Monday, October 19, 2009

Banned Books: Which is Your Favorite?

I was looking at a list of banned books, and found myself amazed anew at the idea that anyone would feel so powerful and so right that they would take it upon themselves to attempt to control the flow of information into another person's life, another person's mind.

And yet books are banned every year--books many of us consider great, important, wonderful works of literature. Consider the list below, which is only a smattering of banned books, past or present:

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) by Mark Twain
American Heritage Dictionary (1969)
As I Lay Dying (1932) by William Faulkner
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
The Catcher in the Rye (1955) by J.D. Salinger
The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty
Beauty's Punishment
Beauty's Release
all three by Anne Rice (under the pseudonym A.N. Roquelaure, written in the early 1980s)
Dictionary of American Slang by T.Y. Crowell, publisher
The Grapes of Wrath (1939) by John Steinbeck
The Joy of Sex (1972), More Joy of Sex (1975) by Alex Comfort
Lolita (1955)by Vladimir Nabokov
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Lysistrata by Aristophanes
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
Women on Top by Nancy Friday

Want to know who banned these books and why? Look at the link I provided. For some of them you can probably guess.

Here's another list, provided by the ubiquitous Wikipedia:

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Burger's Daughter by Nadine Gordimer
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
The Diary of Anne Frank
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson (short story)
Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Zhuan Falun by Li Hongzhi

Interestingly enough, almost all of the books that I teach at the high school level were banned at one point or another. And of course the things I read on my own have often been banned, as well--the Harry Potter saga springs to mind.

Would you ever support the banning of a book?

Do you have a favorite banned book?

(Photo link here).


marsupilamima said...

Banning a book, burning books, destroying books is always done by some dictatorship and proves that books were and are still powerful.
Even Mein Kampf cannot be banned, it needs though some forewords and explanantions. But banned? merely stupid.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

No books should be banned. We can just choose what we want to read.

I've read most of the books on the list (English major). I can't imagine any of them being banned from readers.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Paul Lamb said...

Some of the arguments against given books by the banning loons are so tenuous that I think there has to be more (or less) behind them. I often think that these people feel left out when someone explains that Huckleberry Finn, for example, is an epic tale told in the American voice about the breakdown of the national character over the issue of slavery (or whatever). They simply read a book about two people riding on a raft. They missed the deeper meaning, and they are resentful about it, so they find some technicality to complain about. I don't think they're conscious of their motives, but I think they have some sense of being left out and so want to mitigate that by making sure others are left out too.

Julia Buckley said...

It is ironic, Paul--although we have a documentary at the school about Huck Finn that presents both sides of the issue; the debate centers around not only the controversial WORD that Twain uses, but around the treatment of Jim. However, I think that Twain works hard to balance the social cruelties with the eminent goodness of Jim's character.

Marsupilamima, I agree that dictators ban books, but I think today's bannings are more insidious, because often they are done by "regular" people on the basis of personal morality, perhaps, or a sensibility that finds content inappropriate for certain age groups, or perhaps for all age groups. But that's their opinion, and the dictatorial quality comes in when they want it to be everyone's opinion. Yet isn't it always true that by banning it one simply draws attention to it?

Elizabeth, me too. :)

K M Britt said...

No, I don't like people telling me what to read. And I certainly wouldn't presume to do it to someone else.

marsupilamima said...

It's a bit different in France, I suppose, we don't have so many lobbies nor pression groups. Or even private schools, most peolple go to public laical schools.Furthermore, I saw yesterday on TV a new muslim school (private) and the biology teacher said she's teaching biology and religion has nothing to do with it.

Julia Buckley said...

Good point, KM. From the reader's perspective it is particularly offensive.

Mars, how neat that you are reading this blog in France! I suppose there are cultural differences from country to country which affect censorship and the reasons for it.

Sandra Parshall said...

What's banned in one place may be celebrated in another -- and lauded specifically because it *was* banned in the other country. Works of fiction by modern Russian dissidents are examples of this. They may be grim, difficult books that the ordinary American wouldn't plow through for the fun of reading them, but they're elevated to masterpiece status because they caused an uproar in the old Soviet Union.

Book banning is almost always political, regardless of who does it, and in most cases I would call it reprehensible. Adults should be free to read what they wish, and most adolescents should be too. Parents who try to "protect" their kids from the real world are fighting a losing battle and doing their children a serious disservice, IMO.

Where it gets sticky is when the books are considered pornography by some segments of society. When it's pornography that involves children -- graphic descriptions of adults sexually abusing kids -- should we try to stop people from publishing, selling, and reading it? It's not the same as pornographic photos or videos, in which real children are really abused. That kind of thing is and should be illegal. But when the child abuse is just words on paper, feeding the twisted fantasies of readers, is it too dangerous to allow?

marsupilamima said...

well, I'm always complaining about the French reading the French, the Spaniards reading the Spaniards,The Anglos reading ...which is so silly when you think internet is all over the wild wide world

Julia Buckley said...

A good point, Sandra. Our own school librarians have a no-censorship policy, but they often feel conflicted when they see an obviously sheltered student pick up a book which contains many grim realities and explicit references.

Mars, I enjoy the writings of the French existentialists (Camus and De Beauvoir especially) and I did my high school research on Flaubert's Madame Bovary. But you're right--in general I think we stay within our own countries when we read (although we mystery readers love to venture into foreign lands!).

Suzanne Adair said...

My favorite banned book is Lady Chatterly's Lover.

Julia, you said, "I think today's bannings are more insidious, because often they are done by "regular" people on the basis of personal morality, perhaps, or a sensibility that finds content inappropriate for certain age groups, or perhaps for all age groups. But that's their opinion, and the dictatorial quality comes in when they want it to be everyone's opinion. Yet isn't it always true that by banning it one simply draws attention to it?"

Spot-on. Been there, done that.

My first published book, Paper Woman, was banned at a historic site by an administrative assistant, in between head rangers. Her reason for banning it was that it contained a two-paragraph love scene, and she was so outraged over the love scene when I spoke with her on the phone that she stuttered. When the new park ranger was installed on site, he promptly placed Paper Woman on the bookstore's shelves for sale. :-)

At another historic site, a sign was affixed to the display copy of Paper Woman, warning potential buyers that the book contained content (war violence) that might not be suitable for young children. The day I signed books there, it was one of my top selling days ever. Parents of the young children bought the book in droves. :-)

To suppress a thing is to give it force beyond all endurance.

Suzanne Adair

Julia Buckley said...

How ironic, Suzanne. It reminds me of the notion of withholding literacy from the slaves. What better incentive for them to teach themselves to read, and what power it gave to words themselves.

Lyn said...

Honestly, I can see keeping some books from children, either because they are too scary or because they espouse a lifestyle that kids might be too young to realize is destructive.

And, it's completely true: I bought our first Harry Potter book after I heard that people were up in arms about it--and we were all enchanted (not a pun) with it. They're mysteries, and they're about friendship and childhood and the things we gain and lose as we lurch toward adulthood. The paranormals are as good as anything at teaching kids to read for the metaphors. What's a dementor? It is that which steals your joy, and it can be a person or a job or a memory, and it can be defeated. Sorry to be so long.