry.

    Another poet-casualty of suppression is Li He (790-816), a Tang Dynasty Chinese poet– but in his particular case, it was not so much the business of the Chinese state to keep his works from wide distribution and inclusion in various classical poetry collections over the centuries. It was as by agreement among poets themselves. But He’s works were never lost, nor really out of circulation– he was read generation after generation, by other poets. But among them, it was thought that his verses were decadent and wild, concerning themselves with the mystic and fantastic, and thus fell beyond the bounds of respectability and harmony and the Confucian ideals that formed the foundations of the Empire and the professional and aesthetic sensibilities of the mass of Chinese poetry– as well as the mass of Chinese poets, nearly all of whom occupied various offices of the bureaucracy. Li He’s poetry is a fantastic amalgamation of references to myth, witchcraft, long-vanished dynasties, ancient poetry and poets, (particularly the “Ch-u Tz’u, The Songs of the South”, a collection of magical poetry written the 3rd Century BC), the frustrations of not attaining high office, dalliances with courtesans, drunkenness, and fresh and arresting descriptions of the natural world, as filtered through a mentality imbued with the precursor to what the Japanese later termed Zen Buddhism. For the most complete collection of Li He’s poetry in English translation, I recommend “The Collected Poems of Li He”, translated by JD Frodsham.

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    • Thank you, jhNY! Poetry hasn’t been mentioned much or at all in the comments, and I’m glad you did!

      Those are two compelling examples you cited so well and comprehensively, with the first one heartbreaking. Stalin made life hell for many writers. 😦

      There have certainly been other great poets whose works were challenged — Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg, Gwendolyn Brooks…

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          • Yes, but it also points up the drawback of being an auto-didact. Pound seems to have taught himself everything, Provencal troubadour poetry, Old English, etc.,etc., etc.,but hit the wall on political economy, or at least, found good aspects to a very bad political movement/phenomenon, which, he, being Pound could not abandon, having found, as he convinced himself, good aspects within.

            He never really recovered his balance after the great carnage of the First World War. So many of his friends had died or were damaged– and so much around him and throughout the world changed forever in ways he could not abide.

            What’s lost nowadays to most is the degree to which solving the riddles of economy and politics occupied the energies of so many unlikely people in the years of the Depression– farmers, bankers, clerks, priests, etc., etc. Pound was not so different in that regard, though he did arrive at conclusions that were almost entirely his own, and disastrous.

            And it might be good to recall how often the artistic set at the time, here and even more so in Europe, largely fell over itself in its efforts to understand and apply communism to the ills of the world. Pound was wrong. In being wrong, he was hardly alone.

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            • True, jhNY. Arriving at certain views and making certain decisions can be a complicated process, and Ezra Pound was indeed hardly alone in acting irresponsibly. As for having fascist sympathies compared to communist sympathies, I think the latter is less onerous because the theory behind communism can be idealistic even though the reality seldom is, whereas fascism is disgusting in both theory and practice.

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              • Agreed, generally. Though Italian fascism in its 1919 Manifesto offered up some social changes that were not intrinsically wicked– though its aggressive hyper-nationalism was baked in from the start:

                From wikipedia: “The Fascist Manifesto supported the creation of an eight-hour work day for all workers, a minimum wage, worker representation in industrial management, equal confidence in labour unions as in industrial executives and public servants, reorganization of the transportation sector, revision of the draft law on invalidity insurance, reduction of the retirement age from 65 to 55, a strong progressive tax on capital, confiscation of the property of religious institutions and abolishment of bishoprics, and revision of military contracts to allow the government to seize 85% of profits.”

                How awfully far from these origins it became over time is a matter on history’s dustbin, but at least it is possible to see it offered a social re-ordering that would sweep away the ruinous old order, such as still held power after the First World War– an old order which, to many, had caused and profited by the carnage of that war, and was intent to carry on as it had done.

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                  • Manifestos are not government– accommodations on the way to power made to reactionary elements of Italian politics, and an expanding desire to control labor in accordance with the demands of management, among other things, turned the aims of the manifesto into something very different, and terrible, by the time Mussolini had headed the government for a while.

                    In Italian fascism’s early days, the poet D’Annunzio, and the father of futurism, Marinetti (one of the authors of the manifesto) gave the movement an artistic sheen, and in Marinetti’s case a dynamic modernity– the former, at least, I suspect had entirely rubbed off as time passed.

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  5. Re Maus, as per the author, from “New York”:

    “Although the incident hasn’t led to other calls to ban Maus, the book’s defenders suspected more sinister motives beyond discomfort with obscenities: anti-Semitism and hatred of so-called critical race theory. Spiegelman, on the other hand, isn’t so certain there’s any actual bigotry behind the parents’ complaints, which he stayed up until 4 a.m. reading. “I feel like this wasn’t an actual anti-Semitic incident. It was an incident created by somebody who probably knows very few Jews,” he says. “The thing that really upset them was me yelling at my father for burning the diaries. I guess it would’ve been better, for the school board, to say, ‘Gee whiz, Pop — I wish you hadn’t done it!’ But that would not have been accurate to my intensity of horror.”

    As Spiegelman sees it, the real reason for the board’s decision may be that the narrative of Maus offers no catharsis, let alone comfort, to readers. There are no saviors. No one is redeemed. The characters — Spiegelman’s family — remain the imperfect people they were to begin with. “It’s a very not-Christian book,” Spiegelman says. “Vladek didn’t become better as a result of his suffering. He just got to suffer. They want to teach the Holocaust. They just want a friendlier Holocaust to teach.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, jhNY! VERY interesting thoughts from Art Spiegelman. Glad you posted them.

      There was indeed nothing redeeming about the Holocaust. Even the people who survived the concentration camps were traumatized and had survivors’ guilt. And certainly the (now-gone) relatives I knew who made it out of Nazi-occupied territory alive remained the imperfect or prickly people they probably were before their horrific experiences.

      Yes, the motives of people who ban books or try to ban books can vary: simple motives in some cases, more complex motives in other cases.

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  6. Interesting, though, is the notion, shared by famous writers in famous books, that there is such a thing as dangerous literature, or rather, literature that has an untoward effect on the uncritical and unwary:

    Cervantes– his major character Don Quixote, has driven himself mad with visions conjured out of medieval romances to the point he sees knights in armor arrayed against him where others see windmills

    Flaubert, who sees, in the women’s novels of the first half of the19th century, the source of much delusion and misdirection of the affections in the heart of Madame Bovary

    Stendahl, whose chief character, Julian Sorel, in “The Red and the Black” has learned nothing practically useful, and much that will put him in later danger, by his over-indulgence through his boyhood, in glorious accounts of Napoleon’s wars, as nothing therein prepared him for the meanness, hypocrisy and mediocrity of politics and society of his own time

    Twain, who saw, half-humorously, in the Waverly novels of Sir Walter Scott, the inspiration for the American South’s calamitous self-delusion and destruction.

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    • I see what you mean about “dangerous literature,” jhNY. Still, a shame when works like that are challenged or banned. Most readers can of course differentiate between fiction and fact; if they are so influenced by literature that they’re “inspired” to do something “dangerous” themselves, well, they would have probably done something “dangerous” even if they hadn’t read such and such a book.

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  7. This doesn’t have to do with censuring books, but many of the great writers of the past were not exactly fans of their illustrious predecessors. Tolstoy thought that Shakespeare was a bad writer and Mark Twain couldn’t stand Jane Austen’s novels.

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    • Interesting, Tony! I had no idea about Tolstoy re Shakespeare or Twain re Austen. They were in the minority about both writers.

      I did know that the opinionated Twain was not a fan of Sir Walter Scott or James Fenimore Cooper.

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      • I read on the web that Twain wrote in a letter “Every time I read “Pride and Prejudice” I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone”. Now that’s really nasty.

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      • It’s almost funny, when some writers see themselves as having reached a sort of ‘immortal’ status among their fellows, how often that becomes the occasion to work up timeless grudges and opinions on others in that immortal category, as if there were a contest that would determine who wrote best, going on forever– though those who had gone before would be relatively defenseless, except by already written example, against the attacks of newcomers, as say, Dostoevsky would be against the animus of Nabokov.

        Mostly, though, it would be a contest that the rest of the world would hardly take note of, despite all the vicious infighting amongst principals.

        Reminded me of this quote by Marcus Garvey:

        “We were like crabs in a barrel, that none would allow the other to climb over, but on any such attempt all would continue to pull back into the barrel the one crab that would make the effort to climb out.”

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        • Yes, jhNY, a shame when that kind of spite or jealousy or whatever emerges. Why not accept that there can be many immortals, and be thrilled to be among them? A rough analogy would be how many of the very wealthy want more, more, more money when they already have umpteen times more than they and their descendants need.

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  8. Banning books sucks!
    Banning movies sucks!
    Banning art sucks!
    Censorship rears its head on a regular basis. Thought control abounds.
    Is that Dr. Seuss book banned?
    Hey, maybe the banners should be banned.
    You mentioned burning books.
    “A timeline of 2,200 years of book burnings, from ancient China to The Book of Negroes”
    “Shredding, soaking, pulping or any other method of destroying books just does not compare. Neither does banning or censoring books.”
    I read an article from the CBC https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/the-books-have-been-burning-1.887172
    It’s horrifying how many book burnings have happened since WWII.

    I had to laugh when you said re: Ayn Rand’s books “Some will even survive the experience.”
    I read the first book she wrote. I barely survived. Nonetheless, its pov was extremely pointed & it did me well.
    I had to read one, as I designed the costumes for a Showtime movie “The Passion of Ayn Rand”.
    It starred Helen Mirren, Peter Fonda, Eric Stoltz & Julie Delpy.
    It was based on a book by Barbara Branden, one of her disciples. (She fled the flock, eventually)

    Somehow, I’ve ended up with a 5×7 b&w photo of Rand in her famous black cape and $ pin. I wonder if I can $ell that?

    You mention that “the explicit concentration camp and gas chamber scenes in that novel will haunt me for the rest of my life.”
    I know the feeling… I read “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote. It still haunts me. If I even know the movie is playing on TV, I can’t think or sleep.

    Poor Huckleberry Finn! It was of its time. It’s unfortunate that that time ever existed.

    Then there’s the ultimate, beyond banning, a death sentence on novelist Salman Rushdie after the publication of The Satanic Verses.

    Boy Dave, you sure got us all going on this one!

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    • Thank you, Resa! Fabulous, wide-ranging comment — starting with your powerful first three lines!

      Re Ayn Rand, I actually read quite a bit of stuff (fiction and nonfiction) I don’t agree with, and I’m glad I do, but somehow Ayn Rand’s work feels beyond the pale. Interesting that you designed costumes for “The Passion of Ayn Rand” (that’s one heck of a movie cast) and have that photo!

      Yes, even Dr. Seuss became “controversial” as the U.S. conservatives created yet another trivial culture-war issue out of thin air. They’re expert at that.

      And you’re right that “The Satanic Verses” situation was the ultimate in shocking attempted censorship. I bought the book in solidarity at the time, tried to read it, didn’t like it, and abandoned it well before finishing it, but never regretted the purchase.

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      • My powerful first 3 lines were so powerful, I had to come back and see what I wrote.
        Wow, I really have a way with words.

        I would never have known about Ayn Rand, if I hadn’t done that movie. Did you know she changed her name when she moved to the USA, and that RAND came from the Rand Mcnally typewriter of the time?

        Helen Mirren was A+++++++++

        I never read “The Satanic Verses”. Yet, the controversy was unavoidable. Death? Over writing a book? I’m glad you bought the book, even if you didn’t finish it.
        Okay, heading over to Baristanet, to read your column.

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        • You do! (Have a way with words.) 🙂

          Didn’t know that about Ayn Rand’s name change. Fascinating bit of trivia! My paternal grandfather went through the name-change thing, too, when arriving at Ellis Island from Eastern Europe.

          Glad to hear Helen Mirren was so great!

          And thanks for reading my latest silly humor column. 🙂

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        • Yes, totally ridiculous, Bebe. As I mentioned, just another bogus culture-war thing by the American right. Like your son, my daughters grew up reading Dr. Seuss books (as did millions of other kids). They survived the experience nicely. 🙂

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  9. I feel for the children whose parents are preventing them from reading certain books. I think they are missing out on some very real aspects of life. When I was in the eight grade my mom gave me “Valley of the Dolls” to read because she thought it was time I learned about sex and drugs. That did not go over big at St. Columba Catholic school.

    Note: Ray Bradbury wrote about the subject in the coda to “Fahrenheit 451.” It’s an excellent piece.

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    • Thank you, vanaltman! Your first two lines say a LOT. Parents are not doing their children — or other parents’ children — any favors when they try to ban books. And your mom was wise to give you “Valley of the Dolls” when you were in 8th grade.

      I’ve read “Fahrenheit 451” but somehow I’m forgetting that coda. Glad Bradbury wrote it!

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  10. No. Banning. Books. I see both sides doing it for their own reasons and I am not on board. Especially when it comes to history – there are simply too many sides to each story to consider one angle a hundred percent correct a hundred percent of the time. Each player should get to write about/teach their perspective. There are some books that I think people should be a certain age or possess a certain maturity level to read, but I don’t think outright banning or removal is ever the answer.

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  11. Hi Dave, banned books always grab my attention and if I hear rumours about a potential book banning I always buy the book as a paperback. That is in case the ebook or audio book can somehow be deleted so I can’t access it. My mom thinks I am very eccentric because of this behaviour. I don’t like the idea of book banning and feel all fiction must be preserved and that is my motivation. I have along list of previously banned and censured books on my shelves including The Scarlet Letter, The Diary of Anne Frank, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, 1984, Arabian Nights, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Gulliver’s Travels, James and the giant peach, Lord of the flies, Moll Flanders, Of Mice and Men, To kill a mocking bird, Uncle Tom’s Cabin and from a SA perspective Cry the Beloved Country and Fiela se kind (Fiela’s Child). A bit of a list and I’m sure I have others.

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    • Thank you, Robbie!

      Great that you have a personal collection of previously challenged books. Impressive array of titles! And nice to buy the paperback when you hear of a possible banning in the offing.

      Feeling that all fiction should be preserved is a very good thing. Then, any reader can decide whether to read a specific work or not.

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      • HI Dave, admittedly some books do have a strong bias, I noticed this when I was doing my research about the Anglo Boer War. When you read both sides of the story presented by the two opposing forces, it almost makes you smile. The propaganda is unbelievable. It is incumbent upon people who read fictional history, and even non-fiction, to consider the information presented and not believe everything as it is written. There are plenty of ways of checking historical facts now. I actually made the decision to have two characters in my book, one British and one Afrikaans, specifically to discuss and present both points of view. Let the reader decide was my thought. 1984 and the amending of history as discussed in that book made me realise how easily our understanding of the past can be manipulated and changed to suit a modern viewpoint.

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        • Thank you, Robbie!

          Yes, some books can be very biased, but there indeed are often books showing the other side. And, as you say, facts can be checked relatively quickly and easily in our digital age.

          Great that you have two characters in your book giving opposing points of view! That can be very effective, and it’s certainly fair!

          And it’s unfortunately so true that views/depictions of the past are often twisted to suit modern purposes.

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  12. I can actually wrap my head around the idea of people wanting to silence voices with whom they disagree; it’s a natural part, though a regrettable part, of human mentality from the day Ugg tried to rub Ogg’s painting off the wall of the cave in Lasceaux because Ogg drew Ugg’s nose funny.
    Certainly I’ve been told a time or twelve that I ought to be fired or “banned from ever drawing cartoons again anywhere” (an exact quote) so my skin has the expected thickness on the subject.
    The part that has me shaking said head is when people try to nullify a voice that seeks to protest something by depicting it.
    You use the classic example of liberals decrying “Huckleberry Finn” because of Clemens’ use of the n-word and the depiction of Jim as a slave, completely ignoring the fact that Clemens, in depicting these things, was protesting them.
    As I screamed in my head every time one of the self-appointed moral guardians rose up against “Huck,” “He’s ON YOUR SIDE, you morons!”
    Huck’s the example everyone knows, but I remember the forgettable “Treasure Planet,” Disney’s attempt to put a space-fantasy sheen on Robert Louis Stevenson.
    “Planet’s” version of Jim Hawkins started him out as a wild child, a Disneyfied version of a juvenile delinquent, whose adventures within the movie pushed him toward maturity and responsibility — in other words, the classic redemption story.
    Now, to show someone getting better, you have to show that person where they started out, and that’s the problem the moral guardians had with “Planet”: it SHOWED “bad Jim.” Never mind you had to do that, to effectively show the contrast with and progress toward “good Jim”; the fact of the depiction was bad enough.
    I ran into that with my own editorial work: The mere depiction of something was “glorifying” it (another exact quote).
    Trying to explain that only made things worse, and after I time, I came to adopt Isaac Asimov’s take on censors, which (and here I paraphrase) was that you have to be kind of stupid to want to be one.

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    • Thank you, Don! Many excellent points!

      You’re right that it’s part of being human — at least among some humans — to want to silence voices with whom people disagree. That of course goes for politics as well as novels, with those two things at times connected.

      As a cartoonist, you’ve certainly lived being the target of the banning impulse. (A thick skin required.) And, unfortunately, that banning impulse could be one reason — along with economics — why newspapers have many fewer cartoonists these days. Many editors and publishers don’t want to deal with complaints from readers, including narrow-minded readers. Partly a time thing, partly a don’t-want-to-be-bothered thing.

      Yes, Mark Twain was not a racist (at least by the standards of his time) — which indeed should affect how readers view the “n-word” in “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

      As for Disney productions, I’ve always had mixed feelings about most of them.

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    • This is a most interesting comment, thank you for sharing your thoughts. It is true that in condemning a piece of writing, the entire point of the piece and its importance as a political or religious statement is often ignored or overlooked which shows that the ‘banners’ are not ever familiar with the literary work they are objecting to but have taken the moral high road based on hearsay.

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  13. I very much appreciate your thought, Dave, about whether certain books should be banned or not, which made me immediately think of the two boys/students in China, who in 1971 were sent to a political re-education camp in Sechuan and there thanks to a girl they found various important novels by writers banned in China! The novel is called “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress”. I am curious what my friends say to this subject:)

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Martina! That “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress” novel sounds fascinating — with quite a message. And VERY relevant to this discussion. Unfortunately, I haven’t read it (though I’ve read about a half-dozen Balzac novels — great writer).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, Dave, this book certainly shows a dark period of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, but it is also full of humour, and it’s quite a small book!!
        My compliments for having read so many of Balzac’s books! I remember just three, such as Eugénie Grandet, Père Goriot et Illusions perdues, and I liked the way he discribed the social classes! The banning of this kind of books would therefore be a big loss of knowledge.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. I think there is a difference between banning a book and taking it out of a schools reading list or library. When discussing the banning of books, we need to be precise about what we mean in that specific circumstance. With schools, specifically, we have parents who feel that since they are taxpayers, they have the right to dictate what their children are or are not allowed to learn. Personally, I never tried to interfere with what my child had to read for school. I sent him to school precisely because I wanted him to gather a broad vision of the world. I I wanted to limit his exposure to the world he would have been home schooled.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, Alessandra! Well said!

      I hear you about the definition of the word “banning”; I guess I used it in kind of a catch-all sense. There are certainly different forms and degrees of trying to make books off-limits.

      Like you, I have never tried to interfere with what my daughters read (or otherwise learned) in school. Getting a broader version of the world is indeed a very good thing, and teachers are the experts at…teaching. Politicians and others who challenge certain books, not so much.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Alexandra, I have exactly the same view about what books my sons read. “If they can read it, let them read it,” is my motto. Many of the mothers in my children’s classes over the years have disallowed certain books, but I believe that people must be allowed to explore everything that interest them and form their own views.

      Liked by 2 people

  15. The power of ideas – that is the deep magic of books. Literature, fiction and non-fiction, allows us to explore the past and anticipate future events. We live many lives, and experience emotional nuances through the lens of another person. Words carry the soul of our society and celebrates our cultural values. Books have increased my understanding of who I am and how I relate to others and the world around me. Books confirm that we exist in a complex and ambiguous environment. There is much goodness and compassion, even as we acknowledge that evil and wrongdoing are also present. Banning books does not do away with evil. Rather they are a call to action, even a cautionary tale that opens our hearts and mind to reimagine a better way forward and challenge us to examine our belief systems, and look for new possibilities for connection.

    As I read you brilliant post, Dave, I thought of these lines written about an age in a tumultuous transition:

    “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…” Charles Dickens “A Tale of Two Cities.”

    I’ll be back again for the follow-up discussion.

    Liked by 5 people

  16. I was just looking at an article in Wikipedia that stated the Roman Catholic Church kept an index of forbidden books from 1560 to 1966. Some the banned authors at various times included Dante, John Milton, Voltaire, Balzac, Dumas, Hugo, Flaubert, Zola, Sartre, and Kazantzakis at least on some of their works.

    Liked by 5 people

  17. It’s sad when every venue becomes a political opinion soapbox. No, books should not be banned. No, history should not be sanitized. Show me a republican leading the charge to remove America’s past. Show me the “woke” not rewriting literature, comtemporizing classics to be more “acceptable”. Show an author of any stripe who writes dialect who is not a cultural appropriator. All the Red and Blue nonsense has strangled the First Ammendment with their subjective takes on “hate speech” and the gender alphabet soup. Personally? As you suggest – put it down, turn it off, change the channel or embrace. But stop all the divisive bullshit about conservatives and liberals and stick to literature. Or change the title before someone else comes in here duped looking for a balanced discussion of the topic. There is no “right (or left)” side, there is the issue. We can’t go back and change the world as it was 300 or 5,000 years ago, we can only change that which is now. And blame is cheap shot.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Phil, I’m not a believer in “false equivalence.” Conservatives have more of a history of banning books in the U.S. than liberals do, and that’s that.

      In addition, my blog is not only a literature blog, but an opinion-about-literature blog that has also periodically offered opinions about other things since it began in 2014. Most readers of my blog are very aware of that. I’ve done the “balanced” writing you seem to want or expect for other outlets (when I was a newspaper reporter and then a magazine reporter); this blog isn’t that kind of outlet. MANY other blogs aren’t objective either, and shouldn’t be.

      “Show me a Republican leading the charge to remove America’s past”? So many examples, but I’ll cite one I also alluded to in my post: all the Republicans blasting the teaching of “critical race theory” — which is of course an effort on their part to obscure America’s racist past.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Phil, I’m not a believer in “false equivalence.” Conservatives have more of a history of banning books in the U.S. than liberals do, and that’s that.”
        Good to know you’re a cultural bigot who spoapboxes divisionism behind a veil, or possibly a guise of erudition.
        Using the narrowest definition of book banning to promote an agenda is your right. Obviously reconfiguring literature and history to make them more palatable is outside of those limits.
        Tell me, in all your fact finding, exactly which “party”, as is how your defense mechanism is shallowly aligned, is responsible for erasing the Civil War? Or for Santa Ana allowing Sam Houston to lead him into a swamp? Until someone can prove it was aliens who built the pyramids it was slaves. Should we cover them over with the desert like it never happened?
        I am aligned in neither direction. My position is it behooves all who cry freedom to point out that extremists are responsible for cultural repression, not any particular political party or group. And to remember being offended, or finding something offensive is not the same as being “correct”.
        However, we both have our First Ammendment right to an opinion. Mine is I am disgusted by both divisionism and censorship. Be nice to find a discussion where name calling got left off the table.

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        • Phil, you said: “Be nice to find a discussion where name calling got left off the table.” After you called me a “cultural bigot” and questioned my intelligence (“possibly a guise of erudition”).

          Anyway, I made my points and you made yours, so I’ll leave it at that. (Other than my paragraph above.)

          Liked by 1 person

              • Audience is defined by rhetorical stance and a dash of Meyers-Briggs. That would be a good discussion to follow this post. At what point does the injection unquantified opinion blame baiting) become a detriment to message. At what point should authors concern themselves with offending or alienating the reader? Two, ten, thirteen, forty-seven, seventy or ninety-nine percent? Or at all?

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                • Phil, I realize I’m stating the obvious and repeating myself, but many blog posts include opinion. It’s part of what makes a blog post a blog post rather than a straight news story one finds in, say, an old-fashioned newspaper. Many readers of a blog post will be fine with the blogger offering opinions; some might be offended. So be it. You’re of course free to post totally objective pieces on your own blog, given that that is so important to you.

                  Also, opinion can obviously be buttressed by facts. When I spent a couple hours online before writing this week’s post looking for book-banning incidents in addition to the ones I already knew about, the vast majority of challenges I found came from conservatives rather than liberals. And I used objective search words — including “banned books” rather than “books banned by conservatives.”

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • You’re beating this to death with defense. I get it. My original point was it would be nice to see a literate discussion without leveraging division. I wrote that the topic was neither right nor left, but a societal issue. See, it really pisses me off that there can be no discussion without leveraging whose side are you on. Book banning is wrong, and I agree. The issue is book banning. Something promoted by zealots and cultural extremists. Painting a wide swath with separatist language like conservatives and liberals puts anything you say in the stew with the rest of the either/or crowd. Consider such inarticulation tantamount to giving Monet a 9-inch roller and a bucket of gray and saying “paint.” Call out the zealots for who they are and stop using the language of division was my point. If you can’t see that as imperative to a learned discussion, so be it. If you believe inaccurate, sweeping generalizations are contributary to your point you’re in the opinion business and I get that, no re-sell required. I ask only that you hear the difference between the language of generalization or finesse your point. A sharp knife cuts far better than a wooden spoon.

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      • No. CRT is in practice and it’s teaching fake history and that has been proven by actual scholars and historians and even the writer herself said so. The media is lying as usual. They have distorted the black wallstreet history, Biden literally said that a black man invented the light bulb, and that’s just one of the things they are giving credit to the wrong people. The practice is “meant to make white kids feel anxiety” is what one of the proponents said. It’s caused murders and assaults of children at schools. They don’t want to teach history. They want to preach anti American and anti police and anti white hatred. They have kids apologizing for their oppression to other kids. They teach racialism. They have kids admitting their white privilege. If they want to teach history they are going to have to teach that natives and blacks owned slaves and that it was the African and Muslims that were and are enslaving africans. They would have to teach about the white people who came as indentured servants who were just like slaves and yes they were just like slaves. They don’t want to teach the history that makes anyone but white people look bad. It doesn’t matter that largest racist hate crimes were committed by nation of Islam. They don’t want to show how behavior and choices are the things holding certain people back. Instead it’s all about hating white people. This is commie indoctrination, it destroys countries and their people. So when they tell you “they don’t want to teach history that make them look bad” they are lying. We learned of the trail of tears abd slavery and Jim Crow, MLK etc. But if you don’t believe me, look at some of the incompetent professors like Zeus Leopold out of Berkeley, and Britney Cooper out of Rutgers. Two example of incompetent professors that are only there to grift. We have to protect our kids. This book banning only means the school libraries and they kids can get those books elsewhere. We don’t have to teach porn or propaganda. They should teach the recent history of south Africa and Venezuela.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you, Madeline.

          Yours is a long comment to reply to, but I’ll say that racism is indeed a major problem in the U.S. and I think it’s a good idea for children to be taught about it and be aware of it. And, yes, people other than African-Americans have been the target of prejudice and (in the past) indentured servitude. But the racism against African-Americans today and throughout U.S. history (including the horrific institution of slavery) has often been uniquely pernicious. (Of course, Native Americans, LGBTQ people, women, etc., have also borne the brunt of a lot of bias.)

          As an aside, my teen daughter is a person of color, so I’m acutely aware of the presence of racism on a personal level. I was very glad when her elementary school and middle school assigned her and her classmates challenging books covering racism and more.

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  18. In the early 1990s, the public library I worked in had to deal with how to circulate the book Sex by Madonna, without offending anyone. As I recall, people had to ask for it to make sure it was checked out only to adults. As I recall, the book was a large format with metal covers and the copies soon fell apart. By that time, public attention had moved on.
    It is true that book-banning often has the opposite effect by calling attention to the targeted books.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, Audrey! I remember the controversy surrounding that “Sex” book, and I imagine Madonna enjoyed almost every minute of that controversy. She definitely liked to push the envelope, especially in the earlier years of her career. Sounds like an interesting experience for the library at which you worked!

      Liked by 3 people

      • What I remember about Madonna’s “Sex” book was that it was printed by a company whose HQ and main printing plant was in my old paper’s coverage area, in an area that was (let’s go for some understatement here) decidedly conservative, both politically and socially.
        We reported on that.
        The company stated that any employee whose sensibilities were at odds with handling the book could seek temporary reassignment, no questions asked and no hard (heh) feelings.
        Of course we got our hands on a copy.
        Our newsroom staff at the time was mostly twentysomethings trying to appear jaded and worldly, with the results you can imagine.
        As for me, the book stimulated my funny bone more than anything, both for its pretentiousness and for my reaction of “people really do that?”

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you, Don, for that vivid remembrance! Yes, when a book is banned — or, as in the situation you described, temporary reassignment is offered to avoid handling it — that piques the interest of many people. It’s almost like shouting, “You gotta read this!”

          While I’ve liked some of Madonna’s music over the years, and admire her drive and ambition, she did descend into pretentiousness here and there. 🙂

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  19. From the little I’ve read in world history, banning books seem to have a very long history although in the past it was often religious, philosophical, and political works rather than fiction that was banned. It definitely did not originate with modern American conservatives or progressives. I even read that a Chinese emperor burned books and executed scholars in the 3rd Century B.C.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Thank you, Tony! You’re right about book banning (and burning) having a long, sad history. Definitely not started by American conservatives, though some of them have been diligent in continuing the tradition. 😦 And, yes, not just fictional works get challenged.

      Liked by 2 people

    • HI Tony, the banning of books and execution of scholars has long been a tool used to control the masses. Getting rid of the academics and educated who will analyse political doctrines, expose their flaws, and publicly challenge them, is a way of controlling the ideology of a nation.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. We need the mirror of the past held up to us. And many books do that, whether we like it or not, the past isn’t ours to rewrite and I personally don’t think books should be banned because certain groups don’t like bits of them. And that comes into banning as I am struggling to think of a world wide ban on a particular book. Edna O’Brien was banned in Ireland at one point. Even in the 70s Lady Chatterely–while no longer banned– was only available on request at libraries so we’d all be pointing fingers at whatever ‘dirty old so and so’ had requested that.

    Liked by 8 people

    • Thank you, Shehanne! Eloquently said, and I agree. Certainly one of various intents of some book banners is to try to hide the negatives of the past.

      It’s also appalling that some book banners don’t even bother reading the books they’re challenging.

      And trying to embarrass people by making a book available only on request is a variation on the banning mentality. 😦

      Liked by 4 people

      • Well, that is what I felt re that. It certainly wasn’t like treating adults like children. And you are right. Many people jump on bandwagons and haven’t even read the full in question. But I guess you can’t fix stupid. There was a woman in England a few years back who was making it her mission in life to get every copy she could of 50 SHades of Grey she could and bury them. Stupid was how she looked. If you don’t like something it offends you, you don’t want to read a book for whatever reason, fine. That is a personal choice but don’t inflict that choice on everyone. I didn’t like Chatterley, I didn’t like what I read of 50 Shades, but it was nothing to do with being a prude, I just don’t like Lawrence and I didn’t like James’s writing style. Obviously Lawrence offended ‘public morality’ at the time. Equally if an author didn’t take that bold step we’d all still be reading Pollyanna if you get me.

        Liked by 4 people

      • How about there be a requirement for the book banner to a) pass a reading test for the book in question (developed in such a way that just reading the Sparks notes won’t be enough to pass it) and b) write a well-reasoned argument with credible supporting evidence and no logical fallacies that demonstrates that the book in question has no redeeming literary or social value whatsoever?

        Liked by 4 people

        • Thank you, Liz! Those two points of yours are spot-on and fantastic! I’m guessing that the vast majority of people trying to ban a book don’t read it or at best skim it. Most probably go by what they heard about the book or perhaps read about the book. And of course reading about a book is a lot different than actually reading it.

          Liked by 4 people

          • You’re welcome, Dave. My higher ed experience with complaints and demands was that 9 out of 10 people backed down as soon as you told them that the process for redress was, “Submit a written argument with valid supporting evidence to make your case.”

            Liked by 1 person

              • To clarify, these were people who didn’t want to take a course or wanted their money back or wanted an A instead of an A-. The only complaint I remember about a book in a censorship vein was Flannery O’Connor’s short stories on a supplemental reading list. The student was upset because he thought they (and the teacher who had created the optional reading list) was racist. The dean of the humanities department wrote the student a very well-reasoned and kind letter about what it means to write, read, and study literature.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Ah, I see, Liz. Not a banning/attempted-banning situation per se, but perhaps a somewhat similar mindset.

                  Flannery O’Connor’s stories — including the famous “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” — certainly evoke complicated emotions.

                  Like

      • And yet, in such areas as BBC costume dramas like “Around the World in Eighty Days”, and older fare such as the Father Brown series ,a sub-set of re-imagining historical characters and plotlines is very much among us now– and by and large I don’t think we are richer for it. Of course our history would be a sweeter object of study had people comported themselves in ways we would admire today, but the record shows: our forebears did what they did. Blacks and whites seldom mixed socially in the US or GB; repopulating the past, and past productions, with Black characters who would not have been present in many places they have now been placed may comfort contemporary viewers, but also remake social history.

        I wish I could conclude otherwise, but history is always in the hands of the living, and nearly always, in the public sphere, serves contemporary ends– very much including comforting entertainment..

        Liked by 3 people

        • Thank you, jhNY! A lot of truth in your eloquent comment about how history is constantly massaged to serve the whims and needs of the present — and to make contemporary people feel better about themselves when some don’t deserve that.

          And yet one of the things you mentioned — color-blind casting, as in “Hamilton,” among various other examples — does have its appeal. If nothing else, to give more work to performers of color who are underrepresented in films, the stage, etc. Still, it would be nice if there were also more acting opportunities for performers of color in productions that didn’t have to be color-blind.

          Like

          • The challenge, in my opinion, should be met by contemporary writers creating something actually new, rather than reviving something old for the purposes of reconfiguring it to current taste and moral preferences.

            I’m not quite talking about color-blind casting above (another complicated subject), but rather inserted anachronisms such as couples of mixed race going about their lives without interference, or even arrest, by local authorities in the 1950’s, Black people in positions of authority they could not have actually occupied due to pervading race prejudice. Believe me, I would rather have lived during those times in such fictional conditions, but I did not– nor did Black people here or in the UK.

            Repurposing/updating/altering events and characters to contemporary uses has a long history in many areas of art, such as opera, an art form rife with unhistorical, even ahistorical dramatizations and incidents. (I’ve got a book somewhere here about two inches thick which concerns itself with distortions of time, place and historical persons as they appear in operas– throughout the history of the art)

            It’s easy enough to find the beauty in the artistic products of opera, but what concerns me, there and everywhere, is the history lost– social, cultural history too– covered over by the dictates of drama and politics of the age in which the vaguely ‘historically-based’ is created. Worse too, is the outcome that those who have taken in these performances and creations will imagine they have learned history through libretto and score, when they have not.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Thank you for that explanation, jhNY. I see what you mean. Yes, anachronisms can really exercise the audience’s “suspend belief” muscles, and sugar-coat history. As for opera, not my thing — whether things get ahistorical or not. (I’ve sat through some performances.)

              Like

    • Thank you, nananoyz! “…an effort to control what people know and how they think” — exactly! Book banners really need to mind their own business. They’re welcome to avoid reading what they don’t want to read, but have no right to prevent access to others. And, yes, almost always counterproductive — making the banned books more desirable.

      Liked by 4 people

  21. I have always found it strange to have scenes in a movie and passages in books where people are bashed, murdered, shot from unlimited bullet guns, or decapitated, whereas the most natural event of making love is taboo. If it not for this act none of us would be here. I draw the line at rape and bestiality. In my last book Bernado’s Circus I have graphic passages describing when Bernado comes to the age, when he joins the circus with his trained performing dog act. the girls in the circus take turns to teach the well-endowed young eighteen-year-old Gypsy lad the finer points of making love. This is done with some mirth and pleasure joined. The same would not be the times he was raped in the orphanage by Father Mark the sadistic priest. I could never understand how such men could attack young children and be a Christian. priest.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, James! A great point that violence is usually more accepted in literature than (consenting) sexual situations. Especially the case in some countries (such as the U.S.) that still have a “Puritanical” streak and a very active religious right. And, yes, abuse of children by priests and such — and the covering up of those crimes — is absolutely criminal.

      Liked by 2 people

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