Banned Books Awareness: “Neonomicon”

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Well here we are at the beginning of another new year- a time for fresh starts, new hopes, and the promise of endless possibilities; a time to look ahead to a brighter, smarter future.

The only problem is that not everyone got the memo: This is the year 2013- not 1913.

There remain those who are living in the past, desperately clinging to a way of thinking that does not fit the times and standing firm behind irrational decisions that go against everything they are supposed to be about.

Beverly James might look like the poster image for librarian of the year- soft voiced, glasses, wool suit- but her unilateral and biased administrative decisions are nothing of the sort. In fact, I think they’re downright dictatorial.

Last December she gave the patrons of the Greenville County Library system the gift of censorship, all wrapped up in a pretty red bow, when she decided that Neonomicon, a four-issue graphic novel written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Jacen Burrows, would be completely removed from circulation for everyone, despite its placement in the adult section.

The library’s collection department buys its books based on reviews, recommendation lists, the reputation of the author, and whether the work has won any awards. “Neonomicon” passed every checkpoint (in March 2012 it became the first recipient of the newly created “Graphic Novel” category at the Bram Stoker Awards), so the library acquired two copies- both of which have been checked out several times.

In June, the mother of two teenagers returned the book and told the manager that it was offensive after discovering that her 14-year-old daughter had it when her daughter asked what an unfamiliar word in the dialogue meant.

Library cards for children and teens are restricted unless a parent gives permission for material from the adult section to be checked out.

Barbara Yonce, the library system’s access services manager, said she had no way to be sure who checked out the book, citing only a record that an adult male’s card was used at the circulation desk. “Our policy is if you present a valid library card it means that you have permission to use the card,” Yonce said.

The mother returned a few days later to file a request for reconsideration of library material, citing the book’s sexual content.

A committee of library employees was scheduled to meet after all members read the book, which took several weeks because the library had only two copies. After review of all aspects, they decided that the book should be kept, but James had the final say in the matter.

“They fully recognized that I may decide otherwise,” James said. “I’m not going to change my mind.”

She researched the author, the reviews of the book, and checked worldcat.org to see how many libraries in the United States had the book. The website indicated that only about 100 public and university libraries out of the more than 100,000 libraries in the country had the book. That information was enough for her to disregard the committee’s decision and take the book off library shelves.

“It was disgusting,” she said after reading the book, but declined to go on record to label it obscene or pornographic.

There’s no longer a single copy in South Carolina libraries. The closest public libraries to carry the title are in Charlotte and Atlanta.

Alan Moore’s tales are no stranger to controversy. Often laced with dark political themes, his other well-known titles include “V for Vendetta,” “Watchmen” and “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” He has also contributed to such staples as Batman and Superman and has won almost every award a comic book writer can attain.

This latest story is a sequel to Moore’s The Courtyard and part of HP Lovecraft‘s Cthulhu Mythos.

Neonomicon’s” publisher, Avatar Press, categorizes it as horror; the story centers on FBI agents investigating a series of murders, which they soon discover involves the occult. The narrative- laced with obscenities and overt racism- includes in vivid detail a poolside orgy and the rape of a woman by a part man/part fish.

Moore told Wired magazine the book was meant as a critical statement on the genre, which he has depicted as misogynistic and racist.

The Guardian, a British newspaper, quoted him as saying, “They asked me for a horror story. They had gone out of their way to say that I could go as far as I wanted. And I thought I’ll do exactly that, I’ll do a horror story that is really horrible which has got sexual elements in it but perhaps not in a titillating way. It’s one of the most genuinely unpleasant things that I’ve ever written, but I stand by it. It’s a good horror story that touches on some very unpleasant things. As a horror story should do.”

But James has silenced not only the voice of the author by removing the book and those in the community who have enjoyed the novel, she is silencing the mere discussion of the situation.

Correspondence emailed to her by the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom and by Acacia O’Connor, the coordinator of the Kids’ Right to Read Project at the National Coalition Against Censorship in New York City, has gone unanswered except for a received copy of the library’s collection policy.

“The worst thing about this is [she is] silencing a conversation about content and issues,” O’Connor said.

James’ decision to pull the book was the first time in her career that she had overruled her staff’s recommendation and the fifth time she had removed material from the library because of a complaint.

“I call it de-selection,” she said.

Call it what you will, James, censorship is still censorship- no matter what political euphemism helps you sleep at night.

This image from the cover of Neonomicon sums it up nicely-
*sigh…It’s going to be another interesting year at
Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge.

For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at http://www.deepforestproductions.com/BBARK.html

Sources: Greenville online, Wired magazine, The Guardian (UK)
© 2013 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions