For about a decade in the early 1900s, censorship in Boston was a secret business. Under a gentlemen’s agreement, a committee of booksellers and Brahmin moral crusaders banned books. The titles were never announced. “The public had no idea what was going on,” said Neil Miller, author of the new book “Banned in Boston: The Watch and Ward Society’s Crusade against Books, Burlesque, and the Social Evil” (Beacon).
Bookstores were notified and threatened with prosecution if they did not comply within 48 hours. As many as 75 books deemed unacceptable or obscene, including works by John Dos Passos, Sherwood Anderson, and Aldous Huxley, may have been suppressed in Boston during this period.
This private agreement fell apart in the mid-1920s when the influential leader of Boston’s moral crusaders died, and H.L. Mencken battled against censorship in Boston, as did Upton Sinclair, who famously wrote, “I would rather be banned in Boston than read anywhere else because when you are banned in Boston, you are read everywhere else.”
Miller, who teaches journalism at Tufts University, finds that “banned in Boston” means little to his students. “They shrug their shoulders,” he said. Miller will discuss the colorful characters behind the phrase at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Brookline Booksmith.
■ “Gold Boy, Emerald Girl” by Yiyun Li (Random House)
■ “The Shape of Inner Space: String Theory and the Geometry of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions” by Shing-Tung Yau and Steve Nadis (Basic)
“Finishing this novel was like waking from a long curious dream. Serge Carrefax’s family is wealthy, prolific, and eccentric, and Serge drifts through life as though viewing it from a great height. McCarthy’s writing is both brilliantly inventive and, at the same time, familiarly classic.”
Jan Gardner can be reached at JanLGardner@yahoo.com.