If you’ve waited to celebrate the chance to be Officially Subversive during Banned Books Week, it’s not too late! Sure, you probably figured that Huck Finn is a perennial favorite for its politically incorrect language and Fifty Shades of Grey for its Crimes Against Ink and Trees, but I am willing to bet there are quite a few that will make you say, “Ummm. What?” The alleged ”reasons” for protecting Our Nation’s Youth are even more bizarre than you can imagine.
Take our quiz and see if you can guess the actual arguments that succeeded in getting the following ten books on the Naughty List. Answers at the end of quiz!
a) The National Pork Council feared declining bacon sales
b) Children were trapping dangerous spiders and being bitten
c) A Kansas school district decided that talking animals are blasphemous and unnatural
d) Girls were being encouraged to defy their fathers
a) Removed from classrooms in Miller, Missouri, for ‘making promiscuous sex look like fun.’
b) Removed from Texas libraries for “encouraging revolution”
c) Attempted ban in California for “focusing on negativity.”
d) Both a and c
It seems that when beloved Harry Potter author JK Rowling departed Hogwarts with her latest novel, she strayed a little far from her adoring public, too. The new book, A Casual Vacancy, has been published for all of a week and is already shrouded in controversy. Though it was never intended to be for a young audience, its mature content was the first apparent no-no that sent some readers over the edge. Next, she offended her home county of Gloucestershire by depicting its inhabitants as snobby bigots. Now, the author battles allegations that her novel is offensive to Sikhs, and may actually face a nation-wide ban in India. Deary me. Before we’re all caught up in the sensationalism of these allegations, here are the straight facts of the book:
1. This is NOT Harry Potter and the Casual Vacancy, people.
Anyone expecting this book to be a follow-up to the Harry Potter series, or even in the same vein, has quite the shock coming. Clearly, when she wrote The Casual Vacancy Rowling was looking to her next project as a departure from the world of fantasy that she dwelt in before. I think I would be too if I had been writing in the same world for nearly two decades. She has been quite clear from the start that this is not one for the kiddies.
Unfortunately, the writer will have a hard time shaking the identity associated with her name, as parents now have the tough task of explaining to their kids that they can’t read the latest Jo Rowling creation. For one thing, her self-described “rural comedy of manners” has some quite mature content. While the most deplorable word uttered in Harry Potter was b****, in this one Rowling gets a little more, um, creative… In fact, some of the scenarios and colorful vocab seem to have been heightened by the sheer fact that Rowling couldn’t write them in her first seven published novels. She explains her need to write the rude bits in an interview with The New Yorker:
She was ready for a change of genre. “I had a lot of real-world material in me, believe you me,” Rowling said. “The thing about fantasy—there are certain things you just don’t do in fantasy. You don’t have sex near unicorns. It’s an ironclad rule. It’s tacky.”
Quite right. In any case, you’ve been forewarned–this one is rated R.
2. This book should be placed under the Fiction section.
Rowling comes from a small village in the English countryside called Tutshil. While she probably used the quaint Gloucestershire surroundings as inspiration for the backdrop of her story, I doubt the plot of a parish council election gone haywire is anything but the figment of her imagination. However, the book’s fictional town of Pagford, “a hotbed of cruelty and snobbery,” has tongues wagging all over Middle England, saying Rowling has shed an unflattering light on her home county, probably for “the novel’s bleak subject matter, which includes child abuse, prostitution and drugs.”
Does nobody read that fine-print reminder that everything and everyone contained in the book is a work of fiction, and not based on facts or real people? I suppose that message flies out the window when your hometown’s feelings are hurt. Still, this is a little blown out of proportion.
3. The characters’ thoughts do not reflect the author’s.
This goes for any book. One doesn’t read American Psycho and assume Bret Easton Ellis shares the views of deranged serial killer Patrick Bateman. But for some reason, perhaps because of the grand scale that this novel has debuted on, readers are offended by the derogatory views expressed by a select group of unsavory characters in The Casual Vacancy. In particular, the language used in reference to an Indian girl in the novel has members of the Sikh community in an uproar.
In the novel, Sukhvinder is a young Sikh girl who is bullied by some of her peers. In the dialogue (NOT in the third-person objective narration) she is meanly called “the Great Hermaphrodite,” a “hairy man-woman,” and finally “mustachioed yet large-mammaried.” It’s these descriptions of her that out of context have Sikh spokesman Avtar Singh Makkar calling for a widespread ban of the novel. Note: the important words to reiterate there are out of context.
From The Telegraph,
Rowling has said she included Sukhvinder’s experiences as an example of “corrosive racism”. She has spoken of her admiration for the Sikh faith and said she was fascinated by a religion in which men and women are “explicitly described as equal in the holy book”.
A spokesman for Hachette, Rowling’s publisher, said the remarks were made by a character bullying Sukhvinder. “It is quite clear in the text of the book that negative thoughts, actions and remarks made by a character, Fats, who is bullying Sukhvinder, are his alone. When described in the narrative voice, the depiction of Sukhvinder is quite different to this,” the spokesman said.
However, Rowling’s statement of defense may not be enough to prevent a country-wide boycott of The Casual Vacancy in India, if the members of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee deem it derogatory once they’ve finished reading it.
The whole controversy surrounding this novel has obviously been brought on by the massive expectations set for Rowling. She certainly wouldn’t have had to face such scrutiny had this novel been published before her famed fantasy series. I can’t help but think that it’s not really fair for her to be accused of such things; it’s as though everyone holds Rowling to a higher standard than other fiction writers. Is it possible for her to shake the Harry Potter image and create a new fan base? Mixed reviews for the content of the book aside, do you feel this criticism is warranted or not?
Celebrating Banned Books Week,
September 30th-October 6th
Banned Books Week is currently celebrating its 30th anniversary! “Celebrating the freedom to read,” this annual event aims to raise awareness for the works of literature that are frequently challenged by and even banned from communities across the country.
Did you know that some of the best works of all time, and very often the ones you’ll have studied in school, have at one time or another been censored from the public? Did you know that the practice of censorship in literature still goes on today?
Yup, somewhere out there, a blinkered individual could actually be pondering at this very moment the dangers of a mind raised on an “occultist” story like Bridge to Terabithia, while someone of the same mindset argues that the bildungsroman The Perks of Being a Wallflower is “unsuited to a teenage audience.” Seriously.
And it’s not all Sex, by Madonna, Gossip Girl and l8r, g8r that are considered poised to corrupt our youth either. No, those are part of a tiny minority. What are the most frequently banned books? Our greatest ones, of course.
Of Random House’s list of the 100 best novels of all time, 46 classics have been either challenged or banned altogether, some on a frequent basis. Of Mice and Men is one that is commonly challenged today. Even in the last decade the list of banned books still includes To Kill a Mockingbird (for “racial themes”), Brave New World (for “insensitivity, offensive language,” and probably for being dystopian), and The Catcher in the Rye (for being “a filthy, filthy book”), proving we are far from the progressive culture we may like to think of ourselves as.
Even when it does not concern “important” works, the point at hand here is that individuals and governments consider it their right to censor what others read, and that (to me) sounds borderline Cultural Revolution/Big Brother-esque. It’s a tad hypocritical that the freedom of speech has been such a huge part of the public discourse lately, while so little thought is ever given to intellectual freedom:
Intellectual freedom can exist only where two essential conditions are met: first, that all individuals have the right to hold any belief on any subject and to convey their ideas in any form they deem appropriate, and second, that society makes an equal commitment to the right of unrestricted access to information and ideas regardless of the communication medium used, the content of work, and the viewpoints of both the author and the receiver of information.
Intellectual Freedom Manual, 7th edition
If libraries begin to ban books from the public, we’ve basically descended into a Fahrenheit 451 situation. Oh wait, that’s another banned book, so that analogy means nothing…
If a book offends you, don’t read it. But please, don’t worry that Harry Potter will turn an entire generation of kids into wand-wielding Satan worshipers. Moreover, if the people trying to censor these stories really took the time to read them, they might just realize how much more faith in humanity these “offensive” books store than the censors do themselves.
There’s a lot more out there to fear than a mind fed with imagination, fantasy, and original thought. And with that, I’ll get off my soapbox.
To see a visual history of the last thirty years of banned books, check out this great timeline from the American Library Association. It contains thirty entries between 1982′s banning of Slaughterhouse Five (a “just plain filthy” book) and 2012′s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (banned for concerning “ethnic studies”). You can also find out who’s behind most of the book challenges, and other information, in the ALA’s Statistics page.
More famous banned books:
The Hunger Games Trilogy, Reasons: sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and violence
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Reasons: offensive language, racism, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and violence
My Sister’s Keeper, Reasons: homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
The Chocolate War, Reasons: nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
His Dark Materials trilogy, Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group
What are your thoughts on banned books? Do some deserve to be taken off the shelves? If so, which ones? We’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!