Although I haven’t been able to celebrate it as much as I wanted, I couldn’t let Banned Books Week go by without mentioning it here at the blog.
I’ve read a decent amount of banned/challenged books — many as part of my English classes in high school, of all places. I was in PreAP and AP for those four years, which might have had something to do with our ability to “get away” with reading banned and challenged literature. I didn’t always enjoy the books, but I’m glad I was given the opportunity to read them. And I’m glad that my mother open-minded when it came to letting me read what I wanted.
No book should ever be banned. I agree that some books may not be appropriate for some audiences, but I don’t think it should be up to a school—or any state-funded or state-run institution—to decide what myself or my (hypothetical) children can or cannot read.
To borrow and adapt a quote from Evelyn Beatrice Hall (who adapted it from something French philosopher Voltaire said, but you know what I mean): “I disapprove of what you [read/write], but I will defend to the death your right to [read/write] it.”
We can’t ban one book without opening ourselves up to the possibility of banning them all.
Excerpts from banned/challenged books
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Reasons challenged: Racial slurs, bad language, considered “objectionable”
“A boy trudged down the sidewalk dragging a fishing pole behind him. A man stood waiting with his hands on his hips. Summertime, and his children played in the front yard with their friend, enacting a strange little drama of their own invention. It was fall, and his children fought on the sidewalk in front of Mrs. Dubose’s. . . . Fall, and his children trotted to and fro around the corner, the day’s woes and triumphs on their faces. They stopped at an oak tree, delighted, puzzled, apprehensive. Winter, and his children shivered at the front gate, silhouetted against a blazing house. Winter, and a man walked into the street, dropped his glasses, and shot a dog. Summer, and he watched his children’s heart break. Autumn again, and Boo’s children needed him. Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.”
Beloved, by Toni Morrison
Reasons challenged: Bad language, violence, sexual material
“White people believed that whatever the manners, under every dark skin was a jungle. Swift unnavigable waters, swinging screaming baboons, sleeping snakes, red gums ready for their sweet white blood. In a way . . . they were right. . . . But it wasn’t the jungle blacks brought with them to this place. . . . It was the jungle whitefolks planted in them. And it grew. It spread . . . until it invaded the whites who had made it. . . . Made them bloody, silly, worse than even they wanted to be, so scared were they of the jungle they had made. The screaming baboon lived under their own white skin; the red gums were their own.”
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Reasons challenged: Violence, bad language, sexual content
“ ‘Did you just say books should give me a boner?’
‘Yes, I did.
‘Are you serious?’
‘Yeah… don’t you get excited about books?’
‘I don’t think that you’re supposed to get THAT excited about books.’
‘You should get a boner! You have to get a boner!’ Gordy shouted. ‘Come on!’
We ran into the Reardan High School Library.
‘Look at all these books,’ he said.
‘There aren’t that many,’ I said. It was a small library in a small high school in a small town.
‘There are three thousand four hundred and twelve books here,’ Gordy said. ‘I know that because I counted them.’
‘Okay, now you’re officially a freak,’ I said.
‘Yes, it’s a small library. It’s a tiny one. But if you read one of these books a day, it would still take you almost ten years to finish.’
‘What’s your point?’
‘The world, even the smallest parts of it, is filled with things you don’t know.’
Wow. That was a huge idea.
Any town, even one as small as Reardan, was a place of mystery. And that meant Wellpinit, the smaller, Indian town, was also a place of mystery.
‘Okay, so it’s like each of these books is a mystery. Every book is a mystery. And if you read all of the books ever written, it’s like you’ve read one giant mystery. And no matter how much you learn, you keep on learning so much more you need to learn.’
‘Yes, yes, yes, yes,” Gordy said. “Now doesn’t that give you a boner?’
‘I am rock hard, I said.”
Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
Reasons challenged: Considered obscene in several countries (pedophilia, obviously)
“In a nervous and slender-leaved mimosa grove at the back of their villa we found a perch on the ruins of a low stone wall. She trembled and twitched as I kissed the corner of her parted lips and the hot lobe of her ear. A cluster of stars palely glowed above us between the silhouettes of long thin leaves; that vibrant sky seemed as naked as she was under her light frock. I saw her face in the sky, strangely distinct, as if it emitted a faint radiance of its own. Her legs, her lovely live legs, were not too close together, and when my hand located what it sought, a dreamy and eerie expression, half-pleasure, half-pain, came over those childish features. She sat a little higher than I, and whenever in her solitary ecstasy she was led to kiss me, her head would bend with a sleepy, soft, drooping movement that was almost woeful, and her bare knees caught and compressed my wrist, and slackened again; and her quivering mouth, distorted by the acridity of some mysterious potion, with a sibilant intake of breath came near to my face. She would try to relieve the pain of love by first roughly rubbing her dry lips against mine; then my darling would draw away with a nervous toss of her hair, and then again come darkly near and let me feed on her open mouth, while with a generosity that was ready to offer her everything, my heart, my throat, my entrails, I gave her to hold in her awkward fist the scepter of my passion.”
What are your thoughts on banning books? What are some alternatives to banning “bad” books?
And speaking of evil governments, did you know there’s only one day left for you to register to win a copy of Veronica Roth’s Divergent?