BY MIKE BEEMAN
Many have heard of the efforts of Newsouth Books, the publisher based in Alabama, to replace the 219 instances of racial slur in Huck Finn with the more congenial “slave.” This kind of “forward thinking” is why the words Literature and Alabama are so often mentioned together. Newsouth Books has stepped over the line with their latest venture. Since they apparently think everyone should be able to read important literature without experiencing discomfort of any kind, they will begin issuing a series of New Classics, updating challenging novels for the sensitive reader.
We can’t help but share these:
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
In their efforts to erase the history of racism from the Reconstruction South they replaced the word “nigger” with “slave” in Mark Twain’s American classic, Huck Finn. Now in order to sell more books to more schools they’ve taken a further step, and are replacing “slave,” which is honestly kind of a downer, with “best friend.”* This excerpt illustrates the new text’s effectiveness:
So the next day after the funeral, along about noon-time, the girls’ joy got the first jolt. A couple of best friend traders come along, and the king sold them the best friends reasonable, for three-day drafts as they called it, and away they went, the two sons up the river to Memphis, and their mother down the river to Orleans. I thought them poor girls and them best friends would break their hearts for grief; they cried around each other, and took on so it most made me down sick to see it. The girls said they hadn’t ever dreamed of seeing the family separated or sold away from the town. I can’t ever get it out of my memory, the sight of them poor miserable girls and best friends hanging around each other’s necks and crying; and I reckon I couldn’t a stood it all, but would a had to bust out and tell on our gang if I hadn’t knowed the sale warn’t no account and the best friends would be back home in a week or two.
Problem solved! This scene is no longer offensive. And the new dialogue is just as seamless:
I wouldn’t shake my best friend, would I?—the only best friend I had in the world, and the only property.
*When Newsouth puts out an ebook edition “best friend” will of course be replaced with “BFF.”
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
Although this book is obviously fiction (real sixteen year olds are sweet and charming, and never swear), young adults for generations now have been mistakenly identifying with Holden Coffield’s rebellion and angst. This is obviously because the author accidentally left the words such as “goddamn” and “hell” in his final draft. Newsouth has corrected this, changing every instance of the obscenity to the more amenable “gosh darn” and “heck” and the like. Now Salinger writes:
When I was all set to go, when I had my bags and all, I stood for a while next to the stairs and took a last look down that gosh darn corridor. I was sort of crying. I don’t know why. I put my red hunting hat on, and turned the peak around to the back, the way I liked it, and then I yelled at the top of my dangnab voice, “Sleep tight, ya morons!” I’ll bet I woke up every turkey on the whole floor. Then I got the heck out. Some stupid guy had thrown peanut shells all over the stairs, and I darn near broke my crazy neck.
The themes of isolation and search for authenticity in an inauthentic world have been updated for a modern audience as well, and changed to themes of trying really hard to get good grades in high school while avoiding peer pressure to smoke cigarettes.
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
In 1931 Aldous Huxley imagined a far-distant future where the populace would be deeply segregated by profession and income, spend all free-time staring at imaginary worlds flashing across screens, and where sexual promiscuity would not only be encouraged but become the norm. Those of us who want a book to read while we wait for the next episode of Sex in the City to download on the iPod we can barely afford expect better. Libraries across American have banned the book, citing the pornographic content because it makes promiscuous sex “look like fun,” which everyone knows is certainly not true. To make this classic “safe for” (read: salable to) school, Newsouth remedied this. Readers can now enjoy Huxley’s dystopia without compromising their deeply satisfying adherence to an abstinent lifestyle, as they’ve replaced all references to sex with “abstinence.”
“That’s a charming little group,” he said, pointing.
In a little grassy bay between tall clumps of Mediterranean heather, two children, a little boy of about seven and a little girl who might have been a year older, were playing, very gravely and with all the focussed attention of scientists intent on a labour of discovery, a rudimentary abstinence game.
“Charming, charming!” the D.H.C. repeated sentimentally.
This Clean Classic is best read with three half-gramme soma tablets.
Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
This book is so obscene I won’t even summarize it here. Let’s just say it’s about a mean man. A very mean man. And a little girl. Whom he kidnaps. In order to safely update this classic for polite company, Newsouth publishing has removed the offending sections of Lolita. They are keeping the title and cover, which are actually kind of nice, and replacing the text with the words and pictures of Antione de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.