I’m very much in favor of the freedom to read what one chooses to read – and in order to make those choices well, one needs access to the full range of choices. I also believe in the freedom to choose not to read something. But I believe those rights belong to the individual and not to any institution (with an exception, perhaps, for parents of young children regarding what those children read in their own homes). I do not support censorship. I don’t believe in delegating my right to decide what I can and can’t read to anyone else. I have the tools to make those decisions for myself, and I believe we all have the right to those tools.
Having said that, I don’t make a point of seeking out and reading banned or censored books just because they’re banned. In some cases, the attempt to censor a book will actually pique my interest in it; it’s the lure of the forbidden. (And some authors are well aware of that lure.) But I also know there are themes and topics that just don’t appeal to me, and quality of writing notwithstanding, if I choose not to read a particular book, that will be the reason why, not because it’s been challenged by some educational or morality police. That choice should remain mine – and yours.
In honor of Banned Books Week, I thought I’d do a little inventory. With the help of LibraryThing’s catalog of works tagged “banned books,” I identified those in the top 150 that I’ve read at some point in my life – some I currently own, and some I read years ago (or at least prior to blogging).
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (banning this is the definition of irony, if you think about it…)
- Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence
- The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
- The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (I read this one in middle and high school, but can’t recall enough about it to understand what the issue with it is)
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (review)
- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
- Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling
- Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
- Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
- Forever… by Judy Blume
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling
- Animal Farm by George Orwell
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling (review)
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
- The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
- The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
- Beloved by Toni Morrison
There aren’t all that many commonalities among the books in this list, thematically. They vary in their objective literary merit, and if it weren’t for the fact that they’ve been banned or challenged, there would probably be nothing especially memorable about some of them. However, they’ve all been challenged because they pose a challenge – to ideas about religion, politics, morality and ethics, and the structure and habits of society. And if a society – or an individual – means to grow, it’s necessary to challenge those ideas.
And sometimes challenged books just make some people squeamish, and for that reason, they don’t think anyone should read them. A story about a teenage girl who silences herself after she is raped by an acquaintance is clearly not dealing with a comfortable subject, but does that mean that Laurie Halse Anderson’s YA novel Speak should be banned…as pornography? It’s not the first YA novel about a teenage girl who gets raped by an acquaintance (am I the only one who remembers Are You In the House Alone? by Richard Peck from the late 70’s, my actual YA years?)…and like it or not, that is, quite unfortunately, not a farfetched or fantasy-based plot. I haven’t yet read Speak, but I did buy a copy of it this week. And if it is banned, I’ll be proud to add it to my inventory of Banned Books I’ve Read.
Banned or not, I will be carrying whatever I’m reading during this Banned Books Week in this bookbag, which I bought at Comic-Con this past summer:
Are you reading banned books this week?