Friday, September 10, 2010

This Book Is Worse Than That Book

Yesterday I talked about religious texts and how they contribute to our lack of respect and tolerance for one another. Today, let's talk about a related topic: banned books.

My latest copy of the AARP magazine (that's American Association of Retired Persons, for those of you too young not to worry about such things) has an interesting inside-the-back-cover article titled "Banned!", which lists 50 books that have been banned (or, at least, very strongly objected to) by authorities in various places. It's a timely article, as the annual Banned Books Week sponsored by the American Library Association is coming up later this month (September 25th to October 2nd) ... you can read the ALA's list of classic books frequently banned or challenged, and the reasons for the objection, here.

The AARP list divides 50 frequently-banned books into four groups, according to the general reason people object to them:

Too Political - Includes one of the greatest anti-war novels of all time, All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque, along with George Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984, and Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago.

Too Much Sex - funny thing, I haven't read most of the books in this category. One that I have is Jaws, by Peter Benchley...which I don't remember as much for "too much sex" as for the endless description of a lady getting herself ready for the possibility of having sex ... all of which had absolutely nothing to do with giant sharks.

Irreligious - Includes Darwin's On the Origin of Species (of course) and, incredibly, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series ... both on my personal list of all-time favorite books. Personally, I'd take the company of Gandalf the Grey and Albus Dumbledore to the company of most clerics any day.

And the largest category, Socially Offensive - which contains American classic The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, along with Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Joseph Heller's Catch-22, and Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

You have to wonder what people are thinking when they object to some of these books. When I think of something that's irreligious, the death sentence imposed on Salman Rushdie by Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran over Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses comes to mind before Harry Potter. Socially offensive? Try violent and misogynistic rap music. Too much sex? I should have this problem. Too political? How long will it take for someone to object to my blog ... or yours?

Bilbo's First Law says Don't let anyone do your thinking for you. If you pay attention to things like banned book lists, you are delegating your right and responsibility to think to people who stopped thinking long ago.

Read something that's been banned. Even better, write something that makes people think enough that some would want to ban it. You'll have accomplished something.

Have a good day. Tomorrow is Cartoon Saturday - we all need it. More thoughts then.



The Mistress of the Dark said...

I need cartoon saturday...and a nap! And i just got up :(

Amanda said...

I never knew that I have read so many banned books! A couple of them as part of the compulsory reading at school too.

Mike said...

I've heard of most of the 50 but not some. Like Amanda said some are compulsory reading. Maybe we .... you should start the "Blogger Banned Book Club".

allenwoodhaven said...

Almost unbelievable, but unfortunately all too many people insist on THEIR version of what is right rather than letting people decide for themselves.

I love Bilbo's First Law, but if I follow it does that mean you are doing my thinking for me? One of my sayings: "Never let a lack of facts get in the way of an opinion." The trick is to allow facts change one's opinion; too many people follow the first part without the second.

I'm looking forward to Cartoon Saturday!

KathyA said...

In my classroom I posted a list of 50 books that have/had been banned -- books such as THE GRAPES OF WRATH, THE RED PONY, Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" and sadly many, many others. I gave extra credit to any student who read one of these for their outside reading assignment!

Bilbo said...

Andrea - hope you got and enjoyed both...

Amanda & Mike - some of those books were required reading for me in high school. Perhaps a "Bloggers Banned Book Club" isn't such a bad idea...

Alan - I would be the last person to to want to do your thinking for you...but if I encourage you to think, it's not the same thing, is it?

Kathy - you are MY kind of teacher!