A Case for Banning Books

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A Case for Banning Books by Jack Murnighan

I’m a big fan of banning books. If it was up to me, smash hits like Prozac for Cats,

Scenic Tours of Newark, New Jersey, and The Fatback Cookbook wouldn’t be ennobling

Barnes’ shelves anywhere. But the sad truth is, books don’t get banned because they fail to live up

to my aesthetic criteria. They get banned because they might, somehow and somewhere, potentially

cause a scandal. So the logic goes, why not guarantee a scandal by banning the fucker! Now don’t get

me wrong; I’m still completely in favor of book-banning. In this case, however, the reason’s a bit

counterintuitive: because banning books calls attention to their power.


Since the days of Plato and Aristotle the word everybody has used to talk about literature

is “imitation.” Books are supposed to hold mirrors up to reality. But, as it turns out, this is

not as easy as it sounds. There aren’t too many books that manage to get under your skin, make you

feel or think; there aren’t too many books that, in a word, convince you. So what does it

mean when a book gets banned? What do we really know about it? We know that someone somewhere got

a bee in his bonnet about a work of (most typically) fiction; it means the book offended,

scared, repulsed (but probably titillated) some unsuspecting reader in some backalley of the Bible

belt. We know that book successfully held up a mirror to a part of life someone just didn’t want to

see. So, to put it briefly, we know it worked. It did exactly what literature sets out to



The one thing, then, that all banned books have in common is power. They have the

power to be considered harmful or dangerous enough to be suppressed. So let’s take a little “banned

book week” tour of salacious scenes from a few of the great banned books of history. And remember,

don’t be surprised when you find yourself moved. You knew it was coming.

The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

Venus in Furs by Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch

Justine by the Marquis de Sade

Ulysses by James Joyce

©1997 Jack

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