Freedom of expression advocates are crying censorship after BC Ferries banned an award-winning book from its gift shops because of its cover picture.
The book jacket depicts a naked youth face down on top of a white horse. The publicly owned corporation isn’t stocking The Golden Mean by Canadian author Annabel Lyon in its gift shops, BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall confirms. Marshall says the cover has full nudity, a violation of the “family-friendly” policies of the ferry gift shops.
BC Ferries had asked Random House publishers to put a so-called bellyband around the book to cover the image, she adds.
“We tried to go with a compromise, but the publisher chose not to,” Marshall says.
The book tells the tale of Greek philosopher Aristotle tutoring the young Alexander the Great.
“The Golden Mean is a crisply written, painstakingly researched book, and Lyon ably inhabits ‘the greatest mind of all time’ – hardly a mean feat,” The Globe and Mail says in a review.
Lyon has taken the ban in stride, writing on her blog, “Oh, BC Ferries. You have one too, you know you do!”
Jim Deva, co-owner of Little Sister’s Book & Art Emporium, which fought Canada Customs censorship as far as the Supreme Court of Canada, says the move shows a lack of class.
“Some day we will learn to celebrate sexuality and beauty,” Deva says. “It goes back to that puritan sense of sex we have.”
Provincial NDP arts critic Spencer Chandra Herbert says the situation is making BC an international laughing stock.
“It’s an artful shot,” he says. “It’s not going to destroy society. Most kids think butts are pretty funny.”
Chandra Herbert says the ferry corporation has a double standard when it comes to choosing literature.
He notes the gift shops carry men’s exercise magazines and titles such as Maxim, “which hyper-sexualize women.”
“What butthead made this decision?” he asks. “We need to get rid of this shame around the human body. Children are not going to be scarred by seeing a human body.”
Marshall says those magazines are kept at the back of magazine racks where children cannot see them.
The Golden Mean won the 2009 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and was a finalist for the 2009 Governor General’s Literary Awards.
It was also a finalist for the 2010 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book (Canada & Caribbean), amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award, BC Book Prize’s Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Award – Fiction Book of the Year, and Booksellers Association Libris Award for Author of the Year.
The ban has sparked reaction around the world.
The UK’s Guardian news website ran a story under the headline “Alexander the Great novel gets bum rap in Canada.”
The New Yorker magazine said the reason for censoring the cover “strikes us as particularly silly.”
“Censorship is always silly,” Deva says. “It’s embarrassing for BC.”