Banned Books

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I was working on my book order and syllabus for a class I will teach next semester, a special topics course, Banned Books, and in looking over various sites that detail books that have been challenged and banned, both in the Unites States and throughout the world, I was struck by the sheer enormity of the attempts by people ranging from parents to churches to governments to control what people may read and the courage and strength of those who have opposed such efforts.

If you are interested in this subject, I recommend several good sites: http://www.worldliteraturetoday.org/banned-books-around-world#.VFWZdckQM1J and
http://www.ala.org/bbooks/ among others.

One of the issues in creating a course and its syllabus is deciding what books to include, always a difficult task, especially when so many books have either been directly banned or challenged. I wanted to make certain that I included books that have been attacked for a variety of reasons. The novels I chose were banned/challenged for motives ranging from sexuality to religion to government issues. Without giving the entirety of the syllabus, among the books I chose to include are D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone, Talisma Nasrin’s Shame, and Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man. As I mentioned, I had to leave many books out that I would have preferred to include, mainly because of size. The reading list is already intensive, and since this is an undergraduate course, I have to consider length of weekly readings. It is always a dilemma in choosing texts.

What is clear though is the courage some authors have to write texts in places where their lives can be put at risk as well as their readers for creating and reading novels. Both the courage of a writer like Talisma Nasrin and a reader and activist like Malala Yousafzai are beyond question. This integrity and bravery have been exhibited by writers and readers for centuries, and I am humbled in their presence.

We, as writers and readers, must always remember that the freedom to read is a crucial part of life, and we need to be vigilant against those who would deny that basic freedom.

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39 thoughts on “Banned Books

  1. Harry Potter? I understand that the title in England (hence the original title) was Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone. Are Americans not ready for the more thoughtful title? I couldn’t understand the objection to this book until I showed the movie to my beginning English as a Second Language high school class. One of the mother’s complained because she thought it was flirting with the devil. Those are my words, not hers, but the gist is the same.

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  2. I agree with Tanya and her quote. I don’t think we will ever ride the world of censorship, My dad, with his GED education, always said there was nothing more dangerous than a closed mind. I took that one to heart and live by it. If a book isn’t my taste, I leave it for others to read. So many kinds of people require so many kinds of books. 🙂

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  3. That sounds like a very interesting class on a poignant topic. I don’t believe in censorship, but feel book reviewers should continue to inform potential readers to prepare for certain content ( a parallel to movie ratings). I keep my blog rated PG13 and don’t allow bullying. I don’t believe that is censorship. I believe it is my right to write and publish what I choose. I think readers have the same option to chose what they want to read.

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  4. As soon as we accept the banning of books which is the banning of expression we are not on the slippery slope to totalitarian control, we’re over the cliff. If I (and hopefully we) see “the pile burning” I’ll be first in line with an extinguisher. “Go Frenchie!!”

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  5. Yes! Doing what is right is what many courageous writers have done. A favorite children’s book I often read aloud is The Story of Little Babaji. This is the original version of the banned Little Black Sambo.

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  6. From wondering if your parents will approve of what you write, to seeing books with “offensive” titles, pictures, or subjects “hidden” in your bookstore, censorship is always just a heartbeat away. It’s why it takes all of us to protect the Arts, even when we ourselves are offended. We have to realize that maybe that’s the point the artist or writer was trying to make: why ARE you so offended that you feel threatened? And maybe it’s time to really think about your own fears and make some personal changes…

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  7. I didn’t censor what my children wanted to read. We spent time discussing what was read, what were any possible objections and what was wrong with the line of thinking used to make such judgements. They are still reading. They didn’t turn out too bad! Censorship is a reaction of a closed and manipulative mind. We all know whose form of censorship was to burn the books and look how that turned out…
    Actually, a banned book just moves up higher in my TBR pile. I may not enjoy it, I may love it, but I refuse to have someone else decide what I can and cannot read.

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  8. One of the rewarding thing I ever did was organize a Banned Books reading at a local coffeehouse. January 1994. It was in response to the attempt by several Christian men, some Catholic, some evangelical, to get two kid’s books about gay and lesbian families pulled from one of the school libraries. People here did, and still do, consider themselves liberal, open-minded, tolerant, etc., etc., but almost no one spoke out against the attempted banning. The wonderful exceptions were the librarians. The anti-gay rhetoric was pretty appalling. A bunch of us, lesbians, gay men, and other outsiders, were feeling uneasy and unsafe. Hence the reading. It was spectacular. It was SRO. There were about 20 readers, each of whom chose a book from the American Library Association’s annual Banned Books list. A local minister picked the Bible (yep, it was on the BB list) and read the passage about David and Jonathan. (He had a lesbian daughter.) It was pretty wonderful.

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