At the behest of a nationalist group in India with a truly Orwellian name (Movement To Save Education), Penguin India has volunteered to have any remaining copies of Wendy Doniger’s 2009 book The Hindus: An Alternative History withdrawn from warehouses and bookstores in that country and destroyed. This comes at the end of a four-year legal battle in which critics alleged that the 800-page tome by the University of Chicago scholar “hurt the religious feelings of millions of Hindus.”
While America exhibits progressive restraint when it comes to pulping books it deems offensive (books about religion and atheism abound on nonfiction bestseller lists), we also have a long and well-documented history with book censorship. Just browse through the American Library Association’s Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books by decade and you’ll see everything from Harry Potter and Huck Finn to Sex by Madonna and puberty primer, It’s Perfectly Normal. At first glance, I’d say about 75% of the books on these lists were Required Reading or Summer Reading suggestions in my middle school and high school. The idea of any of these titles being unavailable to curious readers is a scary prospect. (Being out-of-print, on the other hand, is its own damnation. Madonna and Stephen King have titles in the banned list that are also some of the most sought-after in the used book industry, according to my favorite annual book list, AbeBooks’ Top 100 Most Searched For Out-Of-Print Books.)
Per usual, banned books can equal brisk business: On the domestic front, Doniger’s book cracked Amazon’s Top 100 list of bestsellers last week. And in India, the Kindle e-book is currently 2nd place, just ahead of John Grisham, Dan Brown, and Dale Carnegie (!). Hassle-free tablet reading wins this time!
By Andrew Wetzel