It emerged this week that student organisations at American colleges have been requesting ‘trigger warnings’ to appear on books that may have the capacity to offend or traumatise those who read them.
Trapped somewhere within this, approximately the seven hundred millionth example of Americans eschewing common sense for reactionary political correctness in their own inimitably shameless fashion, is an important and not altogether insensible point attempting to be heard, whereby sufferers of certain distressing events may wish to be forewarned of any work of literature that may elicit unpleasant memories.
This concession notwithstanding, I will not attempt to address such a point here, as to do so would result in an interminably boring and saccharine dirge of well-meaning rhetoric, better suited to a sanctimonious Upworthy article or a particularly downbeat episode of Oprah.
Instead I’m going to imagine what would happen to our canon of literature if its disquieting elements were expunged, in order to accommodate the delicate dispositions of our puritanical complainants. Let’s have a look at how some of our most treasured books would fare if anything liable to offend were removed…
American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis
Nothing is going right for our protagonist Patrick Bateman in this delightful ‘80s romp. Join our hero as he negotiates through one disaster after another: misprinted business cards, video store fines, and troublesome cran-apple juice stains on his best bed linen. Will he make it to Dorsia in time for dinner with his Wall Street chums? The fun never stops in this riotously entertaining farce. New version includes bonus CD packed with ‘80s floor-fillers from the likes of Genesis and Huey Lewis and the News.
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
Join Humbert Humbert and his precocious step-daughter Lolita on this picaresque adventure across America, during which nothing untoward happens between the pair whatsoever. The New York Times called it ‘a monumentally uneventful tale of separate bedrooms, platonic hair-ruffling, and dull car conversations about whether taupe and beige are really just the same colour.’
The Road, Cormac McCarthy
It is testament to McCarthy’s skill as a writer that the atmosphere of this lyrical masterpiece remains intact within the twenty-seven words that make up the redacted version. Words like ‘boy’, ‘man’ and ‘road’ evoke powerful images of a boy and a man on a road, possibly travelling towards some sort of merry picnic or familial get-together. The magnificent Quentin Blake illustrations only add to the cheerful whimsy of this thoroughly enjoyable read. The ultimate holiday book.
The Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss
Sally and her brother are home alone, bored and restless, when there is a knock at the door. Sally opens it to find a mysterious stranger, a Cat in a Hat.
‘Good afternoon, Miss,’ he begins, ‘I’m here today to talk to you about the one true God.’
Sally invites the courteous stranger inside for tea and biscuits, and the trio exchange philosophical chit-chat and bland witticisms for the next six hours. Eventually the Cat politely excuses himself and returns to his suburban bungalow. He tucks his children in, pours himself some warm milk, and settles in for the evening with the Times crossword.
Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk
What started as a drunken dare between Jack and Tyler develops into a worldwide phenomenon, as their white collar boxing promotion earns millions for various charities and worthy causes. The philanthropic pair also moonlight as Project Sunshine, a clandestine force for good that commits mischievous but well-intentioned acts, such as painting comic book characters on orphanage walls, building houses for victims of natural disasters, and breaking into hospitals to fill the child cancer wards with thousands of multicoloured balloons. A life-affirming novel to be cherished by all.
A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
Meet Alex, a happy-go-lucky droog who enjoys milk, Beethoven and going to bed early. He and his rapscallion chums get up to all sorts of high jinks, like pressing strangers’ doorbells and running away, kicking empty cans along the road, and making prank telephone calls. This amusing vision of the future shows us that even though language and technology may change, the innocence and playfulness of youth are timeless.
Complete Works, William Shakespeare
This monumental volume completely transforms the Bard’s classic tales for a contemporary audience. The brave decision to completely erase all of the text and replace it with pictures of laughing children, and adorable animals that have got their heads stuck in things, is a masterstroke of modernisation. For as the great man himself once wrote, some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some…Ha! That squirrel has a flowerpot on his head. He can’t get it off!
Dracula, Bram Stoker
Jonathan Harker is one of London’s top estate agents, but he’s about to meet his most demanding client yet – a curmudgeonly Count from Transylvania. Join Jonathan as he weaves his way through a logistical labyrinth of paperwork, deals with fastidious customs officials, and attempts to meet the exacting requirements of the mysterious Count. More of a technical treatise on relocation than a novel, this is sure to set hearts racing among accountants, school principals and high-functioning autistic savants the world over.
It, Stephen King
Pennywise the Dancing Clown is down on his luck, and things are looking bleak. Until he meets a gang of special children, who through their kindness reignite his love of performing and help him get back on his feet. A marvellous novel dealing with themes of love, companionship and redemption. The first five hundred copies come with a free Pennywise action figure, with real dancing feet!
The Bible, God (citation needed)
This new version of the Good Book foregoes the barbaric apocryphal stories of old and instead concentrates only on the parts that contain cogent, sensible advice for living well. As such it comes in at just under a third of one page, a large part of which is footnotes explaining that most of the text was probably mistranslated anyway and should be ignored. Readers are encouraged to fill the remaining seven hundred and ninety-nine pages with drawings of the Baby Jesus and lists of people who they don’t think belong in heaven.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, John Boyne
Bruno’s father is a very important man. He runs an enormous leisure camp, where people can avail of fun activities all day, every day. Bruno is sad because he wants to make friends, but isn’t allowed in. One day he decides to sneak in and have an adventure. This story of one boy’s daring day out in the camp is heart-warming fare, and is sure to rekindle memories of going to camp as a child, or at the very least of going to see the film Ernest Goes to Camp.
Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
Winston Smith is all alone in the world, and even a fulfilling factory job can’t ease his disquiet. That is, until he meets his new friend from the Big Brother programme. Winston’s fraternal surrogate takes him out on day-trips to the circus, buys him ice-cream, and playfully grabs him in headlocks and nuzzles his head. A wonderful novel about life, friendship and the unspoken obligation to humour those weaker than us out of pity. A triumph.
Paris and Helen are throwing the wedding of the century, and you’ve been invited! Join the madcap cast of characters for this matrimonial misadventure: Menelaus, the surly ex-husband with a heart of gold; Patroclus, the flamboyant life partner of Achilles who always says what’s on his mind; Odysseus, whose equine-themed wedding present you’ll have to see to believe! (or read about to believe in this case). Will Helen get cold feet on the big day? Who will win the Achilles-Hector dance off? How do you play 500 Miles with just a lyre and a pan flute? Answer these questions and more by picking up your copy today!