Boyd Tonkin: Banned books and damned books

The week in books

Famously, the writings of neither Charles Darwin nor Adolf Hitler appeared on it. The works of at least one saint – the Polish nun St Faustina Kowalska – did. In 1966, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum of the Roman Catholic church ceased after 407 years to have the sanction of ecclesiatical law. However, in 1985, the head of the successor body to the Holy Office in Rome - which kept and updated the church's register of banned books - made clear that "the Index retains its moral force despite its dissolution". That same enforcer, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, is this country's guest today. Perhaps the presence among us of a Pope so identified with the control of heresy – through a 24-year stint as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith – should concentrate our minds on censorship.

Almost everyone – secular or religious, radical or conservative – believes in censorship at least some of the time. So debates about banning and proscription always turn on substance and degree. Next week, a project devised by London Libraries – with partners across the country – will give us a chance to sharpen our perceptions and clarify our ideas. The "Banned Books" reader promotion will present 50 titles that for one reason or another have fallen foul of official censorship.

Its forbidden list includes some of the most illustrious of subversive classics, from the Origin of Species itself to Orwell's Animal Farm. It also picks several modern causes célèbres: Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, Nabokov's Lolita, Easton Ellis's American Psycho, and Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover.

The event will highlight some bizarre interdictions. Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn has fallen victim to heresy-hunting on both left and right. Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code incurred the censor's anger in the Middle East. The Harry Potter novels have stirred the wrath of pious American librarians for allegedly "satanic" sympathies.

Frankly, this selection errs too much on the cosy side. Many of the weirder prohibitions will reinforce a glib sense of superiority towards redneck Bible-bashers, small-town prudes and Stalinist apparatchiks. Other controversial books would pose far sharper questions to a liberal culture. So I have chosen ten works - none in "Banned Books" - that might stir a tougher discussion of the costs, and benefits, of truly free expression. I don't think any should be banned, but should public libraries stock them? If so, which?

1/ Sherry Jones, The Jewel of Medina. Criminal violence prevented a UK edition of this novel about the Prophet's wife Aisha, after an attack on its publisher's home.

2/ David Britton, Lord Horror. Cleared of obscenity in 1992, Britton's sulphurous blend of Holocaust themes and SM porn made Savoy Books in Manchester the most prosecuted publisher in Britain.

3/ Osama bin Laden, Messages to the World. Expertly edited by Bruce Lawrence, this collection of the al-Qa'eda leader's statements will not be gracing any display shelf soon.

4/ "Richard E Howard" (ie Richard Verrall), Did Six Million Really Die? This Holocaust-denial pamphlet by a National Front stalwart still sways neo-Nazi minds.

5/ Richard Lynn, The Global Bell Curve. The psychologist advocates the central role of inherited racial differences in intelligence, putting East Asians at the top and sub- Saharan Africans near the bottom of an ethnic IQ scale .

6/ Marquis de Sade, The 120 Days of Sodom. For some the magnum opus of the "divine marquis", his industrial-scale porn epic comes (in a recent edition) prefaced with de Beauvoir's essay, "Must we burn Sade?". No, the great feminist said.

7/ Pauline Réage, Story of O. The most notable novel by a woman in the Sadeian tradition, in all its icy masochistic poise. The author's real name was Anne Declos.

8/ AM Homes, The End of Alice. As much a reversed-out Lovely Bones as a homage to Lolita, Amy Homes's fictional journey into the paedophile mind prompted calls for its banning from the NSPCC.

9/ Sayed Qutb, Milestones. In this core text for jihadis, the Egyptian ideologist fashioned a still-influential manifesto for every later generation of angry, militant Islamists.

10/ Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf. We know too much about the message, but what about the royalties? A Jewish charity sent back cash received from them; does the state of Bavaria still hold the rights?

A Gallic bow to queens of crime

Obituaries of Claude Chabrol have drawn attention to the quintessential Frenchness in the great director's dissection of guilt-ridden bourgeois life. Up to a point... In fact, two fine Chabrol films took the form of adaptations of novels by an Essex girl: Ruth Rendell. La Cérémonie (1995) came from A Judgement in Stone; La Demoiselle d'honneur (2004) from The Bridesmaid. Perhaps suburban secrets and quiet hatreds know no borders. But the female English mystery-writer has a curious cachet in French cinema - as anyone who relished Charlotte Rampling's icy turn as a Queen of Crime in François Ozon's film Swimming Pool will know. Thank, or blame, Dame Agatha for that.

Free words in the autumn air

Next Friday's discussion between Daniel Pennac and Quentin Blake at the Free Word centre in London forms part of Flow: the Free Word Festival. Now in its second year, the festival runs from this week until 5 October. As in last autumn's inaugural programme, there's a strong international flavour. On 5 October, the enigmatic Albanian master Ismail Kadare - surely a Nobel laureate one of these years - will be in conversation with Julian Evans. Storyteller Seema Anand will introduce four Punjabi writers - Amarjit Chandan, Manjinder Virk, Shazea Quraishi and Shamshad Khan - on 20 September. And on 30 September, a dedicated Translation Day will include a seminar on promoting foreign literature (in which I will be taking part), a discussion of translated children's books with Axel (Gruffalo) Scheffler, and a presentation of the new – and extremely welcome – Harvill Secker Young Translators' Prize. Find complete festival details at www.freewordonline.com.

b.tonkin@independent.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence