Memoirs about Censorship
By: Allyson Mower
I started a new program at the academic library where I work called Curiosity Bibliotherapy as a reading club for those whose might need a little inspiration. After all, isn’t that what higher education is all about–being curious about the natural and human world? If someone in higher education suffers from dampened curiosity–be it employees or students–then perhaps librarians, books, and conversations could help alleviate the situation. The program runs monthly and rotates between genres. For June–the first event–essays served as the genre and we read Rejected: Tales of the Failed, Dumped, and Canceled, edited by Jon Friedman. It’s full of essays by comedians and it drew a wonderful crowd of diverse employees who had experienced their own rejections from scholarly publishers.
I usually put out a poll on Twitter asking people to select from three or four books that they’d like to read from within the genre. I recently posted September’s poll. The genre is memoir and because September brings a focus to banned books through Banned Books Week, the poll includes authors that discuss censorship, in particular Amy Tan’s Where the Past Begins and Barney Rosset’s Rosset: My Life in Publishing and How I Fought Censorship.
I chose Amy Tan’s memoir because she writes about sources of curiosity, which is something that is not commonly discussed. Tan has a great quote in the introduction that I think touches on the basis of curiosity. She says, “I am a writer compelled by a subconscious neediness to know, which is different from a need to know. The latter can be satisfied with information. The former is a perpetual state of uncertainty and a tether to the past” (pg. 6).
Barney Rosset’s memoir focuses on the importance of writers living in a free and liberal society. He discusses his experience with publishing Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer in the 1960s and the attempts made by the U.S. Post Office to suppress its distribution from France. Local law enforcement in some states also arrested people for either selling or purchasing the book on the grounds that the content was obscene. Chapter 12 tells the full story and it educated me more on the vagaries of censorship in this country. I highly recommend it.
I read a portion of Salman Rushdie’s new memoir Joseph Anton about his experience with receiving a death sentence for writing The Satanic Verses, but it was difficult to get past his use of the third person. Plus, it’s a lengthy book and I try to keep the Curiosity Bibliotherapy selections short for quicker reading. To that end, and even though I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, I plan to include Anna Quindlen’s How Reading Changed My Life based on a suggestion from my colleague who read the review from Alix Wilber which says, “The Canon, censorship, and the future of publishing, not to mention that of reading itself, are all subjects Quindlen addresses with intelligence and optimism in a book that may not change your life, but will no doubt remind you of other books that did.” I’m looking forward to reading it.
Allyson Mower, MA, MLIS is Head of Scholarly Communication & Copyright at the University of Utah Marriott Library. She’s very curious about curiosity, what drives people to uncover information, and how libraries of all types create demand for knowledge. As a tenured faculty member, she researches the history of academic freedom — a kind of intellectual freedom — and the history of authorship and scholarly communication at the institution. She provides the U of U community and the general public with information, tools, and services related to both copyright and publishing. Allyson was a Library Journal Mover & Shaker in 2008, was nominated as a 2012 Society for Scholarly Publishing Emerging Leader, and served as the U of U Academic Senate President in 2014. Find her on Twitter @allysonmower.