The Guardian is asking its readers to send pictures of banned books they may have on their shelves. So far, not that many books have been shared, mostly – I would assume – because modern civilisations seldom ban books these days. Most of the books shared are older classics. I have nothing to contribute either, although I’m fairly sure some – or most – of the paranormal romances on my shelves are held offensive in more conservative parts of the world.
One forbidden book sent to the Guardian is The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. The book was published in 1988 and was translated fairly fast to my language too. By the time it was available in my local library, it was already a sensation. And I simply had to read it.
The problem was that I wasn’t entirely sure why the book was so controversial. At fourteen, I didn’t follow the discussion that closely; I only knew that the book had elements that upset people. So I was very reluctant to borrow the book, lest the nice ladies at my local library would judge me. Maybe they would even forbid me from borrowing it outright.
One day, I was browsing the returns shelf and there it was: the book that intrigued me so. I scarcely dared to pick it up and made sure no one saw what book I was holding; the cover alone, though discreet, seemed naughty. And then – I slipped it into my bag.
It was before electronic cataloguing and security systems so I actually managed to get away with the book without incidents. I was in a state of panic the whole time I was in the library, absolutely certain that my horrible deed had been discovered. I wasn’t about to steal the book; I intended to borrow it without checking it out, but that wouldn’t have made a difference if I had been caught. Added to that would have been the shame of being discovered with that book. At home I locked into my room so that my family wouldn’t surprise me. Then I set out to read.
After all the brouhaha surrounding the book and all the trouble I went through to acquire it, I expected an exceptional treat. Turned out, I was very disappointed with the book. There was nothing that struck me as controversial and I wasn’t very taken with the story either. In the end, I didn’t even finish it. To this day, I don’t know if the good bits would have been on the part that I didn’t read, or if I was simply too young to understand it. However, I haven’t been so curious to find out that I would have picked the book again.
After about a month of clandestinely holding the book, I returned it to the library – with as much trepidation as I had taken it. I even put it on its correct place on the shelf. For a long time, I felt ashamed every time the book was mentioned – and it was mentioned often. The shame passed eventually, but the disappointment remained. The promised excitement of forbidden wasn’t what I had hoped it would be. I haven’t been lured in since.