Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Penguins and Post Offices


The release of the latest ten dollar Penguins is always a beautiful thing. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera, A Spy in the House of Love by Anaiis Nin and more great books sit in their orange and white glory on my shelves. Books are quite expensive in Australia, so wandering into the post office and seeing some well remembered classics lined up for ten bucks is just an absolute joy. Coffee and cake ... or The Chrysalids? An eighth of a tank of fuel ... or A Passage to India?

Last year, or maybe it was the year before, Australia Post sent a memo out to all of their staff saying that three of the books must be removed from the Penguin classics display: Nabokov's Lolita, Foucault's The History of Sexuality and and Anaiis Nin's Little Birds. You can see where this is going. Australia Post is a family store. Now I have been known to walk out of a lecture theatre where an earnest academic was extolling the erotic virtues of creepy Humbert Humbert's relationship with a twelve year old girl ... but Foucault? Has anyone in the room read The History of Sexuality Vol. 1 and actually got their rocks off? It is post structuralist theory and as dry as a dead dingo's donga.

It was an interesting excercise in market censorship of the classics. Lady Chatterly's Lover was allowed to stay. This is ironic, because Penguin were the first to publish the unexpurgated version in the 1960's. Possibly, and I am taking a punt here, Australia Post thought that removing that book from their shelves may attract some unwanted ridicule attention.

Anyway, one day I collected up the three offending books and took them to the counter at my local post office because I was in a mood. "Haven't these books been censored off the Australia Post shelves?" I asked the woman. She is a good character. She once told a robber that, no, she wasn't going to give him any money and was so frightening that he walked out the door hanging his head.
She took the books and examined them. "Yes, that's right. There was a memo out the back somewhere about that. Can you put them back on the shelf for me, love?"


  1. I've read Nabokov, I have avoided Foucault and have not read Anais Nin. I suddenly have an interest in reading Little Birds. If it's bad enough to remove from the shelves it might be good enough to read.

  2. Hello Little Hat. I looked at your blog last night and really liked the gallery story.
    Just to clarify, I don't really care either way about the book Lolita but that lecturer just made me want to throw something!

  3. LOVE it when you are 'in a mood' ST.

  4. Yes, there is usually some fun to be had during those moments.