When a reader/reviewer of my novel The Inferno Collection asked if inferno collections actually exist, I responded that not only did inferno collections exist in the past but still exist in more sophisticated and subtle forms today.
I am not saying that we should anticipate a burning of the vanities as with Savonarola's followers in the past, nor do I believe as in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, that the firemen of the future will feel compelled to burn and destroy books.
It is a fact that librarians have viewed themselves as gatekeepers. For example, libraries such as Boston Public at one time found it necessary to maintain separate inferno collections of banned books considered inappropriate for general public display and reading. Often these were books deemed salacious such as James Joyce’s Ulysses. Another example is the Robert Winslow Gordon "Inferno" Collection in the Archive of Folk Song, Library of Congress, consisting of material separated out because of bawdy and scatological subject matter. Paul S. Boyer in his article “Boston Book Censorship in the Twenties” observed that
censorship began with the very first governor of the Boston
colony, William Bradford, but became notorious in the 1920’s when the phrase
“banned in Plymouth ” took
on new meaning (American
Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 1
(Spring, 1963), pp. 3-24). William R. Reardon observed that the first American
book burning took place in Boston
during the year 1654 (“The Tradition behind Bostonian Censorship,” Educational
Theatre Journal, Vol. 7, No. 2 (May, 1955), pp. 97-101). Boston
As Americans we take pride in our constitutional right to freedom of speech. Yet in 1873, the Comstock Law, or the Federal Anti-Obscenity Act, was passed. The law stated that “whoever, within…the United States...shall have in his possession for any such purpose or purposes, an obscene book, pamphlet…print picture or drawing...of immoral nature…shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction thereof in the court of the United States…he shall be imprisoned at hard labor in the penitentiary.” Under the law, books like The Canterbury Tales by William Chaucer and Aristophanes’ Lysistrata were banned. American masterpieces such as Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass were also outlawed.
Did narrow attitudes end with the Victorian era’s sensibilities and prejudices? Apparently not. In the 1950’s, Senator Joseph McCarthy instigated one of the most notorious waves of censorship the nation has ever experienced. Because of McCarthy’s ‘Red Scare’, classics like Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, which encouraged men to peacefully protest unjust laws, was pulled from the shelves of the State Department’s overseas libraries. It was one of more than 300 titles McCarthy had banned or burned.
J.D. Salinger's 1951 classic coming-of-age novel, The Catcher in the Rye, has been the object of challenges nationwide for decades because of its language, references to violence and sexual content. According to the American Library Association, the book was the 13th most frequently challenged book in the country's school systems from 1990 to 2000.
In 2005, the Metropolitan Library Commission of Oklahoma City overruled recommendations made by library staff and established a special collection of children’s books with gay themes. The collection would be accessible only to adults. The
debate began when a state representative worried that children would have
access to books about gay marriage and sponsored a resolution to segregate all
library books with gay and/or adult themes. Oklahoma
The list of “condemned” banned or censored books boggles the mind; a good source of information on this subject can be found online at: http://title.forbiddenlibrary.com/
It is not only governments and libraries that have chosen to ban books found objectionable for various reasons. Materials are often deemed unacceptable for political or religious reasons or are considered profane, pornographic or sexually too explicit for youth. Publishers and booksellers make these decisions and determinations as well.
A majority of book challenges come from concerned parents and are related to young adult fiction. GalleyCat spotlighted an article which provides detailed statistics on this topic: http://www.adweek.com/galleycat/censorship-statistics-infographic/110876?utm_medium=newsletter&utm_source=galleycat&utm_campaign=dailynewsletter20151007
My most recent YA novels are with Clean Reads Press. THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER is a romantic book with a serious underlying theme, appropriate for teens thirteen and older.
STACY’S SONG returns in a completely rewritten, re-edited edition on
27, 2015, also appropriate for teens thirteen and above. Here is the new cover reveal:
July Blume, who like me writes for children, YA and adults, doesn’t believe in any form of censorship and opposes “trigger warnings” (Time Magazine,
8, 2015 Interview). I don’t agree with her on this. I think
that there need to be some indicators—especially when the author writes for
diverse audiences. For example, in the case of my latest adult romance novel
DARK MOON RISING, I have made it clear that the novel is for mature readers. I suggest it for no one younger than eighteen. I feel such distinctions are needed.
However, it is well to keep in mind that good books often do stir controversy. They are designed to question and make people think. That is not something to fear or repress but rather to admire and respect. As Voltaire, author of the banned satire Candide, once stated: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.” Today the internet is an unrestricted location to find information, including the subject of banned book collections.
If librarians continue to see themselves as gatekeepers, then it is imperative that they attempt to provide a variety and diversity of materials for public consumption. As a teacher and librarian I feel strongly about this. As to inferno collections, are they a thing of the past? Knowing human nature, it is indeed doubtful.
Your thoughts and opinions welcome here!