Monday, 23 February 2015

Unsuitable Authors - where to start?

First I have to say that I don't regard any authors as 'unsuitable'. The word was applied, by certain adults, to some authors and types of reading matter when I was a teenager. I was addicted to reading and could get through four or five novels a week, on top of my school reading. I took delight in reading anything, especially books not aimed at teenage girls. I also took delight in reading books that I knew would horrify a certain family member. I read everything, but especially science fiction - I began with father's copy of John Wyndham's 'Day of the Triffids' and was hooked. The local library in Cheriton ran out of sci-fi, I read their resources dry! I had to get a bus to Folkestone library for my weekly fix of robots, dystopias and space opera. 

My parents were not the problem, they both read liberally, newspapers, magazines and books of all kinds were left around the house, neither of them ever told me I shouldn't read a particular book. When I was nine I picked up a book called 'Naked Under Capricorn' (by Olaf Ruhen) which was left lying around. Obviously, I was pruriently attracted by the word 'naked,' and by the nude on the cover, but the book seemed to be just about about a man wandering in the Australian desert and I soon got bored.

Instead I began reading Gerald Durrell's books, beginning with 'The Bafut Beagles,' about his explorations and 'encounters with animals', which included some mildly blue humour and innuendo, much  drunkenness and teaching monkeys to smoke. Apart from the hilarity of the drunken scene where the Fon of Bafut and his many wives danced the conga with Durrell, most of the 'unsuitable' content went right over my head. I just loved the animals, Durrell's wonderful sense of humour and his stories of finding and caring for his creatures. However these were not quite the first 'unsuitable', non-children's books I read.

The very first was probably my father's medical dictionary - author/editor lost in the mists of time - which I first dipped into when I was about seven and understood little of, but I was fascinated by the illustrations. In the centre of the book were outline figures of a man and a woman overlaid with transparent pages which you could slowly turn to reveal bones, blood vessels, muscles, internal organs and on the outside their very pink and hairless (apart from on their heads) skin. Despite this adult nudity the book wasn't hidden away from us under-ten's.

But when my mother's mother came to stay, things were different. Books were tidied away, papers and magazines containing anything which she disliked were put into the dustbin as soon as she could get away with it, under the guise of 'tidying up.' Reading was a battle when she was around. I shouldn't read in the evenings, it would ruin my eyes. I shouldn't read at the table, it was rude. I shouldn't read in the daytime, I should be outside getting fresh air. I shouldn't read in bed, I should go to sleep.

My grandmother was from earlier times when young people were told how not to speak, what not to wear, what not to read and probably who not to marry. Everything was proscribed. She would probably have forbidden me from reading any of the books and authors I've mentioned, if she was in charge. I didn't understand her because I remember she helped me to learn to read when I was a lot younger. But when I was fifteen she invaded my bedroom while I was at school, went through my wardrobe and binned all my NME's, rock and fan  magazines and posters. I had bought them all with my own money and I was more than angry, I felt violated.

I have detested censorship ever since, there are no unsuitable authors! This blog listing is to illustrate how much tastes, social mores and literary sensibilities have changed, and are still changing, since my grandmother grew up in the Edwardian era.

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