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Banning Elmer Gantry


Sinclair Lewis published the book Elmer Gantry in 1927. The book is about a traveling evangelist who preferred whiskey, women and wealth to saving souls. It was a controversial book, banned in some areas around the country, such as Boston, where sales of Elmer Gantry could be prosecuted under a law prohibiting 'indecent and obscene books.'"

On this date in 1927, North Dakotans joined in censoring Elmer Gantry when the North Dakota State Library decided not to stock it. The State Library was still fairly new, having been established as the Public Library Commission in 1907, taking up one room in the State Capitol.

Lillian Cook, then librarian, told the Bismarck Tribune she would not buy it for the library and she would not recommend it, stating, "In almost every library the purchase of one book means that another would be dispensed with, and in this case, Mr. Lewis' latest book would be considered 'another' in comparison with almost any 'one.'"

She continued, "It is lacking in accurate perception. It does not produce a convincing impersonation. It has not the rapier touch of the satirist but the bludgeoning of a propagandist. ... The impression is given that the glasses Mr. Lewis used when making his investigation prevented his seeing anything he did not want to see and which did not contribute to his preconceived idea. The result is not an interpretive piece of sculpture, but a work of base metal, cast in a predetermined and distorted mold. Lacking truth and beauty and art, it does not merit attention nor consideration."

Today, the book is not held at the State Library because the book does not fit with the State Library's collection policies, the library being "built and maintained...to meet the information needs of state government, the library community, and the citizens of North Dakota."

Other books that were banned and burned over the years include "The Scarlet Letter," "Where the Wild Things Are," "To Kill a Mockingbird," "Moby Dick," "The Great Gatsby," and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."

Books of all sorts are still banned for all sorts of reasons, and that’s why, in 1982, Banned Books Week was established. The annual observance celebrates "the freedom to read."

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker


"http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=19288767" http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=19288767

"http://www.bu.edu/library/guide/boston/banned/" http://www.bu.edu/library/guide/boston/banned/


Bismarck Tribune, April 9, 1927
"http://www.library.nd.gov/publications/collection.pdf" http://www.library.nd.gov/publications/collection.pdf