A really good book about banned books is 120 Banned Books: Censorship Histories of World Literature by Nicholas J. Karolides, Margaret Bald, and Dawn B. Sova. The 2005 edition features books that have been banned for a variety of reasons and in the process, describes what each book is about and presents reasons for why the book is significant to our history.
The book identifies books that were suppressed on political grounds, religious grounds, sexual grounds and social grounds. Some books could overlap.
“Although the literary merit of the majority of those books has been proven time and time again,” says the back cover, “efforts are still in place today to suppress some of them.”
I hope by calling attention to this, readers everywhere will react with outrage and concern. We each must make sure no book gets banned from libraries, schools, or bookstores, that no government bans a book, and that no corporate entity has the ability to make a book disappear.
So many famous best-selling authors have seen their works banned. J.K. Rowling, Mark Twain, Voltaire, John Updike, Harper Lee, and Toni Morrison have had books banned. Here are some of the banned books that have risen above their haters:
· Animal Farm by George Orwell
· The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
· Manifests of the Communist Party by Karl Marx
· The Bible
· The Koran
· The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine
· Ulysses by James Joyce
· Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
· The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
· Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
· Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
· Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
· The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
120 Banned Books contains books that cover 2,000 years of censorship.
“No one book or writer is protected from would be censors,” notes Dr. Sova in the introduction.
“As readers of the censorship histories in 120 Banned Books will realize,” writes Dr. Sova, “the reasons for which these books have been banned, suppressed and censored are often highly subjective, and the success or failure of efforts to ban, suppress or censor books depends more upon how vocal the challengers are rather than upon the merits of the book.”
Our society has a history of censoring important ideas and truths accepted by a significant number of people. Censorship and book bans go on today, here in the U.S. and abroad. We must be vigilant and informed in order to beat back book banning bullies.
PC movements, ignorance, fear, politics, and religion play a big role in how books are distributed or controlled within a community. Banning a book can backfire. Banned books become big sellers and generate media attention. If you want a book to go away, one would be best served to just ignore it and not try to kill it.
There’s a long history to book bans and 120 Banned Books does a good job of putting this into perspective.
“In many cases,” notes Dr. Sova, “the same book has been banned at different times for different reasons, as is the case with Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, Stendhals The Red and the Black, Voltaire’s Candide, and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. The books do not change, but the social climate does.”
In an earlier edition of this book, Ken Wachsberger noted:
“Americans live in relative freedom. Yet censorship also has been a menace throughout U.S. history…Many of our richest literary works -- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Grapes of Wrath, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Catch-22 -- have been censored at one time or another. Advancing technology has provided more diverse targets -- the record, film and television industries and the Internet -- for school boards, local governments, religious fanatics and moral crusaders to take aim at as they work to restrict free expression and the freedom to read, watch and listen, in order to shield their children, and you, from original or disturbing thoughts.”
When we look at book bans and challenges by institutions, school libraries, schools, and public libraries are the most problematic. These are the places that need protection, where all books need to be treated fairly.
A Wikipedia entry on banned books says:
‘Books are still banned throughout the world. Nowhere in the world can everything be published, although the prohibitions vary strikingly from one country to another; hate speech, for example is prohibited in a number of countries, such as Sweden, though the same books, may be legal in the United States or United Kingdom, where the only prohibition is on child pornography. Some believe that the banning of specific books is appropriate, such as the anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion, in Russia, or Hitler’s Mein Kampf, in Austria.”
So what can or should you do?
The Office for Intellectual Freedom suggests you:
· Stay informed about books being challenged or banned.
· Organize your own Book Ban Week event or attend one.
· Help spread the word.
· Speak out including writing letters to the editor.
· Read a banned book.
· Join the Freedom to Read Foundation.
· Proclaim Banned Books Week at your public library
· Participation in the Banned Books Virtual Read-Out program at www.ala.org.
According to Slate.com, 311 books were banned or challenged in schools and libraries in 2014. Over 11,000 titles have been challenged since the inception of Banned Books Week -- which combats book bans -- in 1982
“Once upon a time, book bans were a serious issue in the United States,” Slate writes. “The Cornstock Law, passed by Congress in 1873, made it illegal to circulate “obscene literature,” Even classics like The Canterbury Tales fell under that description in the eyes of Victorian moralists and in the middle of the last century, publishers and booksellers of forbidden novels, including Tropic of Cancer and Fanny Hill were actually prosecuted in court.”
What books are under threat today – and which ones will be banned tomorrow? Get informed and get involved to protect the First Amendment. For more information, please consult: www.bannedbooksweek.org.
It’s time to ban book bans!
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