Banned Books Week: Three Ways to Get Your Book Banned

October 4, 2012 • Culture Dept.

Banned BooksBooks have been banned, censored or otherwise burned atop self-righteous refutations of free speech since their invention. The first book banned in freedom-of-speech-loving ’Merica was The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption, a Puritanical screed published in 1650 by William Pynchon (no relation to Thomas, I presume, whose own The Crying of Lot 49 was also banned a couple centuries later). Pynchon’s book was condemned as heretical in a Bostonian court and, predictably, a book burning followed.

Since then, books as lauded as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Joyce’s Ulysses and ironically both Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Orwell’s 1984, have been banned, burned and sanitized by New Speak to conform to the evanescent norms of “Community Standards.”

Turns out, getting one’s book banned is comparatively easy, say to getting it published, let alone written. Likewise, to the chagrin of censors, there are ways to turn being banned into a boon. Sure, it’s a tad crass and cynical but sometimes it’s all you’ve got.

A quick analysis of books that have been banned reveals three primary themes that routinely lead to being showcased to passersby in the windows of bookstores during Banned Books Week.

Write About Sex

Sex sells. To everyone. Except censors. Certain religiofascist types hate sex in all its forms but most particularly when it doesn’t result in procreation. And even then, for the past 2,000 years they’ve prefered their births to be virginal. Depictions as relatively tame as those in D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover (first published in 1928 and banned in its unexpurgated form until 1963) were enough to rile the censors of yore. 50 Shades of Grey, a decidedly more tawdry tale continues the tradition having been banned by the Brevard County Library in Florida. Both titles, naturally, have sold millions of copies.

Write About Witchcraft

Write about magic, especially kids using magic. Harry Potter found himself banned by conservative Christian groups for his alleged propagation of witchcraft, which is hilarious because, as any ‘tween who’s attempted to cast a rictusempra spell can tell you, it doesn’t work. You know why? Magic is make-believe. Bony-Legs by Joanna Cole was similarly banned for magic and witches; ditto The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (two bad witches, one good one, a wizard and flying monkeys). Since witch-burning went out of fashion in the 17th century, intolerant firebugs have resorted to burning books about witches. That’ll show ’em.

Write About a Deity

Before the Fatwa issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 for Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses who had ever heard of the author? Some might argue that the fatwa might have been a windfall for Rushdie in terms of international awareness. But those people are now dead or in hiding. In fact, the bounty on Rushdie’s head was raised the same week his memoir Joseph Anton was released last month. Though this was obviously not a coordinated PR effort, both entered the cultural conversation with a symbiotic velocity from the media. Of course, this path is not recommended if you seek career longevity – or longevity in general. Don’t do this. Instead, consider young adult author Judy Blume and her classic tome, Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret. Blume’s book often tops lists of banned works due to it frank explorations of religion, sexuality and quite possibly because it inspired Chelsea Handler’s Are You There Vodka? It’s Me Chelsea. And she can still go outside.

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