Display of banned books turns heads

You might not think a used book store could cause a sensation in this day and age, but Judi Honore, owner of Shakespeare Books & Antiques in downtown Ashland, is doing just that by showcasing — and selling — scores of books that get blacklisted every year.

Either because of sex, race, gender, politics or just general dicey taste, hundreds of books still get banned, most from schools and mostly because parents and teachers fear harm to children or offense from race, gender or political issues.

Honore’s ire was triggered, she says, because one professor, Alan Gribben, bowdlerized Mark Twain’s immortal “Huckleberry Finn,” changing 219 n-words to “slave,” because so many teachers wouldn’t use the book with that word in it.

“This man thought he could re-write history and he thought he could write better than Mark Twain, but he can’t,” said Honore, who put the professor’s picture in her store window, along with shelves of many famous banned books.

A big section inside also shows many books found offensive to self-appointed arbiters of taste around the U.S., even a “Where’s Waldo?” book that shows, buried in a huge mob of sunbathers, a woman getting an ice cream cone pushed in her back, causing her to rise up, shocked and topless, although nothing naughty is in view.

“I got the list of banned books from the Internet and went out and bought them, no matter what they cost,” says Honore, who is honoring National Banned Book week Sept. 21-27.

Many people stop at her store window and begin discussions of the rightness or wrongness of banning so many books. Soon they are inside, browsing a much bigger selection, which includes scads of tomes that, she notes, are considered standards in American letters.

Banned for religious-political reasons are: Voltaire’s “Candide,” Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels,” Orwell’s “1984,” Dr. Seuss’s “The Lorax,” Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath."

Banned for sex are: Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterly’s Lover,” Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary,” Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner,” Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” and anything by Henry Miller.

Banned for race and gender issues are: Heller’s “Catch 22,” Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple,” Alcott’s “Little Women,” and Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” 

Books banned “to protect the children” include: Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye,” Judy Blume’s “Forever,” Rowling’s Harry Potter books, L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” and Parnell and Richardson’s “And Tango Makes Three,” a true children’s story about gay penguins hatching an egg.

All this brouhaha has led to banned books being the fastest selling — after Shakespeare — shelf in her store, which is located on East Main across from the Varsity Theatre.

Also on Honore’s shelves is “Steal This Book” by '60s radical Abbie Hoffman, basically a counterculture handbook.

“A girl tried to walk out with that book and her father made her put it back and pay for it, teaching her that you have to be responsible, even if you are a hippie,” she notes. “Another one people love talking about are the Harry Potter books, which contain too much magic and wizardry for a lot of teachers and parents."

Book bashing is not just a conservative phenomenon. Honore points to the Bible, as well as Darwin’s “Origin of Species,” noting followers of each have tried to ban the other book.

Donna Jean Morris, avid reader and clerk in Shakespeare Books, said she and countless other adolescents learned about sex from banned books, with her guide being Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”

“I found that book where I babysat and would read it every time I went over there,” she laughed. “I kept my hands washed and clean, so I wouldn’t leave smudges on it. You’d think we, the land of the free, would be a more enlightened society about books, but we’re not. We should have learned our lesson from history.”

Promoting banned books has brought a lot of people into the store, says Morris — and they, in turn, bring friends in, thus sprouting many a conversation on site.

If you think book banning only happens in red states, you’d be wrong, says Honore, noting the banning of “The Lorax” happened in California, because it was a thinly veiled bashing of the logging industry.

As for Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath,” it was seemingly banned for profanity, but the real reason, says Honore, is because it showed the grim realities of migrant worker life.

“I just don’t believe in banned books,” she says. “Everyone should be able to read what they want.”


John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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