Monday, May 26, 2008

Confessions of a Sharpie-Wielding Book Censor

"A novel is not, after all, a historical document, but a way to travel through the human heart." --Julia Alvarez

I once took a black Sharpie and censored a novel.

I had loved a book and wanted to share it with a friend. I wanted to share not just the story itself, but the beautiful things the author did with prose, the way she told her story, the details she included.

As contemporary literature goes, the novel was more than clean. But the friend I wanted to share it with has higher standards than I have. Astronomically higher standards. And I wanted to share it with her.

So I took a Sharpie to it. And I blacked out every curse word, every reference to sex.

Call it a sin for the free-speech cause or an act for the love of friendship. It was both.

And the truth is, I believe censorship is awful. I believe the sentiment that where books are burned, human beings are eventually burned. I cared so much to have my books with me where I live that I (with the help of wonderful friends) carried a bookcase across Washington Heights.

But I also respect my friend's decision to stay pure in a way I don't think I ever could, and I respect her decision not to read certain things. I don't know if that practice is ideal or not--I, of course, want to say it's not--but that's not the point. It is her way of practicing religion and I would never want to interfere with that.

Still, this feels sort of like a confession. I don't think I would ever do it again. I don't know why it was OK to do once but not again. I don't know if it was OK to do once but not again. But I did it, and I don't think I regret it. I don't know what that says about me.


At 5/28/08, 9:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I stumbled onto your blog recently.

I think that what you did for your friend was beautiful and, in a way, almost the opposite of censorship.

Censorship is not giving people the choice of what they can or cannot read. What you did was enable her to read something that was otherwise unavailable. By cleaning up the book you expanded her ability to expose herself to literature. And a beautiful book, no less. (I don't know if you've seen the movie but it was translated into film surprisingly well.)

So while I understand your reservation, I don't think this is something to feel guilty about. What you did was not censorship.



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