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Amazon urges you to read banned books… while banning books | The Keep

~Originally posted on One Handed Writers~

Sorry for the lengthy title, but I don’t know how to put it any better than that.

Back in June you may recall that we had our Amazon publishing account suspended. The reason given was that we had tried to republish books that they had previously blocked – fair enough. Last September they’d asked all erotica authors to republish their books with more subtle titles, covers and blurbs, so when we had a couple books blocked, we figured that’s all it was. Republish with cleaner terms, and all would be fine.

Unfortunately, they were blocked again, and several months later we got an email from Amazon stating they had suspended our account.

I could argue until I was blue in the face about how unfair it was that they didn’t give us clearer guidelines, or more transparency. I could complain about the fact that this is our living that Amazon is screwing with, and taking food out of hungry mouths (mine) by continually shifting their rules on acceptability.

Hell, I could probably write a book on my outrage about the very concept of blocking erotica titles for sale because of the content or title, or because one customer complained about it. It’s a sick way of doing business.

But we, the content providers, all just equal a small bucket of water for them. Amazon is in this for the long haul, and if they don’t give a fuck about their investors, they certainly don’t give a fuck about the taboo erotica authors.

However, at the same time that they suspended a couple other author’s accounts, sending erotica authors everywhere into a tizzy, they sent out this email. Perhaps you got it.

Banned Books $0.99 & Up, it proclaims.

“Celebrate the freedom to read with this collection of previously banned books starting at $0.99.”

Amazon Banned Books - 9-03-14

Yes, someone at Amazon wrote that. I’m presuming while cackling maniacally.

But oh, what do these banned books have in common, the ones that Amazon recommends you purchase?

Well, they were all banned before Amazon became a storefront.

These aren’t just books, dear reader. These are literary pieces of work. There’s no casual and explicit use of language here, oh no, because these stories were written for another time, another audience.

Madame Bovary is a French novel published in 1856 that deals with adultery and consumerism. It was attacked for obscenity and is now considered a masterpiece and a seminal work of realism and one of the most influential novels ever written.

The Picture of Dorian Gray was another novel in the 19th century, this time in 1890, and was considered to be a social and cultural criticism. It was primarily loathed because of homo-eroticism in the novel, as well as people attacking the author for being a hedonist.

The Prince goes back further, to the 16th century. Again, this novel was translated into English from its native Italian. It was considered an innovative political short, and is claimed to be one of the first works of modern philosophy. Though others claim it as satire.

So all of these books were, at the time of their publishing, considered obscene. Ban-worthy. Clearly they attacked the social mores of the time, and all three stood as stark criticisms or commentary on society at large, in our forward thinking reckoning.

But you know what they are now? They’re now ‘formerly banned books’.

They’re literary classics that are tame and mild and even boring to our current sensibilities.

So on the one hand, Amazon is encouraging you to see the value in some banned books, while currently banning other books – and their authors.

But this is a purge unlike what could have been seen in the 16th or 17th or 18th or 19th or even the 20th century. People, regular, ordinary people, are able to write. To share their stories with the world, to challenge and arouse and titillate and infuriate us, to threaten the status quo, to make the world something different.

Perhaps I have some delusions of grandeur, in that I feel that our work does what so many great, threatened pieces of work in the past have done. Our stories, they are challenging. They have messages. They have purpose, and criticisms, and parallels to our own reality.

They are stories that deserve to be told, and read, by those that are interested in reading them. And maybe our stories will be studied in two centuries by scholars and misfits. Maybe in 400 years there will be some of the books from the great erotica purges, brought to the surface from the annals of history and touted as being innovative, and curious, and obscene in a quaint sort of archaic way.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps, because so much of our lives are electronic, it will get buried in the rubble along with everything else. Perhaps people will look back on this time, at the filthy erotica, and feel nothing but scorn and derision at our blasphemous ways. Four hundred years is, after all, a very long time. Or perhaps they just aren’t that good, I’m humble enough to consider that! Routinely in fact.

But one thing I know is this: It isn’t right to pretend like you are a champion of banned and challenging fiction, bringing it to the consumers, while at the same time striking down others based on the content of their stories.

I’m not necessarily of the mind that either everything is banned or nothing should be banned as I believe that generally harmful things such as instructions on building bombs, or incitement to hurt people, should not likely be available. But Amazon sells Mein Kampf. It sells The Anarchist Cookbook. It sells Lolita and Tampa and Justine and The Woman and American Psycho and The 120 Days of Sodom.

And if you can sell all of those things, then why can’t we sell Outcast there any longer? Or Led Into Temptation? Or Bad Wolf, Be Good?

What else, other than time and prestige, separates our stories from the classic banned books? It takes a much braver person to stand up for books being banned now rather than celebrating those that were banned over a century ago. While I agree that we should appreciate formerly banned books, I support it with a vision to the present and the future. The understanding that social norms are frequently changing, and that in order to not be looked back upon with disdain we mustn’t ban books now.

Isn’t that the entire point of celebrating banned fiction? Or is it really to just celebrate and pat ourselves on the back for how enlightened we are now? Because that was what justified banning these books in the past – the idea that our morality is so superior and powerful that we understand what people should have the right to read and what they should be prevented from reading.

So I am going to draw a line in the sand. You can support all banned books, or you can support none of them, because picking and choosing is just what those who ban books do. They impose their morality upon others, upon society, and upon the very culture of our nations.

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