I belatedly learned that the American Library Association observed the annual Banned Books Week on September 24-30, to celebrate the freedom to read. I was curious to know which of the books I’ve read all my life have been banned somewhere, at some point in time, for one reason or another, so I did a little digging. I found that many of books that have been banned or challenged over the years are for obvious reasons, among them:
- The Bible – obviously banned in several countries due to religious restrictions.
- One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – “Obscene.” “Profane language.” “Sexually explicit.” “Violent.” “Sacrilegious.” “Trash being passed off as literature.” AND I SAY IT’S ONE OF THE WORLD’S BEST READS, EVER.
- The Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger – reasons cited include being anti-white and obscene, containing profanities, and depicting premarital sex, alcohol abuse, and prostitution.
- To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee – for use of slurs that promote “racial hatred, racial division, racial separation, and white supremacy.”
- Animal Farm, by George Orwell – because “Orwell was a communist,” according to certain committees in the US. Funnily enough, the story goes that Orwell could not find a publisher willing to print the book in 1943 because of its criticism of the USSR. When it was published, it got banned in the USSR and other communist countries.
- Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut – because it is “vulgar and offensive.”
- Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe – banned by the Confederate States during the American Civil War because of its anti-slavery message, and in Russia for the idea of equality that it presented (wow!).
- Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling – “contains occult/satanism, violence.”
I was partly surprised and partly amused, meanwhile, with other titles I discovered among the list of banned books. These include:
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll – Banned in the province of Hunan, China in the 1930s, for its portrayal of anthropomorphized animals acting on the same level of complexity as human beings.
- The Diary of Anne Frank – banned in Lebanon because of its positive depiction of Jews.
- The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown – banned in Lebanon (yes, Lebanon) because Catholics (yes, Catholics in Lebanon) found it offensive to Christianity.
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon – for offensive language and religious viewpoint (atheism).
- The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins – because it is “anti-ethnic; anti-family” and it presents “insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence.”
- My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult – contains “homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexism, violence.”
And many, many more.
I’m glad I grew up in a household that encouraged reading, at a place and a time unfamiliar with reading censorship (either that or I just somehow got away with reading whatever I wanted even as a grade schooler, including Lualhati Bautista’s Gapo and Bata, Bata, Paano Ka Ginawa? and Robert Ludlum’s Bourne series). I must agree, though, that guidance is critical especially in training young people to be readers. I’m sure, too, that it can be very tricky to balance nurturing their desire to read and (instead of banning books) helping them develop discernment sound enough to have them do the following:
1. Choose their books well and distinguish good content from utter garbage.
2. Assess what they are reading and determine which parts/elements, within the same text, they are to allow to influence their thinking and which ones simply serve to entertain.
3. Contextualize. Not that one is supposed to do a book report on every title s/he reads, but a good way to appreciate and make the most of a book is to investigate the author’s context in writing it.
Anyway, going back to the topic of banned books: Which ones from the list above have you read? You can check the Banned Books Week site to view more comprehensive lists. And do try to challenge yourself by reading one or two of the titles there (that is, with the exception of anything from the Twilight and Fifty Shades trilogies–see above point about distinguishing drivel)!