Interesting reading: The banned books list
KUALA LUMPUR, July 12 — The Senarai Penerbitan Haram on the Home Ministry's website is available to anyone with a decent Internet connection.
• The total number of (listed) banned titles is 1,517.
• The first entry was made in 1971. The translated title lists it as “Mao Tse Tong Yang Agong Ada-lah Gilang Gemilang.”
• An entry in 1978 lists a “Suratan bertajuk ‘DR MAHATHIR DAN BUKUNYA THE MALAY DILEMMA.’” No author or publisher is listed.
• In 1985 “Think And Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill was banned.
• Banned publications with “sex” or “seksi” in the title total 48.
• Titles in Bahasa Malaysia total 267. Of these, 11 are bilingual.
• English titles total 462. Of these, 39 are printed in America, eight in London.
• There is one title in Iban.
• There was only one book listed as banned in 2011. A good/bad year, depending on one’s perspective.
And so on.
The banned books list is also an interesting snapshot of what subjects furrowed brows at the Home Ministry as we move through history. In the 70s, it was all Mao and communism, then local politics, then communism again (Marx this time).
The early 80s saw an anti-kung fu wave with titles like “Bruce Lee,” “The Tai Chi Sect” and “Drunken Fist” banned. In '83, porn got smacked down (no idea if it was written or visual); '85, two books with “comedy” in the title got banned; '89, comics including Conan (!). Stan Lee’s “Epic Illustrated” was banned in 1993.
Scrolling through the list, one senses a cluster bomb mentality to the selection. Between '91 and '92, 17 titles considered weird – “ganjil” – were prohibited, all in Chinese. In 2004, at least 75 magazine titles were banned, including FHM, Loaded, Bikes, Stuff, Cosmo – anything with a girl on the cover. Then in 2005, not a single magazine. It was back to religion.
And we’re back again today.
I won’t rehash the Irshad Manji story. But after a bazillion retweets I realised, perhaps belatedly, that something cool was happening here. Book banning is making books go viral.
And the authorities, bless them, are doing it for us.
A “Banned Books” list is just another way of saying “Recommended Reading.” And the censors were just the opposite enough of smart to do it at the time when we have the Internet.
Today, when you can’t get a legit/locally available version of something, you get online and see if you can buy it from somewhere else. You also (admit it) try and see if you can get a free version.
Irshad Manji’s “The Trouble With Islam Today” is available as an audiobook. As is Salman Rushdie’s witness protection-necessitating “The Satanic Verses.” You can purchase and download them from a variety of online booksellers. Nobody needs to stock said books and nobody gets charged for distribution. As a reader/customer, you should only be concerned with consumption. And consumption of an audiobook is legal. For the slightly more paranoid, the audiobook doesn’t even need to live (permanently) on your computer anymore, what with wonderful – and wonderfully gratis – options like Dropbox and Skydrive.
Of course, there’s still your iPod, but getting a warrant to search your MP3 player would be novel to say the least.
We’re not really an e-book market because Kindles and Nooks aren’t sold here. But we are an iPad and iPhone market. And both the Kindle and Nook ebook readers are available for iPad and iPhone. If the book you want has been caught in the dragnet on its way to your local bookstore, you can download a searchable, bookmarkable, annotatable version.
The Malay edition of “The Trouble With Islam Today” is also available on Irshad Manji’s website, completely free. But an even more interesting idea is the invitation to “read and interpret for yourself” the Reformist Quran. I don’t know if “interpret” in that case meant “translate”, but I think by virtue of the full text being available for free download as a PDF, it’s certainly feasible. Let me put it another way: it can’t be stopped.
Books – in fact, reading – is following in the footsteps of Open Source Software. When you can’t get the version you want, you make your own.
I searched Amazon for iPad or ebook editions of Peter Mayle’s “Where Did I Come From?” but there weren’t any. Barnes & Noble’s website, however, lists quite a few manuals for giving the kids The Talk. You can buy them as Nook Books formatted for iPhones and iPads – something else I wouldn’t have learned had the book been benignly sitting on a bookstore shelf.
I believe Malaysian book bans are made mainly on the basis of their titles. They are arbitrary judgments made by literal people. (I notice nobody’s moved to confiscate copies of “Fifty Shades of Grey.”) And therein lies the Malaysian reader’s salvation.
A book ban is a literal, physical move. But it is based on the notion that books only exist in bookstores.
Digital files can’t be stopped at Customs.
Shared on social media enough times, a banned book list becomes a recommendation.
Book burning can’t beat CD-burning.
It’s just not that century any more.