I was in elementary school the first time I read Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 (in case you haven’t, it is about a society that bans and burns books). I was already a voracious reader — my local librarians and I were on a first name basis — but it was one of the first grown-up books I had read. I was shocked at the idea that a government would force people to burn books, because we didn’t even throw them away in my family.
It wasn’t until after that the teacher told us that some people really did burn books, and that some governments banned them. It was a while before I realized ours did, too.
In between, I got my parents to give the aforementioned librarians their permission for me to check out books from the adult section, and I dug in: one summer week I checked out everything by Stephen King and Dean Kootz; when I was done with that, everything by Alice Walker and Toni Morrison. I devoured whatever I could get my hands on and as many as my little arms could carry out to the car, based on whatever my friends were reading, what the librarians or teachers recommended or whatever had an interesting cover that caught my eye. If I ran out in between trips, I’d raid my parents’ bookshelves — which netted me my first household-banned book, Robert Heinlein’s To Sail Beyond the Sunset (I was 12, and my dad was right to take it away from me at that age).
With that, I became determined to read the most-banned book ever — the book that governments, librarians, my teachers and my parents would certainly be determined that I not read. I asked around, I looked at the library, I asked my librarians and my English teachers, and I determined that the book I needed to read was Lady Chatterley’s Lover, banned in Britain until 1960 and the worthiness of which was the subject of Congressional debate amid the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act.
So I bought it, and I sat down to read it. I didn’t get it: the sex in my mother’s historical fiction novels was more graphic, and that in my dad’s SciFi books was more debauched. I had read my aunt’s copy of The Sound and The Fury, and had to use her Cliffs Notes to decipher bits of it (some of which are now colorized), but even that was less of a slog than Lady Chatterley. I’d read a bit and wander off, pick up another book or talk to my parents or fight with my sister, then come back and try again only to discover that I could barely remember what I’d read and there still wasn’t any good sex. I gave up on it after renewing it at the libray three times, and next snuck the first three books in the Clan of the Cave Bear behind a copy of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn before my aunt got suspicious that Betty Smith’s novel was really taking me that long to read.
I bought a cheap paperback copy of Lady Chatterley after college, convincing myself that it was just maturity which made it so dull. I nearly dozed off in the office lunchroom while attempting it during a temp gig, and left it on my desk just before getting fired. They never returned it to me or my agency.
I just bought it on Kindle while writing this. I’ll finish this and Tropic of Cancer if they kill me, just to say I read something I wasn’t supposed to.
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