Banned Books – Mark Twain, Meet Harper Lee

Some public administrators meet and decide that certain books by certain authors like Mark Twain and Harper Lee should be banned because they make readers uncomfortable. Oh, my! Uncomfortable!

I’m quite sure that when Harper Lee wrote her celebrated “To Kill a Mockingbird”, she had ‘uncomfortable’ exactly in mind. Since it examined southern culture and questioned its morals, she must have known her book would make some, likely many readers squirm in their skin. Furthermore, she must have hoped such readers would bear their discomfort until the end of the book, then shift whatever perceptions and attitudes had caused their discomfort to a better place — for their own good and for the good of all. Many other authors have designed their books to cause at least some discomfort with the same hope and motives in mind. And banned books are occasionally the result.

Naughty Mark Twain

We doubt Mark Twain set out to cause discomfort with his short story “Eve’s Diary”. Although he probably often wanted to cause discomfort, Twain didn’t put much into “Eve’s Diary” that would upset anybody. Nobody, that is, except humorless, scriptural literalists. He did raise the ire of at least one of them.

Public administrators banned ‘Eve’s Diary’ solely because Eve was illustrated in ’summer costume’. Mark Twain did indeed endorse the illustrations, and he made fun of the people who objected to them. But Twain’s publisher made the decision to illustrate the story, not Twain. So at least with this book, place Mark Twain and Harper Lee in separate categories.

We suspect Twain probably intended the story for adult readers. It is one of six creation stories he wrote near the end of his life. All but two of the six stories could easily offend thin-skinned to mildly-sensitive preachers. Maybe all six could, especially back in his day. So he must not have been thinking of kids when he wrote any of them.

Unofficially Banned?

When we combined “Eve’s Diary” with “Extracts from Adam’s Diary” to create “Mark Twain’s The Diaries of Eve and Adam”, a book earmarked for middle-school readers, we didn’t worry the content of the story wouldn’t suit them. But we did wonder whether public (and private) administrators would object to illustrations of Eve and Adam in ’summer costume’. We decided that, since modern media routinely exposes young people to much more flesh than adults publicly encountered in 1906– that’s when ‘Eve’s Diary’ was published — we would likely get by as long as the illustrations were discrete, which they are.

But now we are back to wondering. Sales of the book are flatter than flat even after extensive advertising. Could it be the book is being banned in fact if not officially? That’s possible. But if I were an administrator, I’d expose youth to Mark Twain as much as possible, slightly questionable illustrations notwithstanding. Furthermore, I’d be inclined to see it this way. If the discrete illustrations in our book were to offend tweeners or make them uncomfortable in any way, they watch too little T.V. and play too thin a selection of video games.

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