65th Firsts London outing features banned historic books


As Banned Book Week approaches, rare book fair Firsts London will showcase the censorship of centuries past.

Image: First London

By Porter Anderson, Editor | @Porter_Anderson

The banned books of yesterday and unfortunately today

AAs you may know, Banned Books Week will take place in a month, from September 18th to September 24th. This is a presentation sponsored by a coalition of organizations and businesses (we’ll list them at the end of this article) in light of the strong resurgence of aggressive, intimidating and often angry efforts to suppress freedom of expression and the freedom to publish.

Among the most discussed views in the debate about book bans – and what they mean when society is under pressure from authoritarian dynamics – Pamela Paul’s essay in The New York Times has been a recent star, not least because it assumes one of the more insidious effects of these efforts: self-censorship.

A subject long studied and highlighted by the International Publishers Association (IPA) and its Freedom to Publish program led by Kristenn Einarsson, Paul writes: “Although the publishing industry would never tolerate the banning of books, a more subtle form of repression takes place in the literary world. world, restricting intellectual and artistic expression behind closed doors, and often defending these restrictions with thoughtful justifications.

“As many editors and publishing executives informally admit, a real push for self-censorship has arisen in which many liberal-minded editors, agents and authors feel compelled to participate.”

In England, the rare book fair known as Firsts London has announced that its 65th edition, in line with Banned Book Week taking place September 16-18, will be themed around banned books. The landmark here for the organizers of the exhibition-the Antiquarian Booksellers Association-is the 100th anniversary of James Joyce’s 1922 Ulysses, sadly censored at times for its sexual content.

This year’s rare book fair will take place at the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea with the participation of 120 international dealers, 49 of whom are new to the event, including illuminated manuscript specialist Sam Fogg.

In a prepared statement on the aim of Firsts London this year, the association’s chairman, Pom Harrington, is quoted as saying: ‘Now is an ideal opportunity to celebrate Odysseus and others like him, who have been deleted, banned or led to the ostracism of their authors for expressing views that were different from what was acceptable when they first appeared.

Pom Harrington

“We tend to think of banned works as a matter of another era, but it’s a subject that is very much of our time. Print has always remained a powerful vehicle for enshrining acceptance of a plurality of viewpoints. We thought it was a subject that remains very topical and deserves to be highlighted.

Harrington is correct that this is a topic “of our time”, as we see inroads into libraries and teacher curricula and school board meetings organized by far-right citizens in the United States and elsewhere. . It’s not for nothing that Penguin Random House Global CEO Markus Dohle set up his PEN America Dohle Book Defense Fund with US$500,000 of his own money.

Unfortunately there is nothing past on book bans, and in some contemporary reported cases, books are actually burned in events fueled by bigotry, hate and violence. In February, a minister in Tennessee led a burning of Harry Potter books and titles from Dusk series, as reported by Maya Yang at The Guardian.

And just Tuesday (Aug. 16), the Keller Independent School District near Fort Worth, Texas, ordered its teachers and librarians to remove 41 books and review them under new policies passed by the district last week. latest, as Erin Doherty reported for Axios.

In this case, first reported by Brian Lopez at Texas Grandstandthe deleted books were challenged last year and the titles include a graphic novel adaptation by Anne Frank A girl’s diaryby Toni Morrison The bluest eyeby Maia Kobabe Gender Queer: A Memoir– and all editions of the Bible.

As Lopez reports, a school district committee had recommended keeping some of the books, including Morrison’s book and Anne Frank’s diary. “But since this committee met and recommended keeping certain disputed books,” he reports, “three new conservative school board members, all recipients of donations from a Christian political action committee, have been elected to the district’s seven-member board of trustees.And according to the school district, the 41 disputed books must now be reviewed again by campus staff and librarians to see if they comply with a new board policy approved the last week, according to Bryce Nieman, spokesperson for Keller ISD.

Several examples of the First London Show offerings

Examples of history books banned from Firsts will include “significant works by scientists who, as a result of their groundbreaking discoveries, have found themselves opposed by religious or state authorities.”

Sophia Rare Books will exhibit a first edition of Nicolaus Copernicus’ De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres). From revolutionibus (1543) “radically changed people’s perspective on their relationship to the universe, refuting the widely accepted Ptolemaic model that placed the Earth at the center of everything and suggesting the heliocentric astronomical model, which instead sees the sun at the center of the solar system .” Because of its revolutionary theories, considered heretical by the Catholic Church, the book was eventually included in the infamous Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Forbidden Books) from 1616 to 1758.

The Sophia Rare Books stand will also host another great protagonist in the history of science, exhibiting a first edition of Galileo Galilei Dialogue (1632), accompanied by his letter to the Grand Duchess of Tuscany (Latin translation, 1641), texts which both contributed to the trial of the Inquisition of Galilee.

On display at York Modern Books is another example of a great scientific discovery – a first edition by Albert Einstein Relativity: the special theory and the general theory (1916). Einstein’s work was banned in Nazi Germany, and later in Austria, where his books were burned in protest against his theories.

Daniel Crouch Rare Books will exhibit a selection of banned or banned atlases and travel books, such as that of Richard Hakluyt Main navigations (1599), from which the entire report of the Voyage to Cadiz has been removed.

In a fiction with a censored past, a first edition in Russian of Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak will be exhibited by bookseller Peter Harrington.

The book, say the organizers, “was originally published in Italian in 1957 by the publisher Feltrinelli, but remained unpublished in its original language until 1958, when the CIA acquired Feltrinelli’s proofs with the intention to publish the book in Russian and distribute copies to Soviet visitors to the Universal and International Exhibition in Brussels. Aided by the Dutch intelligence service, the CIA reached an agreement with the Dutch university publishing company Mouton, which resulted in this very first Russian publication.

Ulysses will also make an appearance on the stand of Johnson Rare Books: a unique edition (1933) featuring a prominent original erotic painting inspired by the episode “Circe”.


As promised, a list of sponsors and actors supporting America’s Banned Books Week includes: American Booksellers for Free Expression, American Library Association, American Society of Journalists and Authors, Amnesty International USA, Association of University Presses, Authors Guild, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), Freedom to Read Foundation, GLAAD, Index on Censorship, National Book Foundation, National Coalition Against Censorship, National Council of Teachers of English, PEN America, People For the American Way Foundation, PFLAG and Project Censored. It is endorsed by the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress. Banned Books Week is also generously supported by HarperCollins Publishers and Penguin Random House.

At the Saatchi Gallery in London, January 4. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Purple Images


Read more about banning books in Publishing Perspectives here, more about free speech and freedom to publish is here, and more about the International Association of Publishers is here.

Publishing Perspectives is the global media partner of the International Publishers Association.

To learn more about the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and its impact on international book publishing, click here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident member of Trends Research & Advisory, and was named International Business Journalist of the Year at the London Book Fair’s International Excellence Awards. He is editor of Publishing Perspectives. He was previously associate editor of The FutureBook at The Bookseller in London. Anderson was a senior producer and anchor for CNN.com, CNN International and CNN USA for more than a decade. As an art critic (National Critics Institute), he has collaborated with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which is now owned and operated by Jane Friedman.



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