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Posts Tagged ‘banned books’

Banned Books

November 17, 2014 | by

Once Upon a Potty

An illustration from Once Upon a Potty.

Once Upon a Potty was written in 1975 by the Israeli author and illustrator Alona Frankel to help her son toilet train. (Its Hebrew title is Sir Ha-Sirim, literally “Potty of Potties.”) Since it was translated into English in 1980, it’s never gone out of print, and now it’s regarded as a picture-book classic, a helpful resource for the parents of young children. 

It was banned in my house. My mother disliked the use of euphemisms she deemed babyish—wee-wee, potty, “a hole to woo-woo from”—and illustrations she found “creepy” and “disgusting.” I can still recall first hearing what would become one of her most oft-repeated phrases: “I don't care for that at all.” She sniffed at households that owned the book and curled her lip when we saw it on store shelves. 

As a result, Once Upon a Potty took on the luster of the taboo. Like a nineteenth-century schoolboy with a French postcard, I would read it—or, anyway, look at it—furtively whenever I was unobserved: at other toddlers’ houses, in the children’s room of the library, at the local Y where I did tumbling. Particularly shocking to me was the final illustration: the triumphant coil of tempera feces in a puddle of yellow urine. And the accompanying text! Exuberantly babyish, frankly scatological, my mother's nightmare incarnate. “Bye-bye wee-wee,” it reads as the excrement disappears down the toilet. “Bye-bye woo-woo.” Read More »

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Real Talk

July 10, 2014 | by

INTERVIEWER

Was the community you grew up in pleased about your career?

MUNRO

It was known there had been stories published here and there, but my writing wasn’t fancy. It didn’t go over well in my hometown. The sex, the bad language, the incomprehensibility … The local newspaper printed an editorial about me: A soured introspective view of life … And, A warped personality projected on … 

The Art of Fiction No. 137, 1994

Happy birthday to Alice Munro. In this 1979 clip from Take 30, a Canadian talk show, Munro—who’s eighty-two today—discusses the less-than-warm reception her collection Lives of Girls and Women received in her native Huron County, where a conservative group argued that it should be expunged from twelfth-grade syllabi. She speaks here to Harry Brown (whose three-piece suit yours truly wouldn’t mind owning) about fighting the proposed ban.

This is the kind of talk show that’s all but extinct today, in which two unadorned, ordinary-looking people have an intelligent conversation without a studio audience, or a ticker scrolling beneath them, or a host of other distracting stimuli that have come to seem normal. But what’s more eye-opening is how little has changed since then. The controversies stalking literature in 1979 are almost identical to today’s bugbears: declining readership, increasing moral turpitude. A debate, in other words, about what literature should do and who it’s for.

“Many people don’t read much and don’t think books are very important anyway,” Munro tells the interviewer. And:

As far as I can tell from the talk of the people who are against the books, they somehow think that if we don’t write about sex, it will disappear, it will go away. They talk about preserving their seventeen-year-old and eighteen-year-old children, protecting them. Well, biology doesn’t protect them. They don’t need to read books.

It’s not clear whether Munro succeeded in stopping or overturning the ban, but apparently the events in Huron County “inspired the Book and Periodical Council of Canada to launch Freedom to Read Week, an annual celebration of freedom of expression.”

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Scandals, Contests, and Noms de Guerre

April 10, 2012 | by

  • RIP Christine Brooke-Rose, an experimental novelist who has died at eighty-nine. Quoth the New York Times, she had “the ardor of a philologist, the fingers of a prestidigitator and the appetite of a lexivore, resulting in novels that exhilarated many critics and enervated others.”
  • The ALA’s list of 2011’s most-challenged books includes To Kill a Mockingbird, The Hunger Games, and My Mom’s Having a Baby! A Kid’s Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy, by Dori Hillestad Butler.
  • Amazing movie-title stills.
  • England’s poet laureate takes on the Pendle Witches. “This was a grisly affair, even by the debased standards of the day, with two of the women hanged at Lancaster castle aged over eighty and blind, another probably driven mad by a disfigured face with one eye lower than the other, and all ten convicted largely on the evidence of a nine-year-old child.”
  • You surely know O. Henry’s real name, and the pen names of the Brontes … but there are some real surprises on this list of authorial noms de guerre!
  • At the New York Public Library, Thoreau goes digital.
  • Ninety-six-year-old Herman Wouk’s latest novel, The Lawgiver, chronicles the making of a movie about Moses via “letters, memos, emails, journals, news articles, recorded talk, tweets, Skype transcripts, and text messages.”
  • A literary tattoo showdown.
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E. contest rewards the winner, appropriately, with classic pulp.
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