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The censor of attention

Believe it or not, the first week in October causes more excitement in the publishing world than the first week of Christmas. 'Super Thursday' is the first Thursday in October, when more books are published than on any other day in the year.

In this same week in America, people are focusing their attention on Banned Books Week, an annual event which celebrates the freedom to read, free from censorship and interference from any authority.

Most of us are aware of books that were banned here in the past -- Madonna's Sex is a book some of us will remember, outlawed in 1994, before finally being permitted on the shelves in a lewd silver wrapper.

But the list of writers banned in Ireland with the introduction of the Censorship of Publications Act in 1929 is real hand-over-the-mouth stuff. From Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms banned in 1939, to Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, outlawed in 1953, we really did pick on some classics, as well as condemn our own, like Liam O'Flaherty in 1930.

Ulysses, contrary to popular belief, was never actually banned in Ireland. A 1967 film adaptation by director Joseph Strick was, however, outlawed. Apparently, it's pretty awful.

While everyone is aware of classics like Lolita or Catcher in the Rye being on black lists around the world, the most interesting aspect of Banned Books Week is their updates of new books that are banned -- or challenged -- in various places in American states. Most of these challenges involve libraries, orders and schools, but the number is growing, with over 500 books blacklisted in 2008 (2009 stats are not yet configured).

Books that feature gay characters seem to be a favourite target. And Tango Makes Three, which is a children's tale about a gay penguin couple, was top of the list in 2008. But other writers that were restricted or removed include the harmless Philip Pullman (his books, which formed the material for The Golden Compass, were banned for 'religious viewpoint'), Jodi Picoult, Stephanie Meyer and . . . would you believe it, our very own Eoin Colfer.

For more information: www.bannedbooksweek.org