Book Censorship: Iran and U.S.

I recently read a Reuters article “Booksellers in Tehran Fall on Hard Times” by Ramin Mostafavi, who makes the case that censorship and sanctions against Iran are contributing to the decline of book sales in Tehran. When visiting Iran in 2005 and 2009 I was impressed with the amount of Indie bookstores I saw in Tehran and in other cities. The photo provided in this blog post is of a bookstore mall in Tehran. I’ve never seen an entire mall dedicated to bookstores before, and it wasn’t the only one. Outside this mall the street was lined with yet more bookstores. During my weeks in Iran in 2005, President Khatami had inaugurated a new wing of their public library in Tehran that would house millions upon millions of foreign translations, and children’s book libraries were opened in every province. PEN USA reported not long ago that only 2-3% of the books published in the America are foreign translations.
The topic of censorship arose during a discussion at Iran’s International book festival, which I had attended. The Iranians reminded me that there is censorship in the United States, too. They pointed out with disbelief that “evolution” is questioned in some of our text books and that the Harry Potter series continues to be banned from bookshelves in many places in America.

Sometimes one must view their own culture from the outside to gain a new perspective.

The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) has a 50+ year history of fighting censorship in this country. Recent and classic books that have been banned in the U.S include: classic novels, such as “Forever” by Judy Blume: informative nonfiction, like “What’s Happening to My Body?” by Lynda Madaras: YALSA award winners like “The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things” by Carolyn Mackle;
popular, recently published fiction series such as Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling and Gossip Girl by Cicely von Ziegesar

– 1984 by George Orwell. In 1981, this novel was challenged in Jackson County, Florida because it is “pro-Communist and contained explicit sexual matter.”

– A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle. 1998 Margaret A. Edwards Award Winner. A parent filed a complaint in a Polk City, Florida, Elementary School, believing the story promoted witchcraft, crystal balls, and demons. Other complaints included listing the name Jesus Christ with names of great artists, philosophers, scientists and religious leaders. Another complaint was that it undermined religious beliefs.

– Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Beginning in 1885, book was banned at the Concord Public Library as “trash suitable only for the slums.” Most frequent objection to the novel has been its language reference to African Americans.

– All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Marie Remarque. It was banned in Germany in 1930 as the National Socialists saw it as slanderous to their ideals of home and fatherland. In 1929, it was banned in Boston on grounds of obscenity. In the Encyclopedia of Censorship, it is identified as one of the “most often” censored books.

Last week I came across an article by Ruth Franklin “A Literary Glass Ceiling?,” which reflects upon another aspect of censorship within the publishing industry in the U.S. In the magazine and book world women authors receive only 11-25 percent of the publishing contracts. “The gatekeepers of literary culture—at least at magazines—are still primarily male. If these gatekeepers are showing a gender bias, there’s not much room to make it up later.” The author goes on to explain that often magazine credits lead to book deals. It’s hard to sell a book without first having been published in journals.

I believe there is light on the horizon. It seems with new technology comes a leveling of the playing field in which some of the gate keepers and those who would censor will fall away. I am also noticing more American Indie and University Presses who are increasing the amount of foreign translations they publish, such as Other Press, University of Arkansas Press and Namelos, llc. It truly is an opportune time to be reading, writing and publishing.

The articles mentioned above can be read at Reuters: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/02/24/us-iran-books-idUSTRE71N5HV20110224?pageNumber=2

As well as The New Republic:
For a fuller banned books list, visit the YALSA site: http://wikis.ala.org/yalsa/index.php/50_Years_of_Reading_Free