I READ BANNED BOOKS

For those who are unaware, we are currently a little over half way through Banned Books Week 2014 (Sept 21 to Sept 27).   

What is Banned Books Week, you ask? 

Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community –- librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types –- in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.
— American Library Association (ALA)

Common reasons books are banned / challenged (some books are challenged but not actually banned) fall into the following categories: “adult content,” “language,” “sex/nudity,” or simply they are not “age appropriate.” However, other reasons do occur. For example, Dr. Suess' The Lorax was challenged because it criticized the forestry industry. Or the random fact that Merriam Webster's 10th edition, was banned from southern California classrooms in 2010 (yes, even a dictionary can be challenged or banned).

Spare me my moment while I get out my soap box (it is covered with stickers professing my love of books and knowledge at the moment).

Call me a rebel. Call me a trouble-maker. Call me evil, if you will, because yes, I do indeed read banned and challenged books. I also encourage other people to read them too.  I feel libraries have a right to carry any book that fits within their collection development policies. I believe anyone has a right to read what they choose to read. Books are knowledge. To challenge a book is to censor knowledge. Consider a television program if you will. If the show is not for you, you can just skip over it and try another one or turn the TV (or mobile device) off entirely. The same thing goes with books. If you do not like a book, you should not have the power to censor me or anyone for that matter from reading it. Too often though, people believe their view of freedom means protecting their viewpoint and not every American's tastes. We are lucky though in other countries in the world books really are banned from all areas - there is no way to read book, watch a certain movie, or even listen to certain music. 

There are so many lists of books that have been challenged or banned. They can be listed by decade or year, by author or subject, by author or reason they were challenged, or even by classic / accolade status. ALA has compiled many of these lists, which you can find here

Of course, my list has to be my own. These are eight books that have stayed with me since I read them (or re-read them) and I love them. Of course, they have been challenged / banned once or twice, which I include under each image.


MAUS by Art Spiegelman, Graphic Novel (1980-1991) 

Maus is always one of the graphic novels I recommend. It easily falls in my top ten. For those who do not know, Art Speigelman interviewed his father Vladek, a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust, about his experience and then translated the story into a graphic novel. The story is told both in the novel’s present with Speigelman conducting the interviews with his estranged father and it is also told through his father’s life. What makes Maus unique was the way Speigelman portrayed the characters as animals: Jews are mice, Germans are cats, French are frogs, Americans are dogs, etc -  “narrative technique that purposely cannot sustain itself when there is a question about a character’s specific race.” In 1992, Maus was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in the Special Awards and Citations (first graphic novel to receive a Pulitzer).

  • Challenged for being “anti-ethnic” and “unsuitable for younger readers.”

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, 1979 

How does one begin to discuss admiration for Adams and H2G2. If you haven't read it, you probably have heard your friends quote it "I never could get the hang of Thursdays" or seen cryptic shirts with the number "42". Originally a radio show on BBC Radio 4 in 1978, later adapted to the book (and sequential books) we know and love. The first book starts off with the destruction of earth by bureaucratic Vogans. Luckily before that happens, Arthur Dent and his friend Ford Prefect escape by hitchhiking off the planet. Ford, as we come to know, is one of the contributors to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Although the stories revolve around the Earth Man, Dent. The story touches on love, two-headed aliens, the meaning of life, depressed robots, the thoughts of a petunia plant, inprobability drives, and so much more. The two most important rules: Don’t Panic! and always carry a towel. So - how could anyone object to this multifaceted wonderment? There always has to be someone to spoil a good time, right?

  • Challenged for inappropriate words (one word in in this phrase "As in Eccentrica Gallumbits, the Triple-Breasted Whore of Eroticon Six" and the questioning of religion)

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, 1962

WrinkleInTime5.jpg

I am pretty sure my mother introduced me to this book. She loves fantasy and science fiction. I most recently relieved this magical story through Hope Larson's graphic novel adaptation. 

The story revolves around, Meg Murry, a young girl whose father has gone missing. With the help of  Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which - Meg , her friend Calvin, and Charles Wallace go on an adventure to rescue Mr. Murry. They do so with the help of a tesseract, a wrinkle in time. They visit various planets, meet interesting beings such as centaurs, and even face The Black Thing. Their mission becomes much more than they could ever imagine. I read this book over and over as a kid. I adored Meg (second only to Anne Shirley, of Anne of Green Gables, which has also been challenged before for being harmful to adoptees)  and loved tagging along on her adventure. A Wrinkle in Time won the Newbery Medal in 1963. It also frequently is listed in the top 100 books banned / challenged of all time.

  • Challenged for: religious pluralism, magic, time travel, language, Satanic undertones, too Christian / not Christian enough, in the early days it was cited as being pro-communist and even rejected by many publishers because it was a science fiction book with a female protagonist.

Blankets by Craig Thompson, 2003

Blankets is considered an coming-of-age autobiographical graphic novel, which touches on many aspects of Thompson's life during a cold Wisconsin winter. There's first love, growing up in an Evangelical Christian family, his relationship with his brother, what happens when the wrong people are let into ones life, and of course, his adolescence and early adulthood as a whole. The story is told both chronologically and with flashbacks, which allows for the parallel between real adulthood and adolescence. Blankets is a very sweet, endearing story, yet it tends to be one of the top twenty, if not top ten challenged graphic novels. 

It was awarded multiple Harvey Awards and Eisner Awards in 2004. Time also awarded it best graphic novel of the year. 

  • Challenged: Obscene/ Pornographic  images

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, 1945

 

First off, as you will come to know, I love books by Evelyn Waugh. I find his satirical approach to life between the wars through the 1960s fascinating. His association with the Bright Young Things lead to many memorable books that depicted life between the war: Decline & Fall , Vile Bodies, and of course Brideshead Revisited
The novel surround the enchantment of Charles Ryder (an artist, now captain in the second world war). The story starts with Ryder's men setting camp at English estate, one he knows very well: Brideshead. The story begins to weave been present day (WWII) and reflecting back at the golden age between the war. Charles Ryder was very close with Marchmains and their estate Brideshead after forming a bond with the youngest son Sebastian Flyte. From his friendship with Sebastian, Charles begins to connect with other members of the family, paint murals in their home, and observe their religious beliefs (Catholicism). The book touches on decadence and the passing of the privileged world, something Waugh experienced himself, through comic moments, somber tones, and various forms of romance and love.

  •  Challenged for promoting homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman, 2001

I could probably pick a number of Gaiman books, because so often people want to challenge his works (Sandman, Coraline, Neverwhere, M is for Magic). I always assume, this means he is doing something right: creating worlds no one had yet dreamed. American Gods poses interesting questions: When people immigrated to the NewWorld did they bring their gods with them? Are they still around? Are we creating new ones? These are questions that Shadow, the protagonist of the story, discovers upon his release from prison. He encounters some interesting characters, travels the heart of America, and finds himself in the middle  of a war between old new gods. I could not put this book down. I was utterly captivated. In 2002, it won the Hugo and Nebula (not to mention many others) for Best New Novel.

  • Challenged: Unable to find the specific reason, though the book is listed on several sites as challenged. My guess would be: language, sexual situations, and/or religious reasons. 

 


To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee, 1960

This book gets discussed a great deal during Banned Books Week, as it is a constantly challenged books. Harper Lee has said that To Kill a Mockingbird is not an autobiography (loosely based on observations of her family and neighbors, as well as on an event that occurred near her hometown in 1936, when she was 10 years old), but rather an example of how an author "should write about what he knows and write truthfully." In truth, there are areas in our country where things have not changed (look at Ferguson, John Crawford III, Trayvon Martin). The story is set in the small town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Depression and follows three years in the life of 8-year-old Scout Finch, her brother, Jem, and their father, Atticus. During which there is an arrest and eventual trial of a young black man accused of raping a white woman and the story unveils through the eyes of a child. 

The book tackled issues of rape, racial inequality, class issues, justice, hatred, and ignorance. To Kill a Mockingbird was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and has even topped British top read lists.

  • Challenged: offensive language, racism, unsuited to age group. 

I read this book, and many more classic books like it at an early age. They helped me form my opinions to never judge a person based on their skin - reaffirmed my upbringing of equality. 


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling,1997

Confession, my original list did not include Harry Potter. I love the book and most people know the story (either from reading the series, the films, or just exposure to pop culture. I also remember all the banning and challenging press around it from the beginning and felt like it has been discussed thoroughly...and then I logged on to The Mary Sue today. The article in question: "Christian Blogger Rewrites Harry Potter, Saves Our Souls With “Hogwarts School Of Prayer & Miracles.”  *I shake my head... full stop* When challenging books or burning books is not enough, they rewrite them. If this is not foreshadowing on what happens when people censor... I do not know what is.  

  • Challenged for anti-family, occult/Satanism, magic, religious viewpoint, violence