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.”
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.”
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.