Banned Books Week is currently celebrating its 36th anniversary! This year’s theme, “Banning Books Silences Stories,” is a reminder that everyone needs to speak out against the tide of censorship.
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:
Animal Farm by George Orwell
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Banned for foul language, sexual content, violence, and considered a “rejection of American individualism.”
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Call of the Wild by Jack London
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Criticized for being sexually explicit, too violent for young adults, and anti-family.
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!