Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Banned Books Week


I grew up with a father whose feelings on censorship boiled down to one sentence.  "If someone tries to ban a book or tells me I am not allowed to read it I immediately go buy a copy and read it."  In my own childhood I remember the debate about a book of Uncle Remus stories he bought for me as a young child.  My mother banned it from her house because of the racial overtones and the colloquial speech she thought was a terrible grammatical example.  I had to keep it at my father's house.  I can remember many weeks enjoying sitting with him while he read to me of the Tar Baby, the briar patch, and the antics and Brer Rabbit and his cohorts.  It introduced me to the wonder that is folklore and how people from different backgrounds may have similar themes in their stories but expressed differently.  Plus there are some precious  memories of reading with my dad.

It's already half way through the week but I'd like to draw attention to it anyway.  It's dedicated to celebrating the freedom to read by drawing attention to those books that have faced documented challenges to remove them from library shelves or classrooms.  There are several variations of lists of banned books. 

The most challenged books of 2011

The most challenged books of the decade 2000-2009

The most challenged classics

As I look over the books on the list a certain themes jump out at me.  I see an awful lot of books with stories involving characters with messy lives.  Guess what.  Life is messy.  Even if you go looking for a fairy tale ending in your reading the characters face some pretty awful situations.  It's part of what makes that happy ending so gratifying.  If it's a book without a particularly happy ending it may just be making some important social commentary.  How many people pick up a book to read with a story that goes like this, "Once upon a time there was a perfectly happy person with not a care in the world.  Her life was completely joyous and fulfilling in every way and she never had any hard times.  She met the perfect man.  They had 2 perfect children.  When they reached the ripe old age of 105 they died in each other's arms in their sleep."  Really?  Would that sell?  There's no tension.  Tension is what makes a story.  Sometimes that tension is ugly.  Think of our own lives.  The hard times have been ugly.  Sometimes we have responded well and other times we have responded shamefully....because we are human.  Even Superman has kryptonite. When you read a novel or even a memoir I'm willing to bet you want to read about human beings who face real life situations, not who lived charmed lives. 

I also see books that may espouse viewpoints that differ from the majority whether it's a political, religious, or cultural value.  I tend to think it's good to at least occasionally read opinions that challenge our own.  It stretches us to consider why we hold the belief we do.  Self-examination is a good thing.  If we are intellectually honest we can handle differing opinions, learn from them, and either have a stronger point from which to defend our views or...gasp...we may change our opinion in light of new information we never considered before.

Other books simply reflect the tines in which they were written or in which the story takes place.  It's dishonest to pretend that racism, sexism, and other forms hatred don't exist and haven't been expressed in ugly terms in various times and places.  If a story is set in those places or times it's appropriate to reflect it with accuracy.  Why are certain prominent Holocaust survivors so vocal about remembering what happened?  So they can wallow in bitterness?  No, so those who would deny such atrocities occurred would be countered with first person accounts and the world would not forget so we may learn and not repeat that horrific chapter of history.

Does all this mean you have to love all the books on the list?  No.  I have by no means read all of them.  I have read a great many.  Some have become cherished to me.  Others I really didn't enjoy at all.  But I chose to read them and I formed my own opinion of them.  I did not take the opinion of other people who were trying to decide whether or not I should have access to them at all.  I was able to make that choice because I had access to the books either through a public or school library.  I did not have to risk abuse or arrest because I chose to read books banned and removed from libraries and stores by some righteous reading brigade.  You think that doesn't happen in the world?  Go find a copy of Reading Lolita in Tehran.

I'd also suggest you find a book on one of the lists that you have never read before and settle in with a copy of it.  Celebrate that you have the freedom to do so.



15 comments:

haphazardlife said...

Brave New World?
To Kill a Mockingbird?
The Hunger Games?

Really? What the hell is wrong with people that they think they can decide what I am or am not allowed to read?

Like you, I've read lots of those books. I can't help but think that if you're capable of reading and like reading, you're capable of having your own opinions.

Craig said...

You already know my annoyance (which somehow doesn't seem a strong enough word) over Huckleberry Finn. Yes, it contains the 'N-word'; people in the 1800s talked that way. Hell, oder members of my own family talked that way. But Huck is the exact polar opposite of a 'racist book'. . .

When a repugnant point of view is portrayed as actually being repugnant, that strikes me as honest, not 'promoting'. Huxley, in Brave New World isn't offering a portrait of his 'ideal society'; he's pointing to trends he saw in his own times which, taken to their logical conclusion, were inhuman. . . Ditto 1984. . .

Now, I might think some of these 'banned books' are vastly overrated, but I wouldn't stop anyone from reading them. 8M (age 10) has been working his way thru The Hunger Games this year; I think some of it is a bit over his head, but he clearly gets the 'dystopia' aspect of it (and he's also very adamant that the book is FAR superior to the movie).

I first read Brave New World when I was 12, and checked it out of my jr. hi library. One day, I had finished my seat work early in my math class, so I was reading BNW; I came across a word I'd never seen before - 'erotic' - so I asked my math teacher what it meant. God bless him, he pointed me to the dictionary. . .

G-Man said...

I bet you read Lady Chatterly's Lover, and Peyton Place didn't you?

Bijoux said...

Well, you already know my views on the topic! I'm thankful to have had such great teachers that I've read most of those classics. Now I must go order Staying Fat For Sarah Byrnes just because it's banned and sounds interesting!

Stephen Hayes said...

The Origin of Species by Darwin

Sailor said...

Always makes me see red, I'm glad you posted this- and My reaction is similar, as soon as I see that type of "list", I run out to read 'em... or, as in the case of Huck Finn, I also required the kids to read it, so we could talk about why people were being so goofy about it

Secret Agent Woman said...

My mother always encouraged me to read and put no restrictions on what I read. It was one thing she did right.

coopernicus said...

I find it personally disturbing the Catcher in The Rye was banned at Selinsgrove HS in 1975 while i was at susquehanna u. had I known about it i would have joined the protest right then and there.

i was probably trashed then.

Jocelyn said...

I know what your next move in life is:

to run for office.

IT (aka Ivan Toblog) said...

You can see a poster here

Daryl said...

AMEN!

Dave said...

Your father was a wise man Michelle. I too enjoyed the Uncle Remus stories, which were also available here in NZ. I think we even saw the film. I fully agree with what you have written. You too are a wise lady. I believe that no books should be destroyed. I try to read as many different types as I can, and I specially enjoy classics and biographies - Dave

Beach Bum said...

Got in a debate with someone over "The Grapes of Wrath", it was the first time I was called a dirty liberal. Well, they actually said something else but I will not cuss at your site.

Cricket said...

Why go to all the trouble of banning books when you can just "reform" the curriculum and cut library funding?

(M)ary said...

I am happy to say I have read many of those banned books and frankly can't figure out why they would be banned