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?
You are really tall!
Thru the years I believe I've read many of these. In school even.
Don't read a banned book simply because it has been banned - that only guarantees it was not understood (and, probably not even read) by at least one fool.
Read a banned book, like any other book, because great books, and great literature are powerful means to growing your own mind and imagination.
Nazis burned books - out of Fear; thus too did the Chinese and Russian Communists. Only the ignorant fear great ideas.
Some of my favorites : "Generation of Vipers" - Philip Wylie, "The 109 Days of Sodom" - Marquis De Sade, "From Here to Eternity" - James Jones, "Black is the Night" - Rod Serling, "U.S.A. Trilogy" - John Dos Passos, "The Anarchist's Cookbook" - Anonymous, "Fear of Flying" - Erica Jong, "The Blue Book" - John Birch Society, any book by Timothy Leary, "Cobwebs From a Broken Skull" - Ambrose Bierce (also"The Devil's Dictionary"), "Towards Democracy" - Edward Carpenter, etc., etc.