In observance of National Banned Book Week (September 21-27), circulated around the web is a list of 33 must-read books that man doesn’t want you to read. It’s a very diverse and comprehensive list that includes YA literature, classics, fiction and nonfiction. Which one have you read? I’ll highlight some of the ones I read.
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson was a controversial children’s book because the penguin parents happen to be the same sex, which set off the alarm of many social conservatives across the country. They wrote to request the book from the children’s section, if not from the library altogether. Many bookstores were unable to carry Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book when it was published in 1971, not because it teaches people how to make pipe bombs, grow marijuana, but because they thought the title would, appropriately, make people shoplift it. The book has nonetheless become a cultural phenomenon.
Heart of Darkness was at one point banned for its violent content, and the use of the “n-word” that has been banned from US schools. I read it for AP English in my senior year, and the school didn’t even fuss about it. Native Son by Richard Wright was also challenged because of it was a total package—with violence, sex, and profanity. It was not required but knowing that is very vulgar, it was a must-read!
Like Huckleberry Finn, another of the greatest anti-racism book of all time is often censored and banned for its “n-bombs.” I remembered the heated in-class discussion over To Kill A Mockingbird and how this book was ironically banned in history since never ever has a book made it so clear who the good people are and who the bad people are. Another one that stayed with me over the years, and that I read in school, is George Orwell’s 1984. Obviously democratic government has no tolerance for the pro-Red and dystopian society portrayed in the book. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is a heart-felt story, the classic coming-of-age story about finding one’s place in society. It was banned solely for its profanity, but totally readable if you just skip all the f-words.
Finally, if The Handmaid’s Tale, which I find brilliant and is my all-time favorite of Margaret Atwood’s, was banned (in Texas), after a parent complained that it was sexually explicit and offensive to Christians, I wonder why Lolita was never banned. The nonfiction Nickel and Dime was also banned for its language and profanity. But at the end of the day, those who fiercely ban books are out of touch with reality. Where in the world do you not find profane and obscene language? To the zealots and bigots and false patriots who live in fear of discourse, how often do they even read? Many of the books that drew attention end up defending a generation, if not shaping America.