Tag Archives: obscenity

Banned Book Week 2012

1 Oct

It’s Banned Books Week!

I’ve been in a few conversations recently about censorship that really got me thinking.  In one, I admitted I’m probably a “square.”  I like following the rules.  That said, I believe 100% in the freedom of speech and the freedom of expression.  I don’t believe the government or libraries or anyone else should ever block our access to literature.  In fact, I believe we should have more free access to information and the written word.  As cliche as the saying is, knowledge is power.  Books are an incredible source for people looking to gain knowledge but also for those trying to understand themselves and the world around them a little bit better.  Censorship is dangerous to our well being.

The other conversation I had was in regard to ratings for children’s books.  Now, personally, I don’t really think ratings are all that helpful.  I’ve seen PG-13 movies that were more offensive to me than movies rated R.  The documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated exposes why this occurs.  This brings me back to literature: the YA books I read as an adolescent were far more scarring than the books I read today.  So many of the books I grew up reading were about teens that had been raped or physically abused or had other terrible things happen to them.  I suppose these were the moral books that were supposed to scare me into being square so bad things didn’t happen to me.  The books I read today may have adult language or themes, but these classics and New York Times bestsellers intended for adult readers are generally milder and less damaging than the books I read when I was younger.  I don’t think ratings on YA books would necessarily change reading habits, and I do believe teens should have free access to the reading material of their choice, but perhaps both parents and young readers should be aware that the YA label can be a bit misleading.

If you’ve never seen HowlBanned Books Week would be a good week to watch it.  The film portrays the true-life events surrounding the obscenity case over City Lights’ Shig Murao and Lawrence Ferlinghetti selling Allen Ginsberg’s Howl.  The book Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression reports on this historical trial, going into more depth.  From the City Lights product page:

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Howl and Other Poems, with over 1,000,000 copies in print, City Lights presents the story of editing, publishing, and defending the landmark poem within a broader context of obscenity issues and censorship of literary works.

The collection includes:

* The complete “The Howl Letters” — correspondence between Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, John Hollander, Richard Eberhart, Louis Ginsberg, and others – with first-person insight into Ginsberg’s thinking and the significance of the poems to the author and his contemporaries.

* Ferlinghetti’s account of hearing “Howl” read at the Six Gallery, of editing the book, and of his court battle to defend its publication.

* A timeline of censorship in the U.S. that places the Howl case in the broader historical context of obscenity issues and censorship of literary works.

* Newspaper reportage, magazine essays, cartoons, photographs, and letters to the editor that illuminate the cultural climate of the mid-1950s, when sexual expression in print was suppressed.

* Excerpts from the trial transcript that show the brilliant criminal lawyer Jake Ehrlich in action.

* ACLU Defense Counsel Albert Bendich’s reflections on the Howl case, and his thoughts about challenges to Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.

*A look at how the fight against censorship continues today in new forms. 

Interestingly, it was a conservative judge who saw the value in Ginsberg’s Howl, finding it to have “redeeming social importance.”

Find out more about Banned Books Week here.

Your Home Can Smell Like Big Sur

9 Jul

Busy poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who is still active at ninety-three years old, moved out to San Francisco and founded City Lights in 1953.  More than just the independent bookstore of Beat pilgrimages, City Lights is a book publisher, and in 1956, Ferlinghetti was arrested on obscenity charges because he had published and sold Allen Ginsberg’s Howl.  He was later found not guilty of a crime.

The year after Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti made the papers, Jack Kerouac finally found fame with On the Road.  The fame was overwhelming, though.  Talk-show hosts invited the naturally shy author on their show.  Wanderlust kids, winos, and dogged readers showed up unannounced at his home.  Fame took a toll on his mind, body, soul.

Ferlinghetti had a cabin, a refuge, out in the wilderness of Big Sur.  He could escape the hustle and bustle of San Francisco for respite along the coast of central California.  After the fame wore him down, Kerouac escaped there too, living for a brief time in Ferlinghetti’s cabin in the woods.  The result of this experience is the 1962 novel Big Sur.

Juniper Ridge now has a room spray called Big Sur.  According to their website, it smells of “wild ginger, burnt honey, salt, damp ground.”  The ingredients are plucked from the deserts and mountains of the West, and 10% of the $20 spray bottle goes back to protecting western wilderness.  They also have a Big Sur soap, essential oil, and sachet.  For $50 you can give the gift of Big Sur, which includes the items already mentioned, plus wild huckleberry jam (perhaps reminiscent of Neal Cassady, whom some have said is Huckleberry Finn incarnate).  The gift comes gift wrapped with real pine cones!  And, like the others, 10% of the profit goes to protecting wilderness.