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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Literary Controversy on Film

In light of banned book week, we here at HFR thought it would be a good idea to highlight some of our country’s own literary struggles that aren’t as old as you might think. Here are two that have made it onto film recently.

Paperback Dreams

This independent film debuted back in August and is the true account of two pioneering bookstores in the San Francisco/Bay area. Established during the book boom of the 1950s, Cody’s and Kepler’s dedicated themselves to providing a haven for the controversial works that larger booksellers found too risky. They were on the frontlines of the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s and suffered firebombings, vandalism, and harassment of imaginative diversity. But it was not until the 1990s, along with half the independent booksellers in the country, that the cold threat of foreclosure and bankruptcy began to loom on the horizon, coming to fruition in 2005 for 40 days (for Kepler’s) until dedicated customers offered their own bail out package and saved the store from closing permanently.


This book turned film opened last Friday, 26 September, to great expectation. It is the story of Barney Rosset, the saving grace and bane of Grove Press and the scandalous Evergreen Review. Rosset locked horns against obscenity charges for Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and emerged victorious. He challenged the standards that left controversial books, such as D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, banned or censored by providing the first unabridged, legitimate printing in the United States. Unfortunately, as Grove Pres grew in respectability, he, who had brought it to that position, was ousted for the very values he had brought to the press when he bought it in the 1950s.

The world is so full of wonderfully incisive authors who challenge the status quo but their voices would die unsung if they were not first supported by the truly brave cavalry that are the publishers and booksellers. Writers depend on the protection and support—both financially and artistically—of those responsible for putting their words into the hands of those readers (revolutionaries?) who will listen. We in the United States have a great deal to be grateful for, and not just among the novelists. The few real investigative journalist we have (Anderson Cooper and Christiana Amanpour come to mind but there are perhaps dozens more who put themselves in very real danger every day and not just in “sexy” warzones) don’t “disappear” or turn up “mysteriously” murdered. Writers of every genre have their struggles but they would be suffered in vain if it were not for the fearless publishers and distributors—Rosset, Cody, and Kepler to name only a few— who push back.

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