Banned books week is September 30 through October 6 this year (2012). I have decided to observe this literary holiday each year by reading a banned book. There appear to be enough to keep me occupied for some time.
Banned Books Week selections (updated yearly):
Areopagitica by John Milton (2011) (Written in defiance of censorship laws - and thus pre-banned in England)
Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (2012) (Banned in the Confederate States)
The Quest for Christa T. by Christa Wolf (2013) (Banned in the author's native East Germany)
Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz (2014) (Banned throughout the Arab world)
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (2015) (Banned in Nazi Germany)
July's People by Nadine Gordimer (2016) (Banned in apartheid South Africa)
a distinction needs to be made between banned books and “challenged”
books. In order to qualify as a banned book, the book must have been
forbidden publication or possession by a government. In contrast, a book
that parents or others seek to remove from a library or school
curriculum is merely “challenged”, even if the book is in fact removed.
my opinion, there is a difference between the two. Not all books are
appropriate for children or teens, and those who wish to read a
challenged book anyway can presumably locate a library or bookstore.
Those books actually banned were denied to all unless they were willing
and able to break the law. On a related note, much of what we call
“censorship” isn’t really censorship. The original definition of
censorship was “The practice of officially examining books, movies,
etc., and suppressing unacceptable parts.” Censorship requires actual
power to suppress, not merely disapproval. Libraries have a limited
budget, and must choose which books to buy. (For reasons which escape
me, the library system for the San Joaquin Valley - serving roughly four
million people - has 37 copies of Eat, Pray, Love, but only ONE of Listen to This,
which is backordered for weeks. Not a choice I would have made.)
Similarly, students cannot read every important book, much less the
unimportant ones, so choices must be made.
I have thus limited my list to truly banned books, I include books that
have been banned by any government, at any time in history.
believe that there is value in reading banned books. As an inquiring
mind, one often wonders what was believed so unacceptable as to provoke a
violent reaction. The answer in many cases throws an unflattering light
on the persons and institutions that banned the book.
speaking, there are two reasons books have been banned. The first is
the presence of material deemed morally unacceptable by the authorities.
Interestingly, the application of this standard is inconsistent at
best. Certain nations at certain time periods have shown more interest
in suppressing smut than others. Thus, France was the source of much
scandalous material during the Victorian age, while England and the
United States attempted to ban the same books. Also, exactly what is
deemed objectionable has varied considerably.
A couple of examples come to mind on this point. The Grapes of Wrath
was banned in many states because of a scene involving a bare breast.
Never mind that this was perhaps the least titillating scene of all
time. (Pardon the bad pun.) On the other hand, the scene in
Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was allowed, despite a humorous and ribald reference to the same anatomy.
I also noted a modern version of this listening to the radio on the way home from work today. Nickelback’s song, Rockstar,
has several drug references, some of which are bleeped on the radio
version. I am not quite sure exactly it is bad to hear “drugs come
cheap” or “drug dealer on speed dial” but is fine to say “pop my pills
from a pez dispenser.”
second reason for censorship never goes out of style. The ruling powers
throughout history take a serious dislike to criticism, and have used
their powers to suppress it. The majority of the books on any banned
book list, therefore, will have political content that was in some way
offensive to those who wished to cling to their power and avoid dissent.
Thus, one of the satisfactions of reading a banned book is to defy autocratic despots, past and present.
Last year’s selection was Areopagitica, by John Milton. To read it was to stick it to both Charles the First and Oliver Cromwell’s Parliament. Another favorite read of the past was The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie - a particular un-favorite of Mullahs everywhere.
And, because I cannot resist linking a little a propos music. Nobody can invoke Balzac like Hermione Gingold.