Launie Kettler

Launie Kettler
Birthday
December 31
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A native Vermonter who finds nature abhorrent.

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SEPTEMBER 21, 2010 11:48PM

My first illegal book

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book cover

It's that time of the year again – the leaves are starting to change – and it's time to celebrate books that have been censored, during Banned Books Week from September 25-October 2nd.

I love Banned Books Week, not because I'm a totalitarian, but because it's a list of some of my favorite books. Classics like The Maltese Falcon, To Kill a Mockingbird, On the Road, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and Winnie-The-Pooh are all on the list.

But I didn't know any of that when I found my first illegal book in 1993.

I had been in a used bookstore perusing their fiction shelf when I saw a ratty, paper-bag cover on a paperback. That seemed sort of odd. The homemade book jacket hid the spine of the book. I opened the novel to the title page and discovered that it was a 1952 copy of “Tropic of Capricorn.”

tropic front

I had heard of the book, and Henry Miller, but I had never read it. The book itself was in incredible condition other than the makeshift jacket and I bought it for $1.50. When I got home, I curled up on the couch and immediately took off the plain wrapping that was covering the back of the book. Then I discovered why the jacket was there. The back of the book said:

“This book must not be imported into England or U.S.A.”

  tropic back

I was holding an actual piece of contraband. Someone 41 years earlier had smuggled that book into the United States from France. It cost them six hundred Francs and they could have gone to jail for it.

I'm not going to lie, I felt like an after-the-fact co-conspirator.

It was fantastic.

I still have the book on my “Special Collection” shelf next to a signed Bukowski and and a couple of first edition Kerouac paperbacks. To me it's a prize, but to the person who bought it for six hundred Francs, it was an act of bravery that should be celebrated.

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I've been checking and I can't seem to find WHY the book was banned until 1961. Can you clue in in?
Safe_Bet's Amy
The two books, "Tropic of Cancer" and "Tropic of Capricorn" were banned because they were deemed obscene material, in the United States.
Domestically, they were illegal because of laws against transporting obscene materials across state lines, and that was defined through the post office under the Comstock Law. (Seriously.)
http://law.jrank.org/pages/5508/Comstock-Law-1873.html

Here is a cool link to a 1961 story from The Village Voice about Henry Miller's books becoming legal in the U.S.
http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/archives/2008/12/clip_job_henry.php

It's a crazy thing to try to sort out because there were 60 court cases over "The Tropics." ("Tropic of Cancer" and "Tropic of Capricorn") and they all were based on precedents of court cases around the illegality of "Lady Chatterley's Lover."
Censorship makes my head spin.
Henry Miller tried to get drunk on water once. He swore it worked, too. The science isn't all bad. You drink enough and your body can't process it, so you start retaining more and more, which makes your heart pump faster, which causes a rush of blood to the brain and.... He never did say if it was better than booze. For Miller, I think not.