“We grow up and we get scared of everything — so much so that we try to censor and restrict real life. But that kind of fear keeps us from evolving.” ~ Jeneé Osterheldt, from The Kansas City Star
Saturday afternoon. Sunny and warmer, 77 degrees.
So I just took the new online quiz, “Which Banned Book Are You”, and for my first result I was American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis. Then I took it again and changed my answers, and I was Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley. As these two are quite different, I thought what the heck, and took it again, trying to go with my first gut response, and . . . wait for it . . . Brave New World again.
Anyway, today marks the end of Banned Books Week, and I just want to take a second away from the reposting and the articles and the quotes to tell you why this particular movement means to much to me:
Reading has always been an important aspect of my life. I began to read at an early age, and I haven’t looked back since. But during some particularly dark periods in my life, I was literally unable to read; the very act of sitting down with a book and concentrating on the words was too much for me. I just couldn’t do it, and so for months on end, I eschewed the very thing that has brought me so much comfort in my life. And then one day, seemingly out of nowhere, the drought ended.
This has happened to me twice, and the fact that I was physically unable to read only made the act of reading so much richer for me once I regained the ability. I simply cannot imagine living in a society in which what I can immerse myself in is dictated by a government or a group, in which someone else decides what is best for my mind to ingest. To me, censorship seems like one of the great evils of a society.
Consider an extreme example most people know: Hitler and the pyres of books he burned. Did his attempts at censorship stop people from reading? No. Did it stop people from writing, from thinking, from discussing? Perhaps outwardly, but try as he might, he was unable to completely quash the human spirit. Witness Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel, survivors who went on to write unstintingly about their personal hells.
“Written words running loose have always presented a challenge to people bent on ruling others. In times past, religious zealots burned heretical ideas and heretics with impartiality. Modern tyrannies promote the contentment and obedience of their subjects by ruthlessly keeping troubling ideas out of their books and minds. Censorship can place people in bondage more efficiently than chains.” ~ Time Magazine essay (1981)
If I have my way, my love affair with words will continue until I take my last breath, and until I take that breath, I will continue to buy books for myself and others, to recommend things to read to anyone who asks, to tell anyone who listens about this author or that one. Look, censorship always has the opposite effect, like it or not.
You tell someone not to do something, not to see something, not to write something, not to read something? They’ll go to extreme lengths to do exactly what you have forbidden. It’s human nature. Better to ignore something you really loathe; disinterest breeds disinterest . . . sometimes.
We live in a democracy, and for that, we should express our gratitude to the hills, because there are still too many people who don’t have the freedoms we enjoy. We have the right to disagree. We have the right to wear funny clothes. We have the right to tell the president he is wrong. And we cannot be silenced or jailed for exercising these rights.
As far as I’m concerned, anyone who makes it through James Joyce is a trooper. Tweens who read Judy Blume aren’t reading about anything that their friends aren’t discussing. Decide for yourself is Ayn Rand is boring or if Catcher in the Rye really is the best thing ever written (she is, and it isn’t, in my opinion). And if you really don’t want your child to read something? That’s your prerogative; just don’t assume that you know what’s best for the world, because frankly? You don’t, and neither do I, and that’s what makes life interesting.
“To own ‘Mein Kampf,’ to support its right to exist, is not to endorse its awful venality. Rather, it is to recognize that, as Henry Miller once wrote,'[y]ou cannot eliminate an idea by suppressing it.’ This is a notion that, if we face it openly, offers us a vivid freedom — not to do anything, but to do the right thing.” ~ David L. Ulin, LA Times Book Critic, from “The Implications of Banned Book Week”
From Open Culture:
Today, in honor of this year’s Banned Books Week, we bring you free online texts of 14 banned books that appear on the Modern Library’s top 100 novels list. Next to each title, see some of the reasons these books were challenged, banned, or, in many cases, burned.
- The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Kindle + Other Formats – Read Online Now)
This staple of high school English classes everywhere seems to mostly get a pass. It did, however, see a 1987 challenge at the Baptist College in Charleston, SC for “language and sexual references.”
- Ulysses, by James Joyce (iPad/iPhone – Kindle + Other Formats – Hypertext – Read Online Now)
Seized and burned by postal officials in New York when it arrived stateside in 1922, Joyce’s masterwork generally goes unread these days because of its legendary difficulty, but for ten years, until Judge John Woolsey’s decision in its favor in 1932, the novel was only available in the U.S. as a bootleg. Ulysses was also burned—and banned—in Ireland, Canada, and England.
- 1984, by George Orwell (Kindle + Other Formats – Kindle Format – Read Online Now)
Orwell’s totalitarian nightmare often seems like one of the very few things liberals and conservatives can agree on—no one wants to live in the future he imagines. Nonetheless, the novel was challenged in Jackson County, Florida in 1981 for its supposedly “pro-communist” message, in addition to its “explicit sexual matter.”
- Animal Farm, by George Orwell (Kindle Format – Read Online Now)
Again the target of right-wing ire, Orwell’s work was challenged in Wisconsin in 1963 by the John Birch Society, who objected to the words “masses will revolt.” A 1968 New Survey found that the novel regularly appeared on school lists of “problem books.” The reason most often cited: “Orwell was a communist.”
- Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut (Audio)
Vonnegut’s classic has been challenged by parents and school boards since 1973, when it was burned in Drake, North Dakota. Most recently, it’s been removed from a sophomore reading list at the Coventry, RI high school in 2000; challenged by an organization called LOVE (Livingstone Organization for Values in Education) in Howell, MI in 2007; and challenged, but retained, along with eight other books, in Arlington Heights, IL in 2006. In that case, a school board member, “elected amid promises to bring her Christian beliefs into all board decision-making, raised the controversy based on excerpts from the books she’d found on the internet.” Hear Vonnegut himself read the novel here.
- The Call of the Wild, by Jack London (iPad/iPhone – Kindle + Other Formats – Read Online Now)
London’s most popular novel hasn’t seen any official suppression in the U.S., but it was banned in Italy and Yugoslavia in 1929. The book was burned in Nazi bonfires in 1933; something of a historical irony given London’s own racist politics.
- The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair (iPad/iPhone – Kindle + Other Formats – Read Online Now)
The Nazis also burned Sinclair’s novel because of the author’s socialist views. In 1959, East Germany banned the book as “inimical to communism.”
- Lady Chatterly’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence (iPad/iPhone – Read Online Now)
Lawrence courted controversy everywhere. Chatterly was banned by U.S. customs in 1929 and has since been banned in Ireland (1932), Poland (1932), Australia (1959), Japan (1959), India (1959), Canada (1960) and, most recently, China in 1987 because it “will corrupt the minds of young people and is also against the Chinese tradition.”
- In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote (Read First Section Online)
This true crime classic was banned, then reinstated, at Savannah, Georgia’s Windsor Forest High School in 2000 after a parent “complained about sex, violence, and profanity.”
- Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence (Read Online Now – Kindle + Other Formats)
Lawrence endured a great deal of persecution in his lifetime for his work, which was widely considered pornographic. Thirty years after his death, in 1961, a group in Oklahoma City calling itself Mothers Unite for Decency “hired a trailer, dubbed it ‘smutmobile,’ and displayed books deemed objectionable,” including Sons and Lovers.
- Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs (Audio)
If anyone belongs on a list of obscene authors, it’s Burroughs, which is only one reason of the many reasons he deserves to be read. In 1965, the Boston Superior Court banned Burroughs’ novel. The State Supreme Court reversed that decision the following year. Listen to Burroughs read the novel here.
- Women in Love, by D.H. Lawrence (iPad/iPhone – Kindle + Other Formats – Read Online Now)
Poor Lawrence could not catch a break. In one of many such acts against his work, the sensitive writer’s fifth novel was declared obscene in 1922 by the rather unimaginatively named New York Society for the Suppression of Vice.
- An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser (Read Online Now)
American literature’s foremost master of melodrama, Dreiser’s novel was banned in Boston in 1927 and burned by the Nazi bonfires because it “deals with low love affairs.”
You can learn much more about the many books that have been banned, suppressed, or censored at the University of Pennsylvania’s “Banned Books Online” page, and learn more about the many events and resources available for Banned Books Week at the American Library Association’s website.
Field of Dreams book banning scene:
74 Free Banned Books (for Banned Books Week)
Reading banned books: your stories of literary rebellion