Sunday, September 27, 2009

TSS - I read banned books

Banned Books Week - September 26-October 3, 2009

The fact is that censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion. ~Henry Steele Commager

I don't believe in banning books. I understand the reasons books are challenged or banned - they are considered dangerous to a political party, or they violate a moral or religious belief, or contain some other, more nebulous threat to whomever is doing the challenging. But I disagree with the idea that they way to combat a book that is objectionable is to ban it. Don't get me wrong - I have
NO problem with people objecting to books. I've read books I object to, for some of the same reasons I listed above. I just don't think banning those books will ever do any good.

Let's be realistic - banning a book doesn't ever make it go away. In fact, it usually makes it MORE appealing - "Hmmm, they told me I can't read this book. I wonder why? I want to go read it!" When I was a kid, it was the TV shows my parents didn't want me to watch that I was most curious about. Banning ideas don't make them less interesting. They just add a cloud of glamour to
them. Inquiring minds are going to seek out those ideas, banned or not - banning them just makes them seem more mysterious.

On second thought, maybe banning books isn't such a bad idea after all. Maybe we should ban them all - maybe taking books away would spark such a desire for them to return that we could, once again, be a reading n
ation. It's sure a nice thought!

Here's a partial list of books that have been banned, and where, and why.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll - Banned in the province of Hunan, China, for the portrayal of anthropomorphized animals acting on the same level as humans.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque - Banned in Nazi Germany for demoralizing and insulting the Wehrmacht.

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell - Banned in South Africa during Apartheid.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley - Banned in Ireland in 1932.

The Call of the Wild by Jack London - Banned in Italy for being "too radical".

The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank - Banned in Lebanon for portraying Jews, Israel, or Zionism favorably.

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak - Banned within the USSR until 1998 for its criticism of the Bolshevik Party.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck - Banned in many places in the US. In the region of California where it is partially set, it was banned because it made the residents of this region look bad.

Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain - Banned in many school districts over objections of its use of the "n" word.

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson - Banned in South Africa during Apartheid.

Rights of Man by Thomas Paine - Banned in the UK and author charged with treason for supporting the French Revolution.

Silas Marner by George Eliot - Banned in Anaheim, California school districts.

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare - Banned in schools in New Hampshire under its "prohibition of alternative lifestyle instruction" act.

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe - Banned in the southern US due to its anti-slavery content, and Tsarist Russia since the government expected people to see similarities between the treatment of slaves in the US and the treatment of Russian serfs.

Read any of those? I did, and amusingly, I seem to have managed to become a fairly well-adjusted, functioning member of society, albiet one with pretty radical ideas. *grin*

Here's the manifesto that has been adopted by the Banned Books Week organization:


To you zealots and bigots and false
patriots who live in fear of discourse.
You screamers and banners and burners
who would force books
off shelves in your brand name
of greater good.

You say you’re afraid for children,
innocents ripe for corruption
by perversion or sorcery on the page.
But sticks and stones do break
bones, and ignorance is no armor.
You do not speak for me,
and will not deny my kids magic
in favor of miracles.

You say you’re afraid for America,
the red, white and blue corroded
by terrorists, socialists, the sexually
confused. But we are a vast quilt
of patchwork cultures and multi-gendered
identities. You cannot speak for those
whose ancestors braved
different seas.

You say you’re afraid for God,
the living word eroded by Muhammed
and Darwin and Magdalene.
But the omnipotent sculptor of heaven
and earth designed intelligence.
Surely you dare not speak
for the father, who opens
his arms to all.

A word to the unwise.
Torch every book.
Char every page.
Burn every word to ash.
Ideas are incombustible.
And therein lies your real fear.

— Ellen Hopkins,
bestselling author of Crank and newly published Tricks

So this week, I'm going to read a banned book. I'm going to revel in the thought that no one can tell me what I can or cannot read. And I'm going to celebrate the ideas of those who, throughout history, have been brave enough to write. Care to join me?

Books won't stay banned. They won't burn. Ideas won't go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only weapon against bad ideas is better ideas. ~Alfred Whitney Griswold, New York Times, 24 February 1959


Frances said...

You have done a great job here of outlining the whole spirit behind Banned Books Week. I also plan on putting up a few posts this week. I liked when you said, "Let's be realistic - banning a book doesn't ever make it go away." And that is what people who challenge and ban books want - to make the ideas behind the work go away. Intolerable censorship not just of books but of ideas. Thanks for the great post!

Eva said...

I already read Lady Chatterley's Lover and Go Tell It on the Mountain, but I'm planning on reading Bless Me, Ultima this week!

Zee said...

I've posted my thoughts as well and like you I am reading banned or challenged books this week. I just finished The Giver by Lois Lowry which was new to me. Now I've moved on to an old favourite Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and my audio book for the bus for the week is one of the Harry Potter books.

gautami tripathy said...

We see lot of classics as those are supposedly politically incorrect in the present context!


I am all for freedom of reading..

TSS: The past week in retrospect and on to the next one...

TSS: The Locked Room by Paul Auster

Aarti said...

I went to a Banned Books Week event yesterday, where a lot of authors were reading from books that were banned. There was such a great turn-out, and the awesome part was the number of parents that were there with their kids. Loved it :-) They were also giving out free copies of books and posters of the manifesto. Sigh. I love readers :-)

Jade @ Tasting Grace said...

This is an awesome post and I love the line in the poem "Sticks and stones do break bones and ignorance is no armor." Fabulous. Join you, I shall!

crystal said...

Who dosent love the joy of reading something after being told not to for some stupid reason (anthropomorphism, really)?!

Jenners said...

Great job! I wrote about book banning in my Saturday post too but I didn't do nearly the amount of research you did! I love the little tidbits on why they were banned. And I love the poem you shared. I do agree -- the more you ban something, the more you make people want to check it out.

Kailana said...

There are so many good books on banned reading lists. People are missing out if they aren't reading them for various reasons...

Lynne said...

Great post. I've seen other lists of banned books but not one that said WHY. So interesting, thanks :)

Zibilee said...

I agree wholeheartedly. And when I look at that list of banned books, I am amazed seeing some of the reasons the books were banned. I don't like anyone telling me what I can and cannot read, and I feel that each individual should have the right to choose to read whatever book is interesting or meaningful to them. No one should be able to limit someone's reading life.

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

Huh, I've never heard that "The Lottery" was banned in South Africa. I can't think of why that might be, although I can't really see why any books would be banned :)

Padfoot and Prongs - Good Books Inc. said...

Great post. This week always makes me giggle at my own mind, since I would have to say about 80% of my favorite books, as well as just about all of the books I read in general, are on banned lists. Just goes to prove the point that the most radical ideas are probably the ones worth having around. Hurrah for no censorship!