I am guilty of reading subversive literature filled to the brim with dangerous ideas and inflammatory language. I have been committing illicit acts of reading since I was a child, though my teen years were my most seditious. Yet I have never been arrested, or had to smuggle in a restricted book. I have always enjoyed the right to read freely and that is why I celebrate Banned Books Week.
This year Banned Books Week is September 22-28 and I encourage you to visit your local Denver Public Library branch and get caught reading banned books! If you have your mug shot photo taken with your favorite banned book, be sure to share it with us on the DPL facebook page.
The cynics may point out that these days there are far more challenges to books than successful bans and no one is really arrested for reading. So why all the hubbub about banned books?
The truth is, in our not too distant past, right here in America, books were banned and others literally burned. Let’s take a look back at some of America’s own acts of censorship and celebrate how far we’ve come.
- James Joyce’s Ulysses was not even allowed to enter the country on the basis that reading it might inspire “impure and lustful thoughts.” Finally in 1933, a decade after its publication, a federal judge ruled that the book was not obscene, and concluded that, "If one does not wish to associate with such folks as Joyce describes, that is one's own choice."
- In 1939 The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck was BURNED on the steps of the East St. Louis, IL Public Library on the grounds that "vulgar words" were used, while simultaneously climbing the bestseller list. Other private citizens took to burning the book as well, including in Kern County, CA (the characters’ final destination) where it was considered “liable and lie” and banned from local libraries. Even against such popular outrage, one local librarian struggled to overturn the ban.
- Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut still suffers challenges and was banned yet again from a Missouri high school in 2011. This classic has been accused of being vulgar and obscene, containing profanity and sexually explicit material, and more. In 1973, however, the local high school in Drake, ND took its disapproval of Vonnegut’s novel too far and burned all 32 copies in the school furnace.
In response to the 1973 book burning, Vonnegut wrote,
“Perhaps you will learn from this that books are sacred to free men for very good reasons, and that wars have been fought against nations which hate books and burn them. If you are an American, you must allow all ideas to circulate freely in your community, not merely your own.”
Today our freedom to read is protected by the Library Bill of Rights and most challenges prove unsuccessful. Yet the challenges to remove and restrict books from schools and communities continue. Stand up for your right to read and check out a banned book this week at your local Denver Public Library branch.
- Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
- Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
- Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James
- And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
- The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
- Looking for Alaska by John Green
- Scary Stories (series) by Alvin Schwartz
- The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
- Beloved by Toni Morrison
What’s your favorite banned or challenged book?
Is there a banned or challenged book that you would risk jail time for?
#1 veiled and silenced, think it's by Alvin Schmidt,
about how male authority figures twisted the bible into an instrument for oppression of women.
guess it's banned--it's very hard to find, can't borrow it through Denver public library or Any interlibrary loan system I have used in the past ten years. but I still remember much of it. made a huge impression on me.
#2 born of a woman, by bishop spong. similar concepts, except that as bishop spong persisted in exploring new or non-conservative concepts about Christianity, he was finally stripped of his office, think maybe excommunicated from his religion. think his church just gave up on book-burning, banned the author.
#3 GOD: a biography, by jack miles. I infuriated a fundamentalist pastor who was my best friend for years because I read it with eagerness, then asked him to explain what I was reading.
It's essentially a psychological analysis of the personality of god, as presented in the bible. I think he would've loved to burn this book, it defied his sense of authority, and led to the end of our friendship.
fundamentalist preachers would have you believe that GOD is/was/always will be perfect, never mind the erratic behavior over the centuries that the bible covers. so it was like, read the Bible, just don't THINK about WHAT you are reading. hmmmm......
I suppose I could be a real-live heretic. interesting.
Hmm- I couldn't find any reports of Veiled and Silenced being banned, though it does look like it is mostly available through university libraries.
I think I'll add God:a Biography to my reading list. Thanks!
Thanks for the great blog post. I am a librarian and I, too, celebrate and embrace banned books week.
Just yesterday, a North Carolina county banned Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" from all the school libraries. So yes, we should make a big deal out of it!
Here's the link to the LA Times article:
I was floored reading the details of this case. From the L.A. Times article:
“I didn’t find any literary value,” said school board member Gary Mason before the board voted 5-2 to ban the book.
I am aghast.
Why on earth is Jeanette Wall's The Glass Castle banned?!? It's an outstanding book and having read it 2-3 times, I honestly don't see much of anything worthy of being banned in it! A must read for sure!
I find that the "Most Frequently Challenged Books" list is more of a "What to Read Next" list, personally. So many of my favorite books have been banned or challenged (including Glass Castle) because they do not shy away from the harsh reality of many people's lives, and challenge us to examine humanity. A bit of profanity, violence and sexual abuse was enough for certain parents to want Glass Castle removed from their local high school. http://muwww-new.marshall.edu/library/bannedbooks/books/glasscastle.asp
Because of the controversy in Adams 12 Five Star Schools over Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye", I just had to read it. From what I saw about the parental objections, I expected it to be full of explicit & wonton sex and incest. It proved to be one of the most beautiful books I have read in a long time! Through her deftness of language, Ms. Morrison created a masterful depiction of a black, post WWII community. And though I know it was a fictional story, I feel that the understanding I gained from reading this controversial book left me a better person for doing so! Definitely appropriate for advanced placement Seniors! I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for insight to the African-American perspective.
A recent NPR article raised the question, "Does banning a book actually increase interest?"
Based on these blog comments, I'd say the answer is yes!
Excited to read, "God: A Biography" by Jack Miles now. Thanks fellow agitator!
"Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison was banned by the Randolph County, VA Board of Education last week. It's on my reading list...