You don’t often hear cries of “censorship!” in Canada, but when you do, it can get pretty silly.
The most recent example is a good one. Annabel Lyon’s debut novel, The Golden Mean (Vintage Canada), is a fictionalized account of Aristotle’s teaching relationship with Alexander the Great. Since the book was published in Canada in the fall of 2009, it has been treated as a work of some literary merit. It won the 2009 Rogers Writers’ Trust first prize, and was a finalist for both the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Award. In Canada, that’s pretty much the literary trifecta: the best there is.
The book — Lyon’s debut — has been heaped with praise. Russell Banks’ blurb now seems especially ironic. Banks said the book was “more than a brilliant and beautifully told novel: it’s also a profound exploration of moral and philosophical issues that have troubled and perplexed us since Aristotle.”
The moral and philosophical issues dealt with in the book were not the cause of a recent ban of The Golden Mean by BC Ferries. The marine transportation company have opted not to sell the book on their boats due to the graphic nature of the cover: a beautiful boy astride a beautiful horse, the image is certainly more reminiscent of classic art than pornography, and entirely in keeping with the content of the book.
Writing on The New Yorker’s blog, Eileen Reynolds sums the whole thing up neatly here:
Censorship, to our way of thinking, is generally bad news. Is there ever a good reason to ban a book? Maybe not, but the cause for a recent Canadian ban on Annabel Lyon’s “The Golden Mean” strikes us as particularly silly. BC Ferries, a maritime transportation service in British Columbia, has removed Lyon’s novel from its bookshops—not because the author penned a controversial scene or racy bit of dialogue, but because the paperback’s cover art features a naked man’s rear-end!
Meanwhile, The Vancouver Sun talked to BC Ferries about the banning:
BC Ferries has a habit of banning books that feature nudity of any kind. Stephen Vogler’s Only in Whistler was banned in 2009 because it featured a historical photo of four naked female skiers viewed from the rear. Two years ago, Wreck Beach, a history of Vancouver’s nude beach, was banned for similar reasons.
BC Ferries spokeswoman Deborah Marshall told The Vancouver Sun the books for the ferry bookstore are chosen by committee. “We choose to select non-controversial books in our gift shop. We have a wide audience so we want to keep it family appropriate. This book has a naked boy on the cover.”
The image, of a young man draped across a horse, shows bare buttocks.
“We offered with the publisher to put a belly band over the cover,” said Marshall, “but they declined.”
Marshall conceded that the bookstore carries a wide range of magazines, such as Men’s Health, that often feature partial nudity on their covers.
I’ve not heard anything in defense of the ban, but stories condemning it have appeared internationally. That should prove to be great news for Lyon: The Golden Mean is a terrific book and it seems likely that this will help her sell even more copies. And, in many ways, the timing just couldn’t be better. The US edition — sans boy bum — will be published September 7th. Too bad they don’t still have time to change the cover.