Banned Books Week
September 30 to October 6
Banned in Boston
Banned Books Week is now in its 30th year. I will be observing the week in two ways. I will posting a series of five guests posts by distinguished authors, courtesy of Open Road Media. I have also decided to do a few posts on short stories by authors whose work has been famously banned. Boston is the capital of the state of Massachusetts, in the North Easterner USA . Mitt Romney was its governor there a few years ago (OK take that how you like!) but it is also the home to some of America's finest universities. I will say I am pretty sure Mitt has not read any of the books discussed in the posts for this week.
"Banned in Boston"
Noah Gordon, internationally bestselling author of the Cole Family Trilogy:
In the city I love above all others, rigid censorship has cast a long and early shadow that remains a stain on its history. In 1621, the town elders of Boston reacted with cold rage when William Pynchon, founder of Springfield, Massachusetts, wrote a book criticizing Puritanism. They condemned the book and drove the author back to his native England—the sorry beginning of a shabby tradition of Boston book banning.
In the twentieth century so many books were branded that “banned in Boston” became an idiom and a cliché. To Kill a Mockingbird, Brave New World, Native Son, The Sun Also Rises, Strange Fruit, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—and so many other wonderful books, all of them forbidden! The banning guaranteed that I and others immediately sought them out and read them, so the bluenosed banning, while despised, was nevertheless a semicomical happening.
Not so other bannings. In the 1930s, in a square across the street from the University of Berlin, Nazis burned books considered unsuitable for Aryan readers. Today we have graduated to a world where literary disapproval may well involve a fatwa, bloodshed, riot, and murder. One of the most worthy goals of a free society must be to strive for free dissemination of ideas, on a planet in which writers may publish books without fear.
Mary Glickman, author of Home in the Morning and One More River:
In 1983, a translation of The Penitent, a 1974 novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer, winner of the 1978 Nobel Prize in Literature, was launched. I loved Singer. I devoured every word he wrote. Multiple times. I asked my local library to purchase the book. Weeks later, I was sent a postcard refusing purchase on the basis that the work in question was “offensive” and without redeeming esthetic merit. Why and to whom it was offensive was not revealed.
My local library was in Brookline, Massachusetts, Boston’s epicenter of Jewish life, a bastion of liberalism, as progressive as people got in 1983. The refusal flummoxed me. I never understood it. Until recently, that is, when I googled the book’s New York Times review by none other than renowned professor and critic Harold Bloom, who opined: “It is an extremely unpleasant work without any redeeming esthetic merit or humane quality.”
I read the book. I do not pretend to the genius of a Harold Bloom, but I found much esthetic merit and humane quality in it. The Penitent may not have been Singer’s best work, but it’s work that expresses ideas from a Nobel Prize–winning mind. While I can’t be certain, I can make a case that it was Bloom’s review that prompted the library‘s attempt to blast The Penitent into oblivion. It was a boneheaded move.
But it’s a cautionary tale, no? Best summed up as: Do not make judgments based solely on the opinions of others. No matter who they are. Especially where great art is concerned.