Boy Bum Gets Book Banned

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.

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  1. That's not censorship, according to the definition and legal usage. It's called choosing what to sell or not sell. Censorship can only be done by a representative of the government. Unless BC Ferries is owned by the local or national government, excluding the book from their stores is not an act of censorship. Retailers cannot possibly carry every book published, no matter who by or the merits of the book, and so must select which ones to sell. I'd like to know how it was first discovered that BC Ferries decided to "ban" the book.

  2. "…for a recent Canadian ban…"

    Canada did not ban the book "The Golden Mean", one Canadian bookstore chain decided not to sell it. From what I have read here, it appears the book is for sale in other bookstores in Canada even with the cover.

    This is common practice in the United States where stores such as WalMart and Blockbuster have long bought product with the "family audience" in mind.

  3. To Barry Poupard, I quote you = "censorship can only be done by a representative of the government" is what you wrote. You have no clue what the definition of censorship is, do you?!
    Any individual or enterprise of any size or scope can engage in censorship. What do you think churches and political groups, and fraternal organizations do to try to control their membership?!
    You need to know "definition and legal usage" before claiming to.
    What I DO agree with you on is this = any enterprise, retail or otherwise, can choose to carry or not carry whatever they want, whether they do not like the picture, or the message, or it disagrees with their charter, etc. — it does not have to do with nudity at all.
    Unless they are in a country with a totalitarian form of government. Then they will do what they are told to do, or die, or worse.
    We have this constitutional form of government here, the best choice so far in the world; which everyone seems to complain about, while it is the only one that without exception allows us to complain about it.

  4. Dwight, I'll accept your comments. And maybe I should have been more clear on my own argument. Words like censorship, book banning, and free speech get bandied about inappropaitely and, as in the case of the January article, simply to incite emotional reactions of non-critical thinkers and readers. Yes, anyone can censor a work, from a parent skipping over parts of a story he/she is reading to their child to, as you state, churches, groups, etc. and, at the far end of the spectrum, governments. In the U.S., my impression is that American's lack of understanding of their own government and rights lead them to equate anyone asking them to shut up in a movie theater (for example) as an infringement on their "right to free speech." And the implied message in the January article is that "Canada" and hence the Candian government, is censoring and banning the book as a limitation to access to the material by citizens in their country. As to "legal", here I will conjecture in order to explain my stance. If in whatever manner, the author sued the BC Ferry over the issue of censoring the book, would a judge agree that it is censorship in the legal usage? No. Because, unless BC Ferry is owned and operated by the Canadian government, it would not qualify legally as an act of censorship. That, I believe, would also hold in the United States. I Walmart chooses not to carry my book, a court would throw out my claim that they are censoring me and limiting my free speech. That was what I was trying to get at. And I do own a dictionary which I consult occasionally.

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