So Bad It’s Good

Famous banned book covers artfully reimagined

Featuring Denise Baker, Romey Petite, John Gessner and Laurel Holden


The first summer I went away to Boy Scout camp at age 11, I took an internationally banned book along for casual reading.

Of course, at the time, I didn’t know it was a famously banned book. It was simply a thick paperback volume from my dad’s overstuffed bookshelf that featured a classical drawing of a nude Aphrodite on its cover. The author had a cool handlebar mustache. I thought it might be about an Englishman’s adventures in the Near East and remember a blurb on the cover that said something to the effect: “The Book that Shocked an Entire Continent.”  The title was My Life and Loves, by Frank Harris.

In fact, the author was a controversial Irishman and author, newspaper editor, short story writer and social gadfly who railed against censorship and puritanism in all forms. His lurid and engaging 600-page memoir — which was banned in Britain and America for 40 years and first published privately in Paris — related colorful tales about his close friendships with leading politicians and celebrities of the Victorian Age. But it also brought down the ire of the U.S. Postal Service and British and American censors for its explicit depictions of the author’s sexual exploits with willing Victorian Age debutantes.

The book, I learned many years later, tainted the otherwise estimable career of Harris, who authored well-respected biographies of Shakespeare, Goethe and his close friend Oscar Wilde, among others. He was also pals with the likes of George Bernard Shaw and Winston Churchill.

Needless to say, My Life and Loves was potential dynamite in the hands of an 11-year-old Tenderfoot Scout and would surely have gotten me sent packing before the Friday Mile Swim had anyone known the revealing subject matter contained therein. I remember telling friends it was just a boring book about Greek and Roman mythology.

Today My Life and Loves is considered a classic of eroticism and historical reporting. I still own a copy.

In this spirit, just for fun — being August and our annual Reading Issue — we invited several talented artists and photographers from our three sister magazines to imagine updated covers for famous banned books of their choosing.

As they lavishly prove, even if you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can sure have fun illustrating something that was once considered so bad for you — it’s good.

Jim Dodson



by James Joyce

Serialized in the U.S. 1918-20. Published 1922. Banned in the United Kingdom until 1930s. Portion of serialized version found obscene in the U.S. in 1921, effectively banning the book. In 1933 United States v One Book Called Ulysses finds book not to be pornographic, therefor not obscene.



Denise Drum Baker taught visual arts for 34 years before retiring from Sandhills Community College three years ago. She’s a printmaker, artist, teacher, mother of two grown and happy children, and an ambassador for Moore County Cultural Arts. She falls into fun orchestrating a sister cities relationship with Newry/Mourne, County Down, Northern Ireland. Carving woodblocks is her favorite form of printmaking because the process hasn’t changed much in over 400 years. She can be contacted at






The Handmaid’s Tale

by Margraet Atwood

Published 1985. Recipient 1985 Governor General’s Award for English Language, fiction; 1986 nominated for Booker Prize and Nebula Award; 1987 recipient Arthur C. Clarke Award. Banned or challenged in some schools for profanity, lurid passages.



Romey Petite is a writer and illustrator hailing from New Orleans and a contributor to PineStraw’s “Bookshelf” column. He is sometimes mistaken for an oddly dressed mannequin when sitting next to the picture window in his most frequently patronized coffee shop. His favorite thing to do is take a walk while listening to a good audiobook. He can be contacted at







Animal Farm

by George Orwell

Written in 1943-44. Published 1945. Banned in the Eastern Bloc until the end of the Communist Era in 1989. Won a Retrospective Hugo Award in 1996. Listed No. 31 on the Modern Library List of Best 20th Century Novels.



Laurel Holden is a native of Southern Pines who graduated from The Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont, in 2013. She is a writer and illustrator who moonlights as a librarian at the Southern Pines Public Library. She lives in Southern Pines with partner and collaborator, Romey Petite, and their corgi, Felix. She can be contacted at








Fahrenheit 451

by Ray Bradbury

Published 1953. Recipient 1954 American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in literature. Book was completed in two nine-day sessions on a typewriter rented for 10 cents per half hour. Banned in some schools for vulgarity, obscenity and, in one instance, a description of
the burning of The Bible.



John Gessner contributes editorial images to national and international publications including The Wall Street Journal, Golf Magazine, Our State, PineStraw, O. Henry and Business North Carolina, among many others. He creates advertising images, photographic installations and works with writers on coffee table books and special projects. His hobby is music photography. Contact him at






Recommended Posts
Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Not readable? Change text. captcha txt