Commentary: The Many Faces of Literary Censorship

Kat Rosenfeld

Excerpt: Banned books have always had a certain special allure, combining the joy of reading with the keener, more subversive pleasure of doing something naughty, even revolutionary. The phrase "banned books" evokes the secret, the illicit, the delicious: contraband pamphlets being passed through underground channels under penalty of imprisonment or death; the original edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover being distributed in secret to a private society of just two thousand people; students snatching the works of Einstein, Freud, and Hemingway from a Nazi pyre; an unauthorized copy of Lolita hidden under an Iranian woman's chador.

But where the quest to suppress objectionable reading material in America used to be more or less the exclusive purview of political conservatives and the religious right, today's censorship flaps are more diverse in both origin and execution.