Mind Matters: How bad do you have to be to get your book banned?

I just finished watching a Netflix series called 13 Reasons Why, about a teenage girl who kills herself.

Salman Rushdie: "The Satanic Verses seemed like gibberish to me."

Salman Rushdie: "The Satanic Verses seemed like gibberish to me."

Some people wanted the series banned because it might spur individuals to suicide. I say no to banning the show because I believe in freedom of speech and because I think the net effect of the series on suicide will be nil.

However, I am sure it is banned in many countries because of its sexual content. 

I have read books that have been banned by governments or schools. I liked Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger and Lady Chatterley’s Lover by  D. H. Lawrence. But Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses seemed like gibberish to me.   

I have also watched banned movies. Long ago I watched Deep Throat along with hundreds of other students at the University of Colorado. Last week, as I wrote this column, I watched another movie famed for once being banned: I Am Curious (Yellow). I checked it out of the town library. How times change. 

I am proud to say that I teach a course, Behaviour Modification, that was once banned. A university administrator eliminated it from the curriculum over my strong objection. I then told students it was being offered for the last time, and the course had by far its biggest enrollment ever. 

A student who had completed the course put together a petition to keep it being offered. The students sent it to the administrator, who responded that he had terminated the course because "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”. I told the students the statement would make a memorable motto for the whole university. 

After a year or so the administrator left the university, and I went back to teaching Behaviour Modification. It is hard to ban something forever if people want it. Think of marijuana and the oldest profession. 

Now I want to write a book that gets banned. The banning would make me a literary outlaw and trigger mega-sales to people who want to see what all the fuss is about.

But It is not easy these days to write a book that gets banned. I don’t have enough hate inside me to write a book condemning a specific ethnic or religious group. I lean more toward mockery, but mockery does not get banned in Australia. My evidence: The book Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure by Sarah MacDonald. 

I could travel to a country with a dictator and mock him in writing, but I would not expect to survive the experience. Look at Galileo: He came close to getting burned alive because of his crazy writing about the earth going round the sun.  

So I may never write a banned book. That won’t be my only failure in life.