Sunday, 27 September 2009

The Sunday Salon: Banned Book Week

The Sunday

We have entered one of my favourite weeks of the year. Banned Book Week. Why do I like a week that is all about the banning of books? Well I like it because it highlights something that we need to talk about. We need to talk about why people feel the need to ban books. I have an issue with the banning of books. I think it is wrong. It is wrong on so very many levels my blood starts boiling when I think about it. Do I think that the books that are often challenged are of great literary value? No not all of them (don't get me started on my opinions of Catcher in the Rye or Carrie). But at the same time I really don't think they should be banned. They fill an important function. Take one of the above mentioned examples, Catcher in the Rye. This is a book that failed the 50 page test for me. I found the narrator to be intolerable, my brother however really enjoyed the book. It spoke to something inside him. Just because I do not like a book I do not have the right to say that others may not read it. I have a great way of not reading it: I close it and if I own it I can give it to someone who will appreciate it (something I should do presto pronto with my copy of Carrie. Anyone want it? If so holler. It is in good condition.)

I am not a fan of banning in general. Unless it will physically endanger someone I find it far more productive to talk about it. By forbidding something we make it more desirable. When we instead talk about it we might find that we learn something from it. There are authors out there who can imagine societies and events that I cannot. When I read their books and am presented with the idea I can evaluate it and decide that this is not what I want for my society. This way we will not make the mistakes in society that were presented in the book. We do not need to reinvent the wheel (I have a fondness for dystopian novels).

A banned book that had a profound impact on me as a teenager was Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. It fundamentally changed the way I looked at society. As I see society move towards an ideal where "ending is better than mending" I try and not fall into the trap. I admire those who make their own, who mend, who live a sustainable lifestyle because thanks to Huxley I have seen the alternative and I do not like it. Another aspect of the book that I found interesting as a teenager and even more so was the promiscuous lifestyle of the characters. This aspect is one of the reasons it is often challenged:

Banned in Ireland (1932). Removed from classroom in Miller, MO (1980), because it made promiscuous sex "look like fun" and challenged frequently throughout the U.S. Challenged as required reading at the Yukon, Oklahoma High School (1988) because of "the book's language and moral content." Challenged as required reading in the Corona-Norco, California Unified School District (1993) because it is "centered around negative activity." Specifically, parents objected that the characters' sexual behavior directly opposed the health curriculum, which taught sexual abstinence until marriage. The book was retained, and teachers selected alternatives if students object to Huxley's novel. Brave New World was again challenged in Foley, Alabama (2000) because of the depictions of "orgies, self-flogging, suicide" and characters who show "contempt for religion, marriage, and the family." The book was removed from the library, pending review. Source: 2001 Banned Books Resource Guide From ALAs Website

I found this interesting because to me the book, although displayed the "negative activity" it certainly did not make it "look like fun". Instead it presented an empty existence. One where individuals made no real connection to others. They didn't really connect with themselves. It was the emptiness of the characters that stuck with me. I think that this book can so easily be used to start a discussion regarding appropriate behaviour and WHY this behaviour is appropriate (or not).

This week I read (or actually listened to) a Banned Book that has been on my TBR list for a very long time, The Giver by Lois Lowry. I am so glad I read it. Again it affected me in a profound and real way. It made me think about values and morals in society. About how we organise society. I also listened to another frequently challenged book recently Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and am currently listening to the Half-Blood Prince both by J. K. Rowling. This series is often challenged for "encouraging witchcraft". Again I disagree. To me the witchcraft and wizardry that is in it simply is. To me it is a character trait, much like someone being strong. The characters just have it. They don't choose to be witches or wizards. To me the books are more about the choices we make and how they affect ourselves and others. It is about friendship and about love. Surely these are things that need to be discussed in today's world?

Out of the books on the various banned and challenged lists I have read a fair few. Some I enjoy immensely like The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984 and Brave New World. Others I have a more complex relationship with. But none of them have left me without any feelings at all. All of them have made me think, some of them have solidified my feelings on some aspects of life others have changed me. All have lead to discussions at the time of reading and all have given me another building block of cultural knowledge. They have made it easier for me to see connections or make deductions. A few years ago I read Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence. The book is often banned or challenged for its rather crude language and I have to admit that I found it a bit over the top. But having read that book meant that when I read Snake by Lawrence last year for my literature class I was one of the few students who made the connection to something sexual and it was only the teacher who understood my offhand remark that one could not disregard that view since it was Lawrence. I think I have circled back to the point that reading books gives us a better foundation for making decisions on. A book itself is never dangerous. Knowledge can never be dangerous, but the books should not be read in isolation. They should be discussed and turned over. We should always ask ourselves if be believe it to be true and if we believe it to be right.

Link round-up of great posts on Banned Books

Natasha at Maw Books Blog has a great round-up of links and some great thoughts.

As does The Biblio Blogazine. I am taking part in their challenge.

I also like the look of Burn This Book that Dawn at She is too Fond of Books has reviewed.

Now I am going to curl up with Brave New World, so look out for a review of it later in the week (or possibly later today, one never knows)


Amanda said...

Excellent post! I think most people want to ban books they find inappropriate for their own kids, as if they should place their standards on anyone else's kids. That's what really bugs me. A parent has every right to be aware of what their kids are reading and to disallow certain books (my oldest son has a tendency toward violence if he reads certain types of books, so he's not allowed to have them, and the Junie B Jones books have also been banned in my house because the boys use her excuses for bad behavior when they act up at school). No parent has the right to choose what other peoples' children should read.

Zee said...

I totally agree that parents have every right to stop their kids from reading certain books. My parents always framed it in a "I don't think you will enjoy it or I'm not sure that is appropriate" manner. We were all compliant enough that it didn't need to be more than that. That said I can only think of author we were ever discouraged to read and that was Stephen King. Having read parts of Carrie for a modern fiction class this spring I agree with that particular ban. I just did not enjoy it. I think, as I read elsewhere today, that the banning of books is lazy parenting. If you do not want your children to read certain books then talk to them about why you don't want them to read them (I am using you in the general sense here). I have found, working with children and teens, that when they get a reason for why they shouldn't do something, a reason they can internalise, they are much more likely not to do it. It sounds like you have very good reasons for stopping the books you stop, just like my parents had good reasons for stopping Stephen King (man would I have had nightmares). It is the taking away of my choice about the books that bothers me the most.

J.C. Montgomery said...

By not allowing others to read about ideas that are controversial, they cannot be discussed, dissected, studied - no lessons will be learned, no improvements to self and society be made.

At least this is my humble opinion and why I stress that the freedom to read may be one of the most important ones to fight for.