Obscene in the Extreme: Talking about Banned Books

In Ed's Perspective by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka

Yes, it still happens…and not just in Texas. Books continue to get banned in the United States. Believe it. As a teenager in Detroit I remember the consternation that filled a librarians face when I requested a copy of Lolita to read and was duly informed that it was deemed “inappropriate” reading material for the citizens of Wayne County. This, from a city that routinely allowed blocks of it to get burnt to the ground every night before Halloween…it makes you wonder about the very idea of local government.

The following map offers a look at where in the US books have been banned and challenged in the past several years, from 2007 to the 2010.

This week is Banned Book Week and among the various things being done to mark this inauspicious occasion Penguin Classics On Air radio series is offering a discussion of banned books this week. Penguin Classics Editorial Director, Elda Rotor, and features uber-librarian Nancy Pearl talking about Harry Potter, Huckleberry Finn, Lady Chatterley’s Lover and other titles readers have found too hot to handle. They also discuss the difference between a banned and challenged book and the process of how a book comes to be banned or challenged.

Also starring in this episode of Penguin’s ongoing book chat podcast is Rick Wartzman, author of Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath (PublicAffairs). Here, Wartzman talks about “the crucial impact politics and reader climate have on why some books turn into scandals, paying particular attention to the nationwide uproar surrounding Grapes of Wrath and Gretchen Knief, the lone librarian who stood up against its banning and burning in the 1930s.

I sincerely hope there’s a library named after Ms. Knief. If not, there should be. (You can read a short appreciation of Knief and discussion of banned books at The Red Room here.)

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.