Posted tagged ‘censorship’

Do *you* read banned books? (Probably, yes.)

October 6, 2015

Have you finished your banned book yet?

If you started reading during Banned Books Week (Sept. 27 through Oct. 3), maybe not. Some of those titles run long. Of course, so do the lists of them. If you’ve ever delved into the Harry Potter series; The Kite Runner; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret; or To Kill a Mockingbird, you’ve read a book that someone somewhere has banned or restricted.

Classic? Young adult? Play? Graphic novel? Short, long, fiction, even nonfiction? Humor, historical, horror, allegory, how-to, science/medical, satirical? Doesn’t matter. There’s always a reason.

People and groups that challenge or ban books make strange bedfellows. Nationalism and obscenity are common reasons around the world. So is racist language. (Sexist language is apparently not a problem.) That’s the main basis of perpetual battles over Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Black Boy, and even Mockingbird. The keep-them side sees these classics as learning tools and reflective of their times, and each side accuses the other of failing to see what’s more damaging: reading racist words and racist depictions of people and situations or cleaning up or avoiding the same in an effort to sanitize history, literature, and thought.

Then there’s the religious argument. The Harry Potter series is godless and promotes witchcraft. Brave New World is antifamily and antireligion. Fahrenheit 451 not only uses foul language but shows the burning of a Bible. (Hello, irony.)

Another angle to the religious argument (often including obscenity) is the attempt to ban books that show “immoral” situations: extramarital sex, homosexuality, rape, and so on. That covers Forever, Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones, Lolita, Daddy’s Roommate, Heather Has Two Mommies, The Kite Runner, even In the Night Kitchen (Mickey the toddler is nude!).

Overlapping that religious angle but often coming from the opposite political viewpoint is the desire to shield children from books that depict violence, abuse, suicide, and general misery, especially involving other children. There go The Kite Runner (again), The Hunger Games, The Color Purple, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Ordinary People, Lord of the Flies, The Chocolate War, Blubber, Summer of My German Soldier, Catch-22 ….

Current popularity is no protection. I was surprised to find Friday Night Lights, among other most-read titles, on a Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books List. (Is it the football worship?) This is a novel that’s spawned a film and a very successful TV series. No surprise about magic-filled Harry Potter, the bestselling book series in history, which has been credited with getting hundreds of thousands of nonreaders to read; its seven print installments have been made into e-books, audiobooks, theme parks, video games, a stage play, and the second-highest-grossing film series of all time.

I gave my mother the “I read banned books” pin I received at the American Society of Journalists and Authors conference this year. She smiled. “Banned books are the best books,” the career librarian said.

It’s not too late to find your own banned book and defy attempts at censorship. Try Banned & Challenged Classics (The Great Gatsby is #1) or the Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2014. Then you too can say, “I read banned books.”

Copyright 2015 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.