Holy crap, I’ve been so busy looking for work and doing things on a project I forgot all about Banned Books Week! I’ve been avoiding Twitter this past weekend, or I would have noticed before now.
From the American Library Association’s webpage:
Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers — in shared support of the freedom to seek and express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular. (http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks)
This year, in light of recent attacks on free speech by people who should fecking know better, I will highlight books that are banned by governments. I’m confining it to books I’ve actually read. Let’s begin.
Orwell finished his book in 1943 and because of its criticism of the USSR and its alliance with Britain in WWII, he had to wait until 1945 before he found a publisher. Of course the USSR promptly banned it.
North Korea also banned the book, where it remains forbidden. The novel originally contained a preface that admonished the British government for suppressing criticism of the USSR. The United Arab Emirates banned it in 2002 because of the depiction of anthropomorphized pigs, considered an unclean animal in both Islam and Judaism.
Read this book and piss off Kim Jong-un!
This 1991 novel, made into a rather entertaining film starring Welsh actor Christian Bale and a 2013 musical (no, really), details the inner life of investment banker Patrick Bateman, who may or may not also be a serial murderer. It’s also a darkly hilarious critique of trendy ‘80s Wall Street elites and their superficial lives.
Chief complaints against the book have concerned the intense graphic violence Patrick (dreams of? Commits?) and the Australian state of Queensland banned its sale. Now you can get it in libraries there, but only if you’re over 18. Elsewhere in Australia, you can’t buy it unless you’re 18.
People slammed the hell out of Steinbeck’s book as socialist propaganda when it was released in 1939, but that didn’t stop it from winning both a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. You might have read the story of the Joad family, who travel from Oklahoma to California during the Dust Bowl years of the Great Depression in search of a new life, in high school. The book was banned in parts of the U.S., including California, where the Associated Farmers of California organization decried its portrayal of the way farmers treated the migrant workers (hint: it wasn’t great).
Oh yeah, and it might have been partially because of this scene at the end, where Rose-of-Sharon, who has recently given birth to a stillborn child, offers her breast to a starving man.
Banned in Lebanon for a positive depiction of Jews, according to Wikipedia, this 1979 novel about the relationships between several people living in a boarding house in Brooklyn absolutely broke me. If you’ve seen the film starring Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, and Peter MacNichol, you know what Sophie’s choice was.
It was also banned in South Africa and in Poland for views on Polish anti-Semitism. Controversies around this novel also included sexual material and the novelist’s decision to make his Holocaust survivor character a Polish Catholic. It came out during a time when people were just starting to really discuss the Holocaust, and Styron pointing out that it wasn’t only Jews who suffered under Hitler’s maniacal regime engendered fierce discussion of what some people saw as revisionist views.
Regardless, it’s a hell of a good read.
More banned books I’ve enjoyed include:
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – Inspired by the McCarthy era, Bradbury’s 1953 dystopian future in which the protagonist is a fireman whose job is not to put out fires but to start them….with forbidden books the fuel.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger – I read this 1951 novel right before it was yanked from my school because it has the F word in it. We didn’t read it in class but my English teacher loaned me a copy because she knew I would get it. Bless you, Mrs. Burns. It’s become one of my favorite books.
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling – Well of course I enjoyed this story of a boy wizard fighting the most fearsome and fascist wizard of his time. But you knew that.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston – I didn’t read Hurston’s 1937 novel until I was in grad school and took a class in African-American literature, but DAMN, this is a good book. It’s about how black women are defined in their marital relationships. Janie is a strong woman and her yearning for a mutually giving relationship is very relatable. I really enjoyed her story.
Hit up Amazon or the library and read a banned book this week!