Wednesday, 28 September 2016


"There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them." - Joseph Brodsky

When I first considered joining in with Banned Books Week I had thought that, other than Lolita and Catcher in the Rye I hadn't read many novels that had been banned, challenged or censored. It came as a huge surprise then when I looked into the history of banned books that I'd actually read quite a few, without even realising! For a couple I could see where these bans may have come from ,given the publication date, place, and wider context, but quite a few are so ridiculous I could barely believe they constituted a challenge or ban.

In looking back at my past reading history and noting the amount of books that, if I were born in a different time or place, would not have been available to me, shocked me. I am fully aware that censorship and book banning did happen quite frequently, and even to such extreme lengths such as mass burning ill-approved literature, but it seemed, to me, a problem stuck in the past and very distant to myself; it is not. Still today we are living in a world where people are denied an education, declined the ability to learn to read and develop their own opinions and tastes. Even now books and other forms of expression are barred from certain areas or from certain people, and I am lucky that I have been able to read the books I will mention below as, by some saving grace, these texts were pardoned and made available to me, but not everyone is so lucky.

Banned Book Week was created to highlight the importance of stopping the censorship and banning of literature as to do so is at the detriment of the education and formation of an individuals thoughts and opinions both socially and politically. Below is a list of books that I and many others may never have had the chance to read if their banned or censored statuses had not been revoked: 

Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Caroll
Published in 1865, Alice in Wonderland was banned in 1931 in the Hunan province of China due to the anthropomorphisation of animal characters who could speak like humans. There was a feel that this insulted the human language, as well as teach children to equate animals as equal to human beings. (Yes, this was a serious reason for it's censorship.) The slightly more understandable reason for it's ban in the US in the 1960's was due to it's inclusion of various mind-altering drugs (the caterpillar wasn't smoking just any tobacco...).

Catcher in the Rye - J.D Salinger
Ahh yes, the quintessential teen angst novel and one of the most controversial novels in modern literature....apparently. I went into reading this expecting something super shocking or disturbing due to it's reputation but it was banned because of: lots of swearing, blasphemy, reference to prostitution and premarital sex and underage drinking. If you've read this book you'll look at all these reasons for it's being banned like me: are you actually bloody serious. It does have the funny position of being one of the most banned books, AND one of the most taught books out there though, which proves that it's supposed indecencies aren't actually that bad, Holden's teen angst is just hard to digest obviously.

The Color Purple - Alice Walker
Now, I really hated this book when I studied it in sixth form, but as much as I don't like it, I don't think anyone shouldn't be able to read it because of my one opinion. Sadly not everyone thinks this way and the book has been challenged and banned many times due to it's: offensive language, sexual explicitness, violence and depictions of homosexuality.  For me, while I hate the style, characters, and plot, I feel that The Colour Purple is extremely important in what it represents, and is a book that many people could benefit from upon reading.

Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
Everyone knows that Frankenstein caused a bit of a stir due to Victor's mimicry of God in creating life. Well, mimicry is putting it nicely, the creature is a bit of a bastardisation of Adam and Eve and people didn't take to it kindly. However, it wasn't banned until 1955 in the South African apartheid due to its offensive nature and obscenity.

Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
Nabokov annoyed quite a lot of people with his book about paedophile Humbert Humbert and his romantic obsession with his 'nymphet' Lolita. The book was banned for obscenity in: France, the UK, Argentina, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada. To this day it still stirs up controversy, but if you want to read this, frankly, weird book, at least you have the option to do so, just go in with the knowledge it is a vastly uncomfortable read.

Lord of the Flies - William Golding
Lord of the Flies is a quintessential part of the GCSE English curriculum in the UK and one of my favourite  books I've studied at school. I remember when we acted out the final scene in the novel where the scarf I threw (subbing in as a rock) unwound and completely ruined the whole dramatic ending. Minus that anti-climatic conclusion to my time with the novel it was a great book with a wonderful contrast with the child characters and dark imagery. It's a shame it has been challenged so much for reasons such as: belittling man to animal, excessive violence, profanity, and defamatory comments towards God.

The Handmaid's Tale - Margret Atwood
One of my favourite novels of all time, The Handmaid's Tale is a harrowing but beautifully written tale of a dystopian world where religious fundamentalists have ultimate power, creating a patriarchal society where women have no rights, including main character Offred who, as a 'Handmaid', has the singular role of being a fertile vessel for (hopefully) carrying her Commander's child. This book has been challenged and banned in schools in America due to it's apparently offensive sexual nature and for being 'anti-christian'. 

Green Eggs and Ham - Doctor Seuss
Yes, the ultra-famous Doctor Seuss book has been banned, this time in China due to it's apparent depiction of early Marxism. Thankfully this ban was revoked upon Seuss's death in 1991, but will be one the most most absurd reasons for a ban I have ever come across.

What's weird about this list is that I never really realised the implications of me actually being able to read these books. I had the freedom to read these books whenever I wanted and if I wanted, but the sad reality is that, still, we are limiting the literature people can read for stupid reasons, hiding them under concerns over ethics, obscenity and encouraging inappropriate thoughts or behaviour. Books should never be banned, we should never ever allow a limitation of the information we can access, reading is an education, and education is paramount to creating well-rounded, intelligent, and amazing people. Don't let books be banned, support Banned Book Week and read with no hesitation in the hope everyone can someday be allowed the same freedom.

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