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The Banned Books of Guantánamo

Banned Books of Guantánamo: 'Trainspotting' by Irvine Welsh

Irvine Welsh has no fucking idea why his book is banned from Gitmo.
November 10, 2014, 10:00am
Image by Marta Parszeniew

I don't really know why my work is banned there. Prisoners in Guantánamo Bay are hardly going to read Trainspotting and say, "Right, I'm going to go out and take loads of heroin." Perhaps it would be a good thing for the establishment if they did—stop them dropping bombs or whatever it is they stand accused of planning to do.

Trainspotting was banned in Russia for a while, and in Greece. A lot of my books have been banned in different countries, mainly because of the graphic drug use, swearing, and violence. You know, the realistic depiction of people's lives and all that. It's a strange one to ban it in Guantánamo Bay, and the scary thing is someone's reading the books and saying, "This should be banned because it's going to corrupt Muslims who may or may not have tried to have blown up Americans." It's about junkies in Scotland. I mean, who's making these executive decisions?


Saying that, I have done readings in prisons, and I always get a really good reception. One of the best receptions I ever got was in a women's prison. The guys are usually into true crime, reading it as a sort of manual: How to Do What I Do and How To Do It Better. But women don't seem to be so much interested in that. They seem more receptive to storytelling.

Without overthinking it too much, I can only guess that because we are living in an increasingly prescribed world, anything that's seen as outside of what's "normal" is seen as deviant and dangerous and is to be stamped out, or at the least, marginalized. This is an obvious result of globalization. And it will continue to do that. Whether it's political conformity, religious conformity, or social and lifestyle conformity, this quest to retain liberty and freedom will be one of the great challenges of the next 30 or 40 years.

I was told that Shakespeare and Jonathan Franzen were banned from Guantánamo, too. Franzen, I suppose, does at least write about white, contemporary America and all its insecurities and neuroses in a way that nobody else really does. The authorities might have felt that his work gives too much information away about Americans' attitudes, vanities, and foibles. That's all I can think it is, because there's nothing to suggest The Corrections would be subversive or dangerous to people who are anti-America with a supposed terrorist objective.

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As told to Nathalie Olah.