Tag Archive: Florida

Short version:

I’ve created a new e-book. It’ll be available for free on Kindle from February 10th through February 14th. You can download it over here. You can also download the 59Mb PDF version over here. (And please, share it as much as you can/want.)

Long version:

“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”

Oscar Wilde

This collection of banned books was inspired by Florida’s House Bill 1467, which aims to police which books would be allowed in public schools. Schools in Manatee and Duval counties are hiding, removing, or covering up all of their books just to be on the safe side. A teacher charged with distributing “obscene” books to minors could be charged with a third-degree felony. Since no one knows what precisely would qualify as obscene, there are entire schools with empty shelves.

A “media specialist” (and not a teacher) would be tasked with deciding what’s allowed and what isn’t: by default, everything is banned, and books would be approved on an individual basis. If that doesn’t make you confused, bewildered, and perhaps a little angry – well, maybe this collection of banned books (and the introductions I prepared for them) will show why censorship has always been a losing game, a coward’s last defense.

I was born in the Soviet Union. My grandma spent seven years in Stalin’s Gulag camp. My home country, which I haven’t visited since 2003 and likely never will, kills journalists for sport. Let’s just say I have low tolerance for censors and bullies. I always low-key wondered how I could help, what – if anything – I could contribute, and I got this idea after reading a few too many accounts of the consequences of Florida’s book ban. (They aren’t setting up book bonfires just yet, but we live in an age where the unthinkable becomes improbable becomes news.)

If I were the pretentious kind, I’d say that I’m a friend of freedom, a lover of libraries, a keeper of knowledge – but I’m not, so I won’t, though I sort of did. Heh. I’m just a guy with a computer and a little too much time on my hands. I’m good at editing huge volumes of information, and my sole accomplishment here is meta-compiling old books using publicly available resources. If I could do it, so can you.

At first, I thought this banned book compendium would take just one all-nighter: find the most famous public domain books that had been banned in the past, splice them all together, add some formatting, a few words about each book, etc… That was idealistic of me: I suddenly understood why the only other collection I found stopped at 18 books. I went with 32. Working nights and weekends, this project took well over a week, even though Project Gutenberg and Wikipedia had already done all the heavy lifting. Still – worth it.

There are two often-banned pieces of literature I couldn’t fit in: Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Shakespeare’s plays. They require so many footnotes (which would have to be very carefully interlinked) that adding them here was beyond my capacity. Fortunately, you can find them for free right here, on Project Gutenberg: Canterbury Tales; Shakespeare.

Each banned book in this 8,622-page monster of an anthology is preceded by a short text: a summary of the book, why it was controversial, and who tried (or succeeded in) banning it. That’s followed by a link or two that will lead you to sites with other relevant information on the topic.

Incidentally, it’s quite disturbing how much information is hidden behind the paywalls of academic journals. The research published (presumably) for the public good, often in taxpayer-funded universities, gets locked away where an average reader can’t read it without paying $25 or more. (Good luck finding anything useful and accessible on Nicholas I’s “terror of censorship.”) Some of the links I’ve included lead to hobbyist blogs that have remarkably useful and in-depth information. Those sites were created by average people like you and I, and they dispense their knowledge freely. Some food for thought…

I’ve learned a fair bit while assembling this collection. Before I started this project, I had no idea just how much influence Anthony Comstock (he of the 1873 Comstock Act) had with all his puritanical purges. I didn’t know that his successor, John S. Sumner of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice (NYSSV), kept the work going until 1950, which is still within living memory. And I certainly had no clue that Boston remained a hotbed of censorship well into the 20th century, to the point where “Banned in Boston” was a coveted distinction that was almost guaranteed to boost a book’s sales.

Some of the incidents I describe in those mini-introductions sound ridiculous. For example, the time Oklahoma’s Mothers United for Decency couldn’t explain why their Smut Mobile featured the Mad magazine. Or the time Australia kept banning and un-banning James Joyce’s Ulysses. Or the time Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland got banned in China because “animals should not use human language.” We can condescendingly chuckle at those displays of idiocy, but each of them is a canary in the coal mine of literacy.

There always were, and are, and will remain authoritarian despots, power-drunk bureaucrats, puritanical activists, and others like them who hate unusual books, who think they know better than you, who try to dam the flow of progress. Ironically, their efforts often bring even more attention to the books they seek to hide.

There are some who would argue that e-books will end censorship once and for all. Well… That’s true if you manually pass them around as EPUB files. If, however, you download them directly on Kindle (or Nook, or elsewhere), the same centralized system can delete your e-books just as fast, just as easily. That already happened once: in 2009, Amazon realized it didn’t have the right to sell George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm in the US. It proceeded to immediately delete those e-books from all their customers’ Kindles and Kindle apps. The irony of that Orwellian move is overwhelming, and though Amazon apologized profusely and promised not to do that again (unless they must), that showed just how easy it would be to censor an e-book if the push came to shove.

Ergo this file: I’m uploading the whole collection on Kindle as a cheap e-book because that’s the fastest way to ensure wide distribution. ($2.99 was the lowest price they allowed me to set.) You can download the Kindle version here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BV96DX8R I’ll also try to spread the free PDF version all over the web. Save it, make a copy, send it to your friends – and read it yourself: the books within may not be your cup of tea, but once upon a time they were bestsellers, and they pissed off The Powers That Be so much that they continued to be banned centuries and even millennia after they were published. Books that inspire so much angst across eons make for some interesting reading. Besides, Lysistrata is hilarious and Mark Twain is a national treasure.

One could argue that we as a culture can be defined not by what we permit but by what we prohibit. Banned books, banned art, banned objects: they’re the negative space in the self-portrait that is our civilization. One of my favourite authors, Claire North, had this insightful gem in her Notes from the Burning Age: “Before the burning, it was considered heretical for women to behave in a manner considered male. Then these words changed – ‘female’, ‘male’. They have changed again since that time. What is our new morality? What is our new heresy?” What indeed.

Next time there’s a book ban (or a Nazi-like book bonfire), there’s a good chance something from this collection will be included. Save it. Pass it on. Historically speaking, literacy is a rare privilege. Public libraries have existed for just a couple of centuries. Public schools, even less than that. Knowledge is fragile, and critical thinking is powerful. There are those who would love for them both to go away, and fast. Read. Resist. Rage.

If you want to help, go to this Project Gutenberg page and start there. I’m not affiliated with them, but they fight the good fight as they digitize thousands of public domain texts. If you want to do more, start stockpiling controversial books (modern or classic) for safekeeping. Build a little lending library on your streetcorner. Pay very close attention to proposed book bans in your area, and protest like hell if they happen. As you will see below, quite a few bans were overturned when the appalling apparatchiks got overwhelmed by their community’s outrage. Shame still works, if only for the time being.

If there’s a large-scale book ban in progress in some other part of the world, get involved by mailing books to students and local activists. Send money. Send emails. Send the good vibes and share social media articles, if that’s all you have the time and the inclination for. Just don’t be silent.

If you have an idea for other public domain digitization projects, and if you’d like my help, you can reach me here: https://grigorylukin.com/contact-me/ So long, and happy reading.

Beauty. Ignorance. Seascapes.

Florida – pros and cons

no snow
hot weather
nice roads

George Zimmerman within 100 miles of my house
brain-eating amoeba
skin cancer risk
blinding rain

The Hero of the Bay of Tampa

I’ve just spent half the day on the most popular beach in Tampa with the most advanced metal detector on the market. I haven’t failed to find anything of value – I have succeeded in confirming that there were no landmines or live artillery rounds buried in the sand!

People of the Bay of Tampa, you may sleep safely. I am not the hero you need, but I am the hero you deserve.

*stares stoically into the distance*

The frontier of fun,
Where the fluffiest clouds,
Like fairy tale refugees,
Fill up the sky.