27 September 2006

happy banned books week!

As usual, I'm a little late to the party, but we are in the middle of the American Library Association's Banned Books Week, "Celebrating the Freedom to Read". When I was a junior in high school I wrote a research paper on censorship, and even then, as a pretty conservative Christian teen, I came down strongly on the side of free speech. Even then I was appalled at some of the reasons people tried to ban books and stories. I think my favorites were the fairy tales: "Robin Hood" promoted socialism; "Jack and the Beanstalk" taught the defiance of authority (or some such nonsense). It's really interesting (and sad) to me that some ideas are so frightening and dangerous to some people that they want them to be suppressed and/or destroyed.

It's the 25th year the ALA has celebrated Banned Books Week, so in honor of their anniversary, I'll list 25 books that have I have read that have been banned, and which I whole-heartedly recommend.

1. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
2. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
3. Harry Potter (series) by JK Rowling
4. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
5. My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
6. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
7. The Giver by Lois Lowry
8. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
9. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
10. In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
11. The Witches by Roald Dahl
12. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
13. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
14. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
15. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
16. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
17. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
18. Ordinary People by Judith Guest
19. Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
20. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
21. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
22. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
23. Cujo by Stephen King
24. Carrie by Stephen King
25. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

Okay, so I can't whole-heartedly recommend the last three, but not because they're tremendously offensive and I want them banned. I don't like Stephen King books now, mostly because I'm not into that whole genre anymore, but I do consider his books an important stepping-stone in my literary development over the years. I wouldn't recommend American Psycho because it disturbed me more than anything I've ever read -- it's incredibly violent and graphic -- but that doesn't mean that no one should be allowed to read it. As far as I know, most people who read books like American Psycho do not go out and imitate the violence they've read about, but rather understand that books like those are portraits of sick, highly disturbed individuals.

I'm planning to have a pretty liberal stance on books in our home. In fact, James has already read a couple of the books on the list -- In the Night Kitchen (ooh! A little boy's naked bottom!), and James and the Giant Peach (I think this must have been banned for some language reasons, though I don't know for sure -- but I do remember a few mild curses such as "damn" and "hell"). Many of the books on that list are books that I will insist he read, some because they're wonderful, imporatant pieces of literature (To Kill a Mockingbird, The Handmaid's Tale), some because I loved them so much growing up (Julie of the Wolves, My Brother Sam is Dead, A Wrinkle in Time). I think there's very little I would discourage my children from reading, because even the worst, trashiest books I've ever read (ahem... Flowers in the Attic, anyone?) have taught me something, even if only how to distinguish good literature from bad. I've read a lot of garbage in my time, but who would I be if I'd never read RL Stine books, or Scary Stories to Read in the Dark?

So how about you? Do you have any banned books to recommend?


l'aube said...

I love this list idea. We were having a staff development meeting at the highschool library and the librarian had a display of books covered by paper bags with the reasons they were banned written on the bag... we read, "Devil-worshipping.." on one and lifted to see Shel Silverstein's A Light in the Attic. I think it was a great display to put on for highschoolers.

Your kids are going to grow up loving to read and that is wonderful! :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot, Heidi, for reminding me I once read Flowers in the Attic! ;) To this day, it remains the book that disturbed me most when I read it.

My memory of James and the Giant Peach is a bit fuzzy (hahahahaha), but it could have been the language, or the "magical" element.

I'd have chosen many of the same books you did. There are a few Judy Blume books on the banned list, I see. I can't imagine having grown up without her books. At the time, no other YA author talked about adolescence, sex, etc. so openly.

The Giver will always be one of my favorites.

I loved The Great Gilly Hopkins, too -- and actually, I took a creative writing class a few years ago with a woman who got that banned from the county schools. It seemed that the word "damn" was what sparked that, although I'm sure lots of parents aren't wild about the fact that Gilly is so mouthy either.

And now I really have to stop talking about books and start doing some work. :)