Banned Books Week Begins!

This week, to kick off the celebration of our freedom to read, we are doing a mini News This Week segment on Banned Books Week. Check out the links below and learn a little more about censorship in America.

The absurd logic behind some of the most famous banned books.

10 banned books you might not expect.

Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak is in the midst of a heated censorship debate.

Beware of the book.

Howl, which was the subject of an obscenity trial following its publication,  opens (as a film) during banned books week.

See the top 10 most frequently challenged books of 2009.

See a map of book challenges in the US.

Master and Margarita | Banned and Censored: A History and Guide to the Translations.

master1The Master and Margarita is one of my favorite books of all time.  A satire of soviet life, The Master and Margarita features the devil and his retinue, Pontius Pilate, Yeshua Ha-Nozri (Иешуа га-Ноцри, Jesus the Nazarene), and nearly 10-20 other characters all caught up in fantastic and very chaotic adventure.  Bulgakov’s portrayal of the Russian literary union, the housing crisis, the collective fear of foreigners, and his fresh portrayal of famous biblical characters is absolutely and hysterically funny.

When Mikhail Bulgakov began writing this novel, he was in the midst of extreme success for his satircal plays which largely teased and harassed the White Army: the opposition to the communism during the revolution.  Perhaps growing too bold for Soviet times, he wrote a play (The Purple Island 1929) which criticized officials of the New Economic Plan, which created such a violent reaction that his works were immediatly banned and his career ruined.  Fearing further persecution, a year later in 1930 he burned the manuscript for The Master and Margarita and requested permission to emmigrate to his family in France.  The request was denied, and he was told if tried to leave Russia he would be killed.  In 1931, under encouragement from his new wife Yelena Shilovskaya, he started rewriting the novel, finally completing a 4th revision of the book in 1940, just weeks before his death from a hereditary liver disease.  After his death, his wife completed a final version based on notes and planned revisions in 1941.  It was 25 years before it appeared in print, in what is considered startling oversight in Soviet literary politics.  This  censored version of the text (with 12% removed and more changed) was published in 1966 in Moskva Magazine. Illegal pamphlet copies of the book called samizdats that contained the uncensored text were distributed by hand and eventually used in 1967 by a publisher in Frankfurt to complete the first full published version of the text.  The first complete version to appear in Russia wasn’t until 1973, compiled by Anna Saakyants and published by Khudozhestvennaya Literatura.  This was considered the cannonical version until 1989 when Lidiya Yanovskaya prepared the final version based on all available texts and manuscripts.

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Mirra Ginsburg Translation (Grove Press 1967):

Translated from the original censored magazine publication in 1967, this is one of the first English translations.  Considered hurried by some, a Russian professor of mine once declared that her translation is the only one that truly captures the comedic sense of the novel.  Hurried or comedic, this is an incomplete edition.


Michael Glenny Translation (Harper &  Row 1967):

Translated from the  Frankfurt edition, this is often considered the first complete translation in English, also from 1967.  For many, this translation is still incomplete, as it is taken from the a version of the book that was pulled apart then pieced together from samizdat texts. This translation was the only available complete edition in English for 28 years.

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Where the real split begins is between the Diana Burgin & Katherine Tiernan O’Connor translation and the Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky. translation.  Published within years of each other both translations are incredibly complete, with notes, two translators, and a consultant.  Both translations seek to be accurate while still preserving the literary style of the satire.  Often, with excellent translations such as these, it can come down to an arbitrary personal preference.  Mine is firmly planted with Pevear & Volokhonsky, who are renown for the translations of Dotstyevsky, Chekov, Tolstoy and Gogol.  Nearly everyone I know who has read The Master and Margarita has read this translation and fallen in love with it, which makes me want to recommend it as the be-all and end-all edition, but the praise I have read by obviously devoted Bulgakov fans for the Burgin & Tiernan translation makes me hesitate.  Either way you go, you are sure to end up with a lovely, hysterical, and amazing story.


This week for our weekly picks we are participating in banned books week.  Below is a list of some of our favorite titles along with the year and reason it was banned.  Banned Books Week is the only national celebration of the freedom to read, even so, book bans and challenges still run throughout our country. Created in 1982, it focuses on educating people about censorship, and has since been celebrated internationally as well. As a special addition, we are including some of our favorite banned music as well. Below, you can see a map of the US book bans and challenges over the last two years.

View Book Bans and Challenges, 2007-2009 in a larger map
From the New and Used Book Departments

1. The Absolutely True Diary of Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Suspended in 2008 from a classroom in Oregon after parents complained that it was offensive. The protagonist discusses masturbation. The book was a New York Times bestseller and a National Book Award winner.

2. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

This book is about censorship and those who ban books for fear of creating too much individualism and independent thought. In late 1998, this book was removed from the required reading list of the West Marion High School in Foxworth, Mississippi. A parent complained of the use of the words “God damn” in the book. Subsequently, the superintendent instructed the the teacher to remove the book from the required reading list.

3. Howl by Allen Ginsburg

Officials of the Cold War era saw only willful destruction of American values in a poet’s grief over suffocating 1950s convention.

4. In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

This title has been causing controversy in the U.S. since it’s publication in 1970. Offended by Mickey’s nudity, many librarians have had to draw diapers on him with correction fluid in order to keep the book in their libraries. To this day, it remains the 25th most challenged book according the American Library Association.

5. Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

The Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran put a price on the head of this author for writing this book which allegedly is critical of the Islam religion. Rushdie, as a result, went into hiding for an indefinite period of time, fearing for his life

6. Lysistrata by Aristophanes

U.S. import ban on Lysistrata was lifted in 1930.This Greek tragedy was written somewhere around 400 B.C.

7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird has been a source of significant controversy since its being the subject of classroom study as early as 1963. The book’s racial slurs, profanity, and frank discussion of rape have led people to challenge its appropriateness in libraries and classrooms across the United States. The American Library Association reported that To Kill a Mockingbird was #23 of the 100 most frequently challenged books of 2000–2007

8. Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov

Although it was published in Paris, it was soon (1956) to be banned there for being obscene. An Argentinian court banned the book in 1959 and again in 1962 ruling that the book “reflected moral disintegration and reviled humanity.” In 1960, the New Zealand Supreme Court also banned the book. It was later freely published in France, England, and the U.S

9. Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

This is a perennial favorite of censors and has been banned in the U.S. and Australia. In 1960, a Tulsa, OK teacher was fired for putting the book on the 11th grade reading list. The teacher was reinstated, but the book was permanently removed from teaching programs. A Minnesota high school administration was attacked for allowing the book in the school library.

10. His Dark Materials Trilogy by Phillip Pullman

Pullman’s publishers have primarily marketed the series to young adults, but Pullman also intended to speak to adults. North American printings of The Amber Spyglass have censored passages describing Lyra’s incipient sexuality, which Pullman intends as a reevaluation of the tale of Adam and Eve. “This so-called original sin is anything but. It’s the thing that makes us fully human.”

From the Music Department

1. Billy Holiday Love for Sale was banned by ABC because they thought it promoted prostitution. (1956)

2. Louie Louie by the Kingsman was banned in parts of the US because of the indecipherability of the lyrics leading to hysteria. (1966)

3. All Beatles music was banned in August of 1966 because of Lennon’s “more popular than Jesus” remark.

4. Chinese Democracy by Guns ‘n’ Roseswas banned this year in China because of the name of the album.

5. God Save the Queen was banned in Brittan due to it’s disrespectful tone. (1977)

6. Rumble by Link Ray and His Raymen was dropped by radio stations even though it’s instrumental because they thought it promoted violence.  When it appeared on American Bandstand, Dick Clark refused to mention the song’s title.

7. There Stands the Glass by Webb Pierce (one of Logos all time favorite songs) was banned on some radio stations because they thought it promoted drinking. (1954)

Special thanks to the American Library Association and The Controversial and Banned Books site for providing most of the information on books, and to my colleague Dave Irmini for supplying the music selections and information.