The Fires of Ignorance

When I was in High School an injury forced me to resign from PhysEd and accept service in the school library. I learned so much: how to load the date stamps clipped to the end of the pencils; how to carefully letter the spine of new books for entry into the collection; how to shelve books in strict dewey-decimal order; and which binding glue was the happiest. You know: all those skills needed to support a library in the 1940s.

The current brouhaha over the censoring of books in school libraries started me thinking about all the dangerous books we wiggle-waggled at unsuspecting students, promising a world of degeneracy and debauchery (an intersection in St. Lous?). Funny thing, other than the wicked line drawings in the 11th grade biology text showing the mysteries of mommy and daddy in love, I really couldn’t think of any books that should have been sent to the incinerator of morals.

I do remember hiding a paper back copy of “I, the Jury” under my mattress but that was not a library book. Remember, this was back when a well-worn issue of National Geographic was as close to pornography as we could come.

Is this the time today’s book banners seek to recreate?

Here is this month’s reading pool. I wonder which novels, if published back in the 1950s, would be allocated to the fires of ignorance.

  1. Inside Story: A Novel — Martin Amis
  2. The Bosnian Chronicle — Ivo Andric
  3. Diary of a Country Priest — Georges Bernanos
  4. Robert B. Parker’s The Bitterest Pill — Reed Farrel Coleman
  5. City Of Bones — Michael Connelly
  6. The Coffin Dancer — Jeffrey Deaver
  7. Troubles – J. G. Farrell
  8. Another Man’s Moccasins — Craig Johnson
  9. Ms Ice Sandwich — Mieko Kawakami
  10. Woman — Peter Mathesen
  11. Three Brothers — Yan Lianke
  12. The Bad Girl — Mario Vargas Llosa
  13. Women and Men — Joseph McElroy
  14. Omoo: Adventures in the South Seas — Herman Melville
  15. With Shuddering Fall — Joyce Carol Oates
  16. Sodom and Gomorrah — Marcel Proust
  17. Dates on My Fingers: An Iraqi Novel — Muhsin Al-Ramli
  18. The Hand — Georges Simenon
  19. The Adventures of Roderick Random — Tobias Smollett
  20. The Book of Blam — Aleksandar Tisma

4 thoughts on “The Fires of Ignorance

  1. I have just read James Joyce’s “Ulysses” , which was banned both in the UK and the US, when first published. I have a copy of the first authorised edition in Modern Library and it contains the US decision to allow publication. The far right the rise here and in the US. I hope they don’t get their way, or bad old days will be here again.


    1. I read Ulysses for the umpteenth time this last year. It may be the last time. I have a half-dozen different versions of Ulysses: the first publication in France, the Bennet Cerf Random House edition you mention, a couple of corrected editions, and two or three digital editions including one audio enactment. WBAI in New York used to read the entire novel over the air every Bloomsday and, although it’s hard to cut out such a large time-period from your day, I lasted at least once. Nowadays with AirPods and digital radio it would be much easier to complete.

      Note that I am into the fourth volume of Proust’s Recherche. I don’t recall Proust being censored: all that homosexuality! Was Joyce’s masturbation more sordid?

      Then there is the Bible.


      1. Proust was French, and Joyce’s book was published there first. It was uK and USA that had censorship, as you know. I have several editions too, a couple of American and three English. As for Proust, I have never got past volume 4. Maybe, I should try again. I hope you get to read “Ulysses” again.


      2. Have you read Finnegans Wake? I’ve putzed around reading here, reading there, and actually following my own advice and just reading it through from end to end (and back again), but I may tackle it one last time. My erudition, unfortunately, is adequate for Ulysses but pales when confronted by the Wake.


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