‘Banned books’ 

By Alex P. Vidal 

“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.” ― Salman Rushdie

BEFORE going to the Museum of Modern Arts (MoMa) to attend the UNIQLO NYC Nights (it was my third consecutive months to be present) in Midtown Manhattan at 5 o’clock in the afternoon July 5, I dropped by at the Barnes and Noble Booksellers (located in front of the Philippine Consulate General New York) on Fifth Avenue.

On the ground floor, I saw some of the very familiar books placed side by side and were categorized as “banned books.”

I saw Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird; Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man And The Sea; Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love In The Time Of Cholera; Simone De Beauvoir’s The Woman Destroyed; Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist; Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale; Sandra Cisneros’ The House On Mango Street; Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give; J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye.

There were also Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time; Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye; Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five; Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief; Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games; Adam Silvera’s The First To Die At The End; and my favorite, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (50th Anniversary Edition), to mention only a few.

The big question that quickly entered my mind was, “but why”?

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Except for To Kill A Mockingbird, The Alchemist, The Old Man And The Sea, Love In The Time Of Cholera, and Lolita, I am not familiar with the others in the above-mentioned list.

It’s intriguing how and why they (the books I’m familiar with) were lumped together in the “banned books” or why all the books I mentioned were considered as “banned.”

We understand some of the controversial books in the past had been banned because they challenged longstanding narratives about American history or social norms; others were deemed problematic for its language or for sexual or political content.

In the early 90’s in Iloilo City in the Philippines, I joined my late friends, Atty. Ernie Dayot and Willie Branum in collecting some of the classic books we could buy from bookstores in Iloilo, Bacolod, Cebu, and Metro Manila.

“Some of these books have been banned in the Philippines but we could have access on them now because of the WTO (World Trade Organization),” according to Dayot, who died and was cremated in Dingle, Iloilo in 2019.

We painted the town red and frenziedly went on a shopping spree for the books regularly like a house on fire.

Every time I was asked by friends why “we could now have access” on some of the supposed banned books in the Philippines, my quick answer was “because of the WTO.”

WTO, the world’s largest international economic organization, regulates and facilitates international trade. Governments use the organization to establish, revise, and enforce the rules that govern international trade in cooperation with the United Nations System.

It reportedly prohibits discrimination between trading partners, but provides exceptions for environmental protection, national security, and other important goals.

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Even as social mores relaxed in the 20th century, school libraries remained sites of contentious battles about what kind of information should be available to children in an age of social progress and the modernization of American society, according to the National Geographic.

Parents and administrators reportedly grappled over both fiction and nonfiction during school board and library commission meetings.

Most of the earliest book bans were reportedly spurred by religious leaders, and by the time Great Britain founded its colonies in America, it had a longstanding history of book censorship.

In 1650, prominent Massachusetts Bay colonist William Pynchon published The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption, a pamphlet that argued that anyone who was obedient to God and followed Christian teachings on Earth could get into heaven.

The National Geographic reported that the pamphlet “flew in the face of Puritan Calvinist beliefs that only a special few were predestined for God’s favor.”

“Outraged, Pynchon’s fellow colonists denounced him as a heretic, burned his pamphlet, and banned it—the first event of its kind in what would later become the U.S. Only four copies of his controversial tract survive today,” the National Geographic revealed.

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two daily newspapers in Iloilo.—Ed)

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