Obscene in the Extreme

To coincide with Banned Books Week, we recommend a historical account of the dramatic desecration of one such honored book, Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.

Book Digest In some fashion you all, no doubt, celebrated Banned Books Week (Sept. 29-Oct. 6), the American Library Association’s annual celebration of the freedom to read. How, you are asking, might one celebrate? The A.L.A. suggests you read or reread one of the top 100 challenged books of the 20th century. Have a look over there and see if you are surprised at what books made that select company.

One of those honored books is Nobel Laureate John Steinbeck’s 1939 bestseller The Grapes of Wrath.

In Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck’s the Grapes of Wrath, Rick Wartzman (The King of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire) artfully recounts the first dramatic desecration in Kern County, Calif., where plutocrat W.B. “Bill” Camp directed a public burning in downtown Bakersfield, blustering: “We are angry, not because we were attacked but because we were attacked by a book obscene in the extreme sense of the word.” The heroine of this sad chapter of American history—then, as now—was a librarian, Gretchen Knief, who wisely responded: “If that book is banned today, what book will be banned tomorrow?

Yes, it can happen here.
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