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 nation. 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
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