A brief and incomplete history of banned books

tipadjfThe written word has been causing chaos ever since it was invented. When cavemen started drawing comics on stones, it probably started a few fights. When papyrus came into fashion and ancient peoples began recording the stuff that went on, I bet there were some who got uppity. And in the relatively modern times, when humans started reading books of the kind we are now familiar with, there has been all manner of uproar; some mildly amusing, like when racy pulp novels made some believe the world was turning into a place of potty-mouths and sex-fiends; some serious, like when writers such as William Burroughs, Alan Ginsberg and Kathleen Windsor (as well as many others) faced imprisonment for the books they wrote; and some terrifying, like the hundreds of writers around the world who actually were imprisoned – or worse – for the words they put down on paper.

Still today, books remain controversial. Whether they are printed, digital, written on blogs or online, the written word is a hugely powerful force whose effects cross the boundaries of everything from politics to sexuality to freedom of speech and censorship.

So long as there are people who oppose certain ideas in books, there will also be those people who radically ignore the mainstream ideal and continue writing them. And there will also be events, like the 2015 London Radical Bookfair, to showcase these books and the publishers that get them out there.

This year’s Bookfair will take place on 9th of May, and it’s going to be amazing. How could it not be? Taking place just south of the river, it will be championing the best in radical publishing – from independent booksellers and publishers to self-publishers and zine makers. Oh, and we’ll be there, too.

As a tribute to the event, and as a celebration to all those glorious books and writers who have taught us more than a thing or two, we thought we’d offer this very brief, hugely incomplete history of banned books deemed too radical to read….

1440 – The Bible
Now the world’s number one bestseller, the bible was banned in the USSR for 30 years between 1926 and 1956. It was also banned in Ethiopia in 1986.

manif1848 – The Communist Manifesto
Banned in Turkey for 165 years – right up until 2013 – for promoting communist ideals.

1903 – The Call of the Wild by Jack London
Banned in Nazi Germany as it was considered ‘too radical.’

1922 – Ulysses by James Joyce
One of the most famous banned books ever, Ulysses was banned in the UK for 8 years for being too sexy.

well1928 – The Well of Loneliness by Radclyff Hall
Considered the first lesbian novel of all time, it was banned in the UK for 21 years for promoting lesbianism.

1928 – Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H Lawrence
Some people here in the UK didn’t like it’s sexy bits, which are now frankly hilarious.

1932 – Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Not only was this banned for 5 years in Australia, copies of it were also burned.

1945 – Animal Farm by George Orwell
This was banned just about everywhere for all kinds of reasons, mainly for being critical of communism. And it’s still banned in the United Arab Emirates for going against Islamic values.

lol1955 – Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Banned in the UK for 4 years for obscenity, with customs ordered to seize imported copies.

1988 – The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
The Satanic Verses has been banned for religious reasons in too many countries to list. It’s still banned in about 16 countries to this day.

As this list proves, radical literature has practically shaped literary – and even human – history. These are books that are now taught in schools and scooped up from bookstore shelves by the hundreds. You’ve probably read a few, if not a lot of them, yourself.

We hope to see you at the book fair. And if that list is not enough to sway you, let us introduce you to two more brilliant books that we’ll be taking there with us. Both have been nominated for two very cool, really important literary prizes that will be announced on the day…

Pearl Power by Mel S. Eliot

(I Love Mel, £7.99, p/b, 9780992854416)

pearlPearl Power is a feisty five-year-old who believes very strongly in gender equality. After moving house and starting a new school, Pearl meets one boy who thinks he is so much better and stronger than her, because he is a boy and she is a girl. Obviously, this is a load of rubbish. And because Peal is a badass and a feminist, she shows him that she’s every bit as good as him. She even teaches him a thing or two about kindness.

This brilliant kid’s book has been nominated for the Little Rebels Award for radicalism in children’s publishing. We are rooting for Pearl 100% — read the book and we’re sure you will be too!

Here We Stand edited by Helena Earnshaw & Angharad Penrhyn Jones

(Honno, p/b, £10.99, 9781909983021)

HereWeStand_Jacket_correctSpine.inddThe women in this book are dreaming of a better world. But they are not just dreamers. They have organised, marched on the streets, joined protest camps, opened refuges, blogged from war zones and smashed up military equipment. They have gone undercover, lived in trees, stormed Parliament and taken on the world’s largest corporations. They have been sacked, attacked, psychologically abused, jailed, shot at, sued, deceived by police spies and even disowned by their families. But they keep going. And they are changing history along the way.

This truly breath-taking collection, from Honno Welsh Women’s Press, has been nominated for a Bread & Roses Award for Radical Publishing.

Good luck to all involved!

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