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Space to Think, a new book celebrating ten years of the Dublin Review of Books More Information 

Not so brave

Penguin Books USA is promoting an event at The New York Public Library entitled Books You Didn’t Know Were Banned And Why. This is in association with #bannedbooksweek. Just about every kind of book has been banned somewhere sometime, from the fairly obvious contenders, Last Exit to Brooklyn and Daddy’s Roommate, to the more puzzling Black Beauty. And of course we all (or those of us who are old enough) know about the books that were banned in Ireland.

By the late 1970s and 1980s, when I was involved in bookselling for a number of years, the heart seemed to have gone out of our Irish censors (it was said that Brian Lenihan snr wasn’t really keen on banning things). But there were still difficulties. While you could bring in new books which were quite “frank” (the word, I know, is quaint) on matters of sexuality and reproductive health there were anomalies affecting older titles. And what was most annoying was that certain publishers were not keen to challenge or push the limits and actually played ball with the censors by refusing to send these titles to the Republic of Ireland. (The simple solution was to order them in from a British wholesaler.)

I still remember two titles (de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex and Thomas Mann’s Confessions of Felix Krull Confidence Man) which we always ordered and never received; the publisher’s invoice, which listed what you had asked for and gave reasons for non-supply (normally “out of stock”, “out of print”) would state next to the names “NOT AVAILABLE IN YOUR TERRITORY”. The publisher, by the way, was Penguin Books.