I just picked up a copy of Wicked by Gregory Maguire. I had wanted a copy for a long time, the one with the cut-out cover. I think it’s a brilliant book. Any time you can take one of the most reviled villains in Western literature and make her sympathetic, that’s pretty good by me. I found it on a shelf with a lot of other books that was just kind of thrown together. My Half Price Books had just moved, so I thought this was just a shelf they hadn’t gotten to yet. But the rest of store was pristine.
Then I realized there was a sign on one of the shelves, turned backwards of course, that read Banned Books Week. All of these books were banned at one time or another. Well, I should have guessed, my first clue being the high percentage of Toni Morrison. It’s not often you see The Bluest Eye or Beloved on a shelf along with Catcher in the Rye.
It seems that Toni Morrison and Cormac McCarthy have hit a nerve – their books seem to have a higher overall percentage of being banned. This is not a scientific poll on my part. But you do get the feeling that they are pushing the envelope. Either that, or they have ticked somebody off in a high literary place.
This week is Banned Books Week, celebrated this year from Sept 25 to Oct 2. The upshot is that you don’t have to tick off somebody who is in a high literary place to have your book banned. Parents of schoolchildren seem to have the most influence, at least according to the website of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression.
Because that’s what banning curtails. Free expression. Just check over this website to get an idea of a) the absolute breadth of books that have been banned, and b) the seemingly innocuous stories that have instituted attacks. Some of the books banned have included The Absolutely True Story of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (I’ve read this and thought it was original, compelling and uplifting); The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad and, of course, the Harry Potter series. It does seem as though a lot of the objectionable titles deal with homosexual behavior. Again, calling into play your own thoughts on what someone else does.
Young adult authors seem to have a hard time, probably because most of their titles do deal with difficult situations and yes, they are aimed at young people (with those impressionable minds of theirs). Nancy Garden and Eric Jerome Dickey are a couple that seem to have been singled out, along with Judy Blume, of course.
Some of the classics that have been banned include Of Mice and Men, Brave New World, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and To Kill a Mockingbird. An interesting note on a ban of The Giver by Lois Lowry is that “Everything presented to the kids should be positive or historical, not negative.” Gee, what a paradise we would live in then. But what a rude awakening that would entail when said kids grew up.
Thank goodness I don’t live in a place where this is rampant. But truly, we know the deal. There is power in story. A story can do many things, and so can banning it. But any time a group bands together to supposedly “protect the minds” of another group, that has got to be suspect. Luckily, there are groups who have banded together to thwart those efforts. Most people don’t take kindly to book burnings in America.
If you don’t like something, don’t read it. But no one has the right to say what someone else can or cannot read.