December 13, 2013

Russell Brand’s Booky Wook 2: Too Crude for Guantanamo?


Copies of The Odyssey in the Guantanamo Bay library. This photo was taken by Robert Johnson and posted on

Copies of The Odyssey in the Guantanamo Bay library. This photo was taken by Robert Johnson and posted on

Writing in The New Statesman, Shaker Aamer, the last remaining British detainee at Guantanamo Bay, lifts the lid on what American authorities deem unfit for reading at the controversial (and perpetually on the verge of closing yet somehow still open) detention center. Locked up for 12 years with no charges filed, Aamer began asking his lawyer to bring books with him on his visits.

There seems to be no pattern to what is confiscated and what is let through. Plenty of people have found plenty of things to complain about when it comes to Russell Brand, but protecting Aamer’s delicate mind from the curse words in My Booky Wook 2 while force feeding him through a hunger strike seems, frankly, insane.

Clive Stafford Smith comes to see me every three months or so. I ask him to bring me books. When I am allowed to read, it lifts – for a short while – the heavy gloom that hangs over me. Clive amuses himself (and me) by testing what the censors will let through. It is difficult to identify any consistent or logical basis for the censorship: in months gone by, I have been allowed to read Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, but Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago did not make it through.

On his most recent visit in October, Clive gave me a list of the titles he had dropped off for me, so I could let him know later what had been banned by what I prefer to call the Guantánamo Ministry of Information. One was Booky Wook Two by Russell Brand. I understand that Brand uses too many rude words. I suppose you have to be amused by that: the US military is solicitous of my sensitive nature, and wants to protect me from swearing. These are the same people who say that all of us at Guantanamo are dedicated terrorists.

While they’re not allowed to interview prisoners, journalists are allowed into the prison library, and New York Times reporter Charlie Savage started a Tumblr dedicated to the pictures they’ve taken. They show Agatha Christie next to Orson Scott Card, multiple copies of the How to Train Your Dragon series, and an Arabic translation of Danielle Steel‘s The Kiss. The Guardian notes reports that “that the most popular books are Agatha Christie’s mysteries, Kahlil Gibran and the Harry Potter novels.”

You can read more about Aamer’s sad situation here, and information on Clive Stafford Smith’s organization, Reprieve, can be found here.


Julia Fleischaker is the director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.