word craft




I’ve tried to recall if my read­ing was ever cen­sored when I was a kid. In ele­men­tary school, I don’t think I ever read an assigned nov­el. Book reports were required so I must have read some­thing beyond the basal read­ers we used in class. No idea what.

At a fair­ly ear­ly age, I was giv­en a pub­lic library card and was free to walk to the near­by local library. In one sense there was cen­sor­ship because — if I was there with­out a par­ent — I was restrict­ed to the children’s sec­tion. I have no mem­o­ry of want­i­ng to go to any oth­er sec­tion. It’s pos­si­ble I did, but I have no rec­ol­lec­tion of being turned away.

The Year of the Boar and Jackie RobinsonI lived in a house of books, not the least med­ical books, since my father was a doc­tor. I don’t recall sneak­ing looks in those books. That said, in The Year of the Boar and Jack­ie Robin­son — the author, Bette Bao Lord, who was a class­mate and good friend of my sis­ter, recounts (in the book) how she and my sis­ter snuck into my father’s office to look at naughty images.

My moth­er, who was in charge of our read­ing, did have one restric­tion regard­ing what I read, the hor­ror comics of the 1950s. I was a vora­cious com­ic book read­er, but there were such comics as Hor­ror, Tales from the Crypt, Zom­bies, and Amer­i­can Vam­pires. (I like that last title!) My moth­er had a curi­ous restric­tion regard­ing those com­ic books: I could not bring them inside the house, but I could and did read them on the front stoop. I’m not sure this is cen­sor­ship. What I recall from these comics was bril­liant col­or and ghoul­ish crea­tures. Still, though I did read them I was not (nor am I now) giv­en to acts of vio­lence or the dig­ging up of dead bodies.

In upper ele­men­tary school The Amboy Dukes, a 1947 “nov­el of youth and crime in Brook­lyn,” writ­ten by Irv­ing Schu­man, was reput­ed to be full of sex. In my school, it was passed around by the boys but only to read cer­tain parts, not the nov­el as a whole. 

Once again I must have read some of it, but have no mem­o­ry of such, though as I sat down to write this I did recall the title — if not the author.

Abe­Books (an online used book bro­ker) is offer­ing an ear­ly paper­back edi­tion of The Amboy Dukes for fif­teen dollars.

“Con­di­tion: Very Good. Avon #169, 1948. First Avon print­ing. A Very Good copy. Rubs to the cor­ners and spine tips. Some paint chips to the spine edges. Mild dust­ing to the rear cov­er. Light­ly tanned pages. Cov­er art by Ann Cantor.”

But a first edi­tion of the Dou­ble­day hard­back will cost you $450.00.

Let it be said that as an ado­les­cent I was a big read­er. A diary I kept dur­ing my senior high school year has long lists of books I was read­ing — hav­ing noth­ing to do with school­work. Impres­sive authors are not­ed, Shake­speare, and Mil­ton, among many clas­sic and mod­ern writ­ers. By that time, I had already made up my mind to be a writer. That said, the depth of my 17-year-old intel­lect may be mea­sured by my favorite phrase in the book. In its entire­ty, I wrote:

Read Pla­to. Not bad.

I once vis­it­ed a class of sixth graders. I asked them what they were read­ing beyond that required read­ing. Some­one called out, “Stephen King.”

“Does any­one else read him?” I asked.

Half the class raised their hands.

The teacher was aston­ished. She had no idea.

By way of con­trast, many years ago — while on a book tour — I met a woman who proud­ly informed me that when­ev­er her young daugh­ter told her there was a movie she wished to see, the woman took it upon her­self to go see the film first to make sure “it was okay.”

“You must see a lot of movies,” I said.

“I have to,” she said. “It’s my respon­si­bil­i­ty to keep her from the bad ones.”

But of course, she was see­ing all the “bad ones.”

Ah, it must be rough to be a censor.

While it is true that many peo­ple who object to a book have nev­er read it (get­ting the titles from lists) a good num­ber do read those for­bid­den books.

I think two ques­tions should be required:

  • Did you read the book?
  • Did you enjoy it?

I sus­pect they often do.

1 thought on “Censorship”

  1. Absolute­ly spot on with those last 2 ques­tions to ask some­one who is bent of censoring/banning books! And how dare peo­ple tell me what my child can and can­not read. I can bet that those peo­ple are not monitoring/limiting their kids’ social media scrolling and see­ing all sorts of hor­rors, false­hoods and nasty thoughts that spread there!


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