Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Book You Weren't Supposed to Read


We never forbade books for our kids and consequently I often hear Megan telling how she read THE BLACK DAHLIA at age nine or something like that. I know she read GONE WITH THE WIND in second grade, finished it, and turned to page one. The movie spurred her interest, of course. She came to most reading that way.

Love of sports led my son to a lot of his early reading although he always had a taste for humor and biography as well.
My most lucid memory of him with a book was reading BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY, which was too dark and deep for him. Yet it did him no harm, (I hope). Of we four, he is the most adventurous reader today, reading biographies of people like Alfred Einstein and Ayn Rand, crime fiction by writers like John Sanford and Henning Mankell, literary fiction by Frantzen and Richard Russo, and political books like NIXONLAND.

When I was a kid, kids read "dirty books" under cover. The first book I remember reading that I shouldn't have read was the book from the movie I posted earlier today. STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET. That was followed by FROM THE TERRACE. I don't think any of this hurt me much because sex is less likely to warp a mind than excessive violence. But still....

What was the first book you remember reading that you weren't supposed to read? Did your parents let you read the books you wanted or did they censor your choices?

36 comments:

James Reasoner said...

My parents hated me reading Ian Fleming's James Bond books when I was ten or eleven. Actually they hated me reading anything with a racy cover, which meant I had to hide everything with a McGinnis cover. I don't recall them ever taking a book away from me, though, just lots of disapproving looks and comments, mostly from my mother. I don't think my father really cared, but he went along with her.

Todd Mason said...

Oddly enough, while I came across (in one sense only in those prepubescent days) a number of racy items around the house, such as an oddly explicit Dell collection of "unsolved mysteries" and Harold Robbins's THE BETSY as a young'n (along with my father's PLAYBOYs and my mother's few PLAYGIRLs...it was notable that there were more naked women in the PG pictorials than men in the PB), the usual line when I asked them about these items years later was that they didn't think they had brought any of these materials into the house (aside from the PLAYBOY sub that my father would cop to)...I suspect that they simply had forgotten, or perhaps someone gave my auto-racing father a copy of THE BETSY, which he found no better or even worse than I did as an 8yo (who even then suspected that, as cited one of the more memorable passages, that a certain product of men in no way resembled sweet heavy cream in flavor). I was certainly never forbidden much from seeing these items, though my folks would certainly try to hide some, such as the profusely illustrated ORAL SEX AND THE LAW, which they disposed of after it was clear I had found their hiding place. (It really is difficult to hide things from children in a house.)

Al Tucher said...

In high school I wrote a paper on underground Victorian literature, which was impossible to do with the resources of a high school library ca. 1970. So, I special-ordered My Life and Loves, the autobiography of Frank Harris. The bookstore owner called my mother to make sure I should have it and was surprised to hear her say, "Of course."

BTW, Harris was a great lesson in how not to be a gentleman. He named and wrote explictly about women from his past. A critic once called his "a mustachio-twirling cad and bounder in the classic Victorian tradition." That's putting it mildly.

John McFetridge said...

I also read some of the Victorian stuff but not for research purposes.

I had a paper route and one morning I found a stash of mostly British men's magazines (maybe easier to come by in Canada) and paperbacks, including My Secret Life. I later sold off the collection at achool. When I got caught the vice principal was so relieved I wasn't selling drugs he just let it go.

Lately I've been thinking some of the Victorian porn would make a pretty good HBO-style series, a racy Downton Abbey. All the same class distinctions and costumes - they just don't stay on the whole time.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I remember my father, who never read at all, throwing FROM THE TERRACE from our terrace. It may be a false memory though since I can't imagine him knowing it was racy. They didn't like me reading comics, except for classic comics.
Todd-you are younger and parents probably were more worldly by then.
The raciest book in our house, and we had few books, was probably one of Ellery Queen's racier titles.
I have always meant to read that, Al. Thanks for reminding me.

Jerry House said...

Al, much of the Harris book was his wishful thinking, alas, rather than what really happened.

I read pretty much what I wanted to as a kid. My father objected to one book cover -- from Dean Owen's movie tie-in KONGA. And my mother was upset when my older sister left a copy of the John Farris book HARRISON HIGH lying about. (What if the boys got hold of this?)

I was(I think) a sophmore in high school when a teacher confiscated a copy of Terry Southern's CANDY one morning. I got it back at the end of the day after three other teachers read it. By "read it" I mean the juicy parts I'm sure; four people couldn't have read the entire novel during that one school day. After that, nobody objected to the books I brought in to read during study hall.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Write it, John. HBO would love it.
Shame about LUCK, I was one if its ten viewers.

Al Tucher said...

I hadn't heard that, Jerry, but it makes sense. Another youthful illusion shattered.

Dana King said...

I can't ever remember hearing about a book I shouldn't read. My parents weren't particularly permissive, but I read whatever I wanted. maybe I wasn't adventurous enough for it to be an issue.

Anonymous said...

None. For all our complaints about our parents, they never tried to censor us. They didn't even (though you can argue in hindsight that they should have) try and stop me from smoking. I can still remember an older woman stopping on the street and saying "does your mother know you're smoking?" She clearly didn't believe me when I said she did.

As for books I also read books after seeing movie versions: Ben-Hur, West Side Story and The Great Escape are three that come to mind.

But I also read Candy, Fanny Hill, the Burns Bannion books (basically, imitation Richard S. Prather with martial arts, as I remember them) by Earl Norman, Last Exit to Brooklyn, the James Bond series, and Andersonville.

Jeff M.

Randy Johnson said...

James beat me to it. My mother hated me reading the Bond books. I had to sneak them around. They were the only thing I was reading in those years she would have objected to my seeing.

Anonymous said...

Also My Secret Life and Lady Chatterley, which I discovered in a bedside drawer while babysitting.

Jeff M.

Todd Mason said...

Well, my mother was certainly annoyed when the local drugstore sold me a NATIONAL LAMPOON when I was about nine...she took it back and demanded a refund. I think it was the smartass approach to the nudity atop the nudity that triggered her ire in that case. A few years later, she was less than thrilled with a few of Stephen Fabian's cover paintings for AMAZING and FANTASTIC (he was more than giving Robert McGinnis a run for the smutty), but didn't give me too much static about them.

Once, back again to when I was about nine or ten, when a librarian sought her permission for me to borrow a sex-ed sort of book, she joked with the clerk that I probably knew more than she did about the subject...I thought at the time, but didn't choose to say, something akin to I certainly hope not...

James Reasoner said...

I recall reading a Shell Scott paperback during algebra class one day (I had already finished all the problems we were supposed to be doing) when the teacher, who was also the head football coach, came over and asked what I was reading. I thought I was in trouble, but when I showed him he grinned and said, "Yeah, I've read all of those. They're great!"

Renewed my faith in education, it did.

F.T. Bradley said...

I don't remember the titles, but I think I was about twelve when I started reading books for adults. There just wasn't a YA section like nowadays.

My parents didn't censor that I can remember. There were always books and trips to the library (my childhood sounds amazing :-).

George said...

I actually feigned illness in order to stay home and read Sinclair Lewis' ELMER GANTRY. My parents were religious and would have been shocked by that novel. I must have been in Ninth Grade.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I knew of a kid who made a cover with something innocuous on it that he put on whatever salacious book he was reading and was in class with him once when the teacher said he was the slowest reader she had ever seen but as long as he was reading that was all that counted.

Jerry House said...

My wife was in the fourth grade in parochial school when one of the nuns found her reading a Mickey Spillane novel. The shocked nun asked her if her mother knew she was reading such trash. My wife replied, Of course she does; who do you think gave it to me?

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Todd mentioned Harold Robbins earlier. I was going to read Robbins and Irving Wallace at the age of sixteen when an uncle of mine suggested I wait a couple of years more. Instead, he placed A.J. Cronin, Nevil Shute, Lloyd C. Douglas and Henry Denker in my hand. I read these authors to this day. My dad didn't know what "censorship" meant and so he never imposed it on me.

Cullen Gallagher said...

I remember being in middle school and hiding behind my bed to read Bukowski's "Tales of Ordinary Madness." I had a pile of John Grisham paperbacks (which I never ever read, actually) by my side in case my parents caught me reading Bukowski.

A few years later, after I discovered the likes of Portnoy's Complaint and Tropic of Cancer on their shelves, I showed them Bukowski, and realized that they liked him, too. So, I didn't really have anything to worry about.

So, no, there were never any books that I wasn't supposed to read. Many fond memories of driving to Bangor with my dad and coming home with piles of Henry Miller and Bukowski.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I guess none of us would be the readers we are if our parents had been too censorious. It has to have an impact. And maybe the exact opposite of what's intended.

Cap'n Bob said...

I think I was 16 when I read Fanny Hill.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have never read a truly dirty book. I had enough trouble watching Crazy Horse.

Richard R. said...

There was no censorship. As long as I read the books I was assigned in school, anything else was okay. I must say, however, I read almost exclusively science fiction from 5th through 11th grade, so they were fine with that. I did read Fanny Hill at one time, and a book about the red light district in San Francisco titled something like The Tenderloin, but found neither to be especially titillating, nor was Lady Chatterley or Tropic of Capricorn. But I read those later, when I was in college and away from home.

Ron Scheer said...

Growing up in a house with no books, they were never an issue, except for one, A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, which my mother somehow had a copy of and expressly forbade me to read. The Bible, with all its killing, torture, incest, adultery, and cutting of foreskins was OK.

Charles Gramlich said...

The first book I remember reading that I'd been told was bad was "The Betsy" by Harold robbins. Pretty boring, I thought. There were quite a lot of forbidden books around our house, or would have been had I known about them and tried to bring them home.

sandra seamans said...

I remember a lot of girls talking about hiding in a closet to read "Peyton Place" but for me it was "Valley of the Dolls". What a scandal that book created.

Anonymous said...

I read Valley of the Dolls, also Harold Robbins and Irving Wallace. My wife actually used Harold Robbins to score points in class. She was the only one who knew what a proxy was, having read about a proxy fight in THE CARPETBAGGERS.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Ah, the information we got from X-rated books. I think it was RETURN TO PEYTON PLACE that suggested nude was a better word than naked when describing such. More poetic.

Deb said...

I was usually free to read whatever I wanted and I have a vague memory of reading my mother's copy of THE CARPETBAGGERS when I was about seven. Oddly enough, the only book my parents ever took from me was one called (I believe) JACOB AND HIS WIVES, which was a fictionalization of the biblical Jacob and his sister-wives, Leah and Rachel, and his two concubines. It was, in my memory, rather racy and my Dad got upset when I described it as such to some friends within his hearing. The book was promptly consigned to the fire. Keep in mind, this was about the same time my friends and I were all reading FEAR OF FLYING. Oh, what a time capsule that book is! (Someone should do it for a FFB.)

Deb said...

BTW, baby boomers of appsoximately my age may also remember passing around THE GODFATHER to read the notorious page 22 (or was it page 27?) where Sonny and one of the bridesmaids get it on during his sister's weddig.

Todd Mason said...

Well, I have done a Jong memoir for FFB, in part because it was more overlooked than FEAR OF FLYING is likely to be for some more years, and I have a Jong-edited anthology that I might yet do...

CRAZY HORSE the film...hm.

Jim Winter said...

My mother got a little upset when I read The Odessa File when I was sixteen because, apparently, I talked in my sleep about killing the real-life Nazi war criminal in the book.

But the one that really bugged her was Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The agnostic humor in it offended her.

Richard S. Wheeler said...

Forever Amber. I read it by flashlight in bed.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I remember reading Forever Amber too. Not sure if I read covertly or not.
I had quite a long period when I read books about concentration camps too. A real obsession at one point.

Erik Donald France said...

My parents let me read anything. They had a large eclectic library of books. I remember Brendan Behan's Borstal Boy and a "positive thinking" book that I *still* like called Thinking Big. I once got into trouble with a neighbor when I was five and was sketching a swastika from a photo book on WW2 b/s I thought the design was cool -- she explained why this was not a good idea, which also stuck with me.

p.s. My folks had no qualms about me reading Ian Fleming but someone at school did once.