Banned Books Week 2011

In this day and age, it’s pretty shocking that censorship and book banning still go on.  But they do.  With a little perserverence, people can find something to complain about in even the most innocuous book.  I mean, Harry Potter promotes devil worship?  Really?  To quote John Cage, “Say it with me, people: pleeeeeeeease.”

But the fact remains – books are challenged every day by people who don’t agree with their messages.  I sometimes wonder why people challenge books.  As a former kid, I will tell would-be censors what they should already know: there’s no more effective way to make people want something than to tell them it’s forbidden.  And by extension, there’s no better way to publicize a book than by challenging or banning it.

Many book bloggers are celebrating Banned Books Week by reading their favorite banned or challenged book.  I’m not, for the simple reason that I have a stack of library books that I have to get through – since they came from the holds shelf and can’t be renewed, I don’t have the luxury of laying them aside and reading something else first.  But I am currently reading a book that I think embraces the spirit of banned books week by calling the dangers of censorship to attention: In The Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, by Erik Larson.  Larson’s book is a non-fiction account of the brief time spent in Berlin by Ambassador William Dodd and his family during the early years of the Nazi regime.  Censorship isn’t the prime focus of the book – it’s about how the Dodds came to see Hitler and his fellow thugs as a threat to world peace and their attempts to communicate their observations to the State Department in the early 1930s, when most of America was turning a deaf ear to the increasingly frightening reports coming from Europe.  But censorship is present in the book, in its references to book-burnings, the exodus of artistic talent from Germany in the 1930s, and the intense government pressure on those writers who chose to stay in the country.

Censorship is so dangerous.  It’s a slippery slope when an entity decides to tell writers what they can and can’t say.  Freedom of expression, and freedom of the press, are part of what makes the United States a great country – and have been since the First Amendment was passed.  I believe that taking a stance against censorship of ideas and words is one of the most important things that Americans can do to promote our country’s values.  Reading banned books is just the beginning.  Speaking out against censorship not only protects us as readers and writers, but it protects the freedoms we value.  So that’s why, in celebration of Banned Books Week, I’m reading a book that contains vivid reminders of the damage that censorship does to a society.  And even keeping in mind the challenges that we face in the United States right now, I’m thanking my good luck that I was born in a country – and a family – that believes in books, and in reading.

I was also curious to see how my personal library stacks up against the American Library Association’s list of banned or challenged classics.  (Books I’ve read are in bold.)  Not too shabby…

 The Great Gatsby – read in high school

The Catcher in the Rye – read in high school

The Grapes of Wrath – read in high school, college, and adulthood (a personal fave)

To Kill a Mockingbird – read more times than I can count (another fave)

The Color Purple



The Lord of the Flies – read in high school

1984 – read in high school


Of Mice and Men – read in high school

Catch-22 – read in high school and adulthood

Brave New World

Animal Farm – read in high school

The Sun Also Rises

As I Lay Dying

A Farewell to Arms

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Invisible Man

Song of Solomon

Gone With the Wind – read first at age 9, and many times since

Native Son

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – read in high school

Slaughterhouse-Five – read in adulthood

For Whom the Bell Tolls

The Call of the Wild – read in childhood

Go Tell It On the Mountain

All the King’s Men – read in adulthood

The Lord of the Rings

The Jungle – read in college

Lady Chatterley’s Lover – read in high school

A Clockwork Orange

The Awakening – read in adulthood

In Cold Blood – read in high school, college, law school and adulthood

Satanic Verses

Sophie’s Choice

Sons and Lovers

Cat’s Cradle

A Separate Peace – read in high school and college

Naked Lunch

Brideshead, Revisited

The Naked and the Dead

Tropic of Cancer

An American Tragedy

Rabbit, Run

 Looking through the list, I clearly read a lot of my banned books in high school.  (Rebel, much?  Okay, not so much.)  Some were assigned and others I read on my own time – I had a lot of reading time in high school; more than college or law school, certainly.  Others on this list – Brave New World, A Clockwork Orange, and Brideshead, Revisited, particularly, are very high on my to-be-read list and I’ll probably be hitting all of those within the next few months as they’ve cycled upward.

 Resist censorship!

14 thoughts on “Banned Books Week 2011

  1. I think it’s kind of funny how every banned book that I have come across and read has turned out to be the best. So many of these books point out something about humanity that people are uncomfortably hearing (like 1984 or Lord of the Flies), but it’s so important that they are read.
    A Clockwork Orange is an amazing, disturbing book and you should definitely read it when you get the chance. If you’ve seen the movie, it’s pretty true to the book, but of course, the book is better 🙂
    I’m got a new book from a local bookstore in Florence called ‘Gomorra’, about the gangs in southern Italy. I’ve seen half of the movie and it was incredible. You could check that out too, I think that it’s a book that Dan might like to read too.


    • I didn’t care for Lord of the Flies, but I do think you’re right – people challenge books when they are uncomfortable with them, and so often the best books are the ones that make you a little uncomfortable. (Handmaid’s Tale, I’m looking at you!) I haven’t seen the movie version of A Clockwork Orange, but I’m definitely planning to check out the book. You are the second person to enthusiastically recommend it, so clearly that’s a sign. I just need to dig out from under the stack of non-renewable library books that is threatening to bury me alive. 😀

  2. I remember being disturbed by Lord of the Flies, but I thought it was interesting. I haven’t read the Handmade’s Tale, but I heard that it was really good. Lol I know the feeling. At least it’s a way to motivate you to read quickly, I often have to put a book down for a bit because I get too busy to read.

    • I used to get too busy to read in college too! Once you’re out of college you are still busy, but you can at least make time for what you want to do – not so much in college, studying has to be the priority. 🙂 Definitely check out The Handmaid’s Tale when you get a chance (next vacation?)… if you like dystopia you will be very impressed. It wigged me out so much that I couldn’t read Margaret Atwood for awhile after I finished it, but it’s worth it. Very well written.

    • I hear ya! There’s always more to read… speaking of which, I’m following your blog and have tried to leave comments a couple of times, but blogger haaaaaaaates me for some reason. Just wanted to let you know that I’m reading! 🙂 And Steve is officially jealous that you got to go to Oktoberfest – that was a possible vacation idea for us this year, but I vetoed it.

  3. Thanks for reading! Oktoberfest was a lot of fun, but I don’t think I’d go again for a while. If you get the chance though, you should check out Switzerland and Germany. The mountains are so beautiful!

    • We definitely will. Switzerland and Austria were a very, very close runner-up for this year’s travels, but we decided against them because we thought the time of year we are planning to travel would be problematic. Maybe next year!

  4. I think that traveling there any time of the year would be great! I’m trying to decide where to go for winter break. I know that I’m going to visit Paris and London. I was thinking of going to Scotland or Ireland, but I worry that it will be too cold to really enjoy the attractions. I know that if I was only planning on visiting the museums and pubs it would be ok, but I want to do some hiking and visit ruins and castles. Also, do you know the best way to get around Scotland?

    • A lot of the things we wanted to do in Austria/Switzerland and also Croatia, which we were seriously considering, close after September. National parks and such. So we postponed for a year when we were planning to travel in summer or early fall. I’m sure it’s still beautiful, but we wanted to be sure we could get a room and dinner and do our hiking! In England that stuff stays open basically year ’round, hence the decision to go back there. I’m not sure how Scotland would be in the winter, honestly, and I can’t speak to Ireland because I’ve never been there – but with either of those countries I’d think you would want to travel when it’s a bit warmer. Especially Ireland, since it’s so beautiful and green; you don’t want to miss the color. As for getting around Scotland, the train is a possibility and they have buses, but if you want to go anywhere remotely off the beaten path, driving seems to work best. I’ve heard not-great things about the reliability of buses going between smaller towns in Great Britain. When we went to England in 2008, we took the train out of London to York and picked up a car in York to drive around the countryside, then returned it in Edinburgh and took the train back to London and that seemed to work well, but we were only training between major cities. The plan this time is to take the Bath bus from Heathrow and pick up a car in Bath, then do the same thing – drive it in the countryside and return in during our last stop before London (this time that is Oxford, and we’re picking up the train to London in Oxford). The train will get you to most of the more populous cities in Britain, but we’ve found a car to be best for the remote areas.

  5. Thanks for the information! I’m definitely going to go to London during the winter, but if I go to Ireland and Scotland I’ll probably go, like you suggested, when it’s warmer. Renting a car might actually be an option, since I’ll have turned 21 by next spring, and I’d legally be able to rent one. I’d have to check on the prices, but if I were to take a day long road trip, it might be worth it.
    Also, I hear that Dubrovnik is gorgeous and my university has a small campus there. I hear that it is ‘like Italy except no one knows about it’, and the exchange rate would be a lot better (1 Croatian Kune = about 5.50 US Dollars).

    • Yes I’ve heard that about Dubrovnik as well… except that people are starting to find out about it. 🙂 I’m dying to go to the Adriatic coast, so it’s probably going to be sooner rather than later.

  6. Pingback: Celebrating the Freedom to Read « Covered In Flour

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