BANNED BOOKS

Free Word CentreFlowThe Free Word Festival was held in the Free Word Centre (Farringdon Road, London, 04.09 to 05.11.10).  Fritt Ord (which owns Norway’s newspaper kiosks) sponsors the Centre, and the Festival.  Its handout advertising the festival is Islamophobic.  It acquired its monopoly after the war.  Norway was in chaos (the Waffen SS volunteers may have been difficult to reabsorb – upstart).  Director, Shreela Ghosh wrote that ‘Flow’ derives from “Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi” who has “been writing about the concept of ‘Flow’ for more than 30 years”.  It’s a “feeling of energised focus”.

(Wed., 05.09.10)’s discussion was about banned books.  Douglas Murray, “author of Hate on the State: How British libraries encourage Islamic extremism” participated, he wants (some) books banned.  Lisa Appignanesi current President PEN England chaired, Mike Clarke, Head of Camden Libraries, Cllr. Mike Harris (Public Affairs Manager of Index on Censorship), and a man from Allan Lane / Penguin spoke.

A power point illustration of banned books was shown — the Bolshevik and Fenian Republic’s to the fore.  Lebanon banned Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code in 2009.  Douglas Murray asked why this was emphasised.  Brown’s books aren’t great literature.

In a finale question and answer session, a young woman and a young man asked essentially the same question.  Were not the librarian, Mike Clarke, and the (Penguin) publisher censors?  They said they were “gate keepers”.  Mike Clarke said decisions had to be made about the number of books put into libraries.  There is a limited amount of money available at any given moment.  He makes the decision about where such money is to be spent.  It’s not quite censorship.  He has ‘advisors’.

The publisher said there are ‘Penguin books’, and they are simply not going to publish some material.  That’s a very ambiguous statement.  Penguin has, or had, the most extensive range of any publisher.  What could it reject, other than the abysmally written?  Allan Lane’s hunch that there was a desire for good writing at reasonable prices paid off in vast profits.  Penguin expanded into publishing every sort of book, from detective yarns to popular science, to the ‘Specials’, that prepared the late 1930s public for a major war.  A ‘non-Penguin’ book is difficult to conceive.  Librarians are largely anti-censorship, but they make day to day decisions on what users will read.  As do all publishers.

The ‘British’ (Establishment) attitude to censorship is that is what other people do.  My own attitude is coloured by the fact that Gay (or ‘LGBT’) writing got short shrift from the big publishing houses.  They were not as nervous as Hollywood but (very) small – and often quasi-pornographic – publishing houses led the way.  This is in the context of the big firms happily publishing homophobic garbage ranging from imaginative literature – homosexual women and men were contemptibly pathetic or contemptibly villainous creatures – to ‘textbooks’ in every ‘-ology’ conceivable.

S McGouran

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