Exercise your freedom to read.

Back in the day, about four years ago, when no one was reading my blog and I was still in Chicago, I wrote this post. I thought I’d share it again today to explain why I read banned books (you do too–shame on you!), and so that I could write another blog tomorrow comparing my then and now favorites and to-read lists.

 

Have you read a banned book? Chances are you have.

On Friday, I received an email invitation to participate in a marathon reading of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl followed by a round-table discussion about the poem, censorship, and book-banning.  This reading is being presented by DePaul’s University Center for Writing-based Learning. I am excited about the prospect. Not because I want to participate in the reading, but because I see an opportunity to explain how I can maintain my personal and religious standards while actively opposing censorship and advocating free speech.

 

Personally and ethically I find the poem demoralizing and debasing, but its existence is important. The poem is scathing and vital evidence of  social maladies existing and unaddressed in the American psyche.  It presents an opportunity for dialogue regarding respectful vs. self-destructive opposition to political control and injustice. Howl is worthwhile on other levels as well, but especially as a previously nonexistent form of self-expression–a new way to look at poetry.  I don’t see much use for it in the classroom however–except in the social sciences. Would I teach it in my own classroom? No, but I reserve the right to make that decision for myself, and I would not discourage others from reading it.

 

I think too, of another document at the conservative end of the spectrum: Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Last I knew, the book was illegal in Germany. I wonder if the Germans are hoping that if they refuse to allow it, the reality of Hitler’s deception will disappear?  But I have read Mein Kampf; don’t like it, and intend to buy my own copy of it. I find it interesting, aberrant, and useful for many of the same reasons I reject Howl; and I want to keep a copy as a way to keep evidence of the truth alive. The Holocaust was real, and without understanding the mentality which supported it, we run the risk of allowing it to happen again; or worse, becoming perpetrators too.  Denying a problem doesn’t make it go away.

 

Banned Books week couldn’t have come at a better time, either.  Just two weeks ago, we watched as a Florida pastor threatened to burn the Quran in protest of a planned Muslim center of worship near Ground Zero of the former World Trade Center. Whenever books are burned, it is done to send a message.  The  message I always get is this: I am ignorant and afraid of people who are different from me. I don’t think that is the message Pastor Jones meant to convey, and I believe that once he could see the Christian outrage in response to his intolerance, he changed his mind, despite the fact that he claimed his mission to be “accomplished.” Accomplished how? Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t that Islāmic center still going up? Simply put, censorship only serves to magnify ignorance.

 

In honor of Banned Books Week 2010, here are my own banned book lists:

 

10 of my favorites :

  • Harry Potter
  • The Davinci Code
  • The Adventures of Hucklebery Finn
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • The Scarlet Letter
  • Twighlight Series (I’ll count these as one)
  • Of Mice and Men
  • 1984
  • Winnie the Pooh
  • The Outsiders

Ten banned books I have read:

  • The Chocolate War (The references to masturbation have led me to ban this book from my personal favorites list.  Otherwise I loved it)
  • The Color Purple (See comment above)
  • Eight Seconds (I recommend this book to adolescents who wonder about sexual orientation, although it doesn’t seem to have much of a plot)
  • Captain Underpants series (I didn’t actually read them, but my son–10 at the time– read parts of them out loud to me, and I thought they were hilarious!)
  • Scary Stories Series (I haven’t read all of them, but I liked them–found ‘em a little tame. LOL)
  • The Great Gatsby(Too voyeuristic for my taste)
  • As I Lay Dying (I loved it, just not sure if it is a favorite)
  • The Awakening (It has a good message, just not sure that I completely agree with it)
  • The Giver (I hated the ending–I thought they died)
  • Are you There God, it’s me, Margaret (I read it because all my friends were making a big deal out of it.  I thought Margaret was stupid–I was 11 at the time.)

10 Banned books that I plan to read:

  • I know why the Caged Bird Sings
  • The Golden Compass
  • Bridge to Terebithia
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • The Lord of the Flies
  • A Farewell to Arms
  • The Jungle
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls
  • Carrie
  • A Mercy (not on banned book lists yet, but it is a Toni Morrison novel, so I expect it to show up soon.)
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4 thoughts on “Exercise your freedom to read.

  1. Very good post. OK, Call me ignorant, I’ve read all of your “10 favorites” and they are also some of MY favorites and I didn’t think any of those were banned! Are they?! Ha!! I’ve also read several on the other two “banned” lists. I agree with you completely, whether we like a book or not or agree with it or not does give us the right to block, ban or burn them. Books are ideas. Books are pieces of other people’s souls written down. It’s important to allow each soul a voice. Even if it’s ugly. Because at the same time we are protecting words that many may consider “ugly” but to us are something beautiful – even sacred.

    • Yup. They’re all banned in one place or another. As a school teacher I was shocked at how many parents (and teachers) would not allow their children/students to read Harry Potter. I had heard a lot about Harry Potter, and decided that I’d better read the books myself before my own children got hold of them. I was hooked; and soon my youngest son and I were fighting over who would get to read the new book first. I think most people ban books because of what they’ve heard about them, and have never actually read them.

      • Oh so true! The Harry Potter series has been an incredibly inspiring and joyful series for me and my family. I’ll never forget the first moment I started to read the first book aloud to my children. We were all hooked, in a good way. They fell in love with books and stories all over again, and I feel the books have become to the 21st century what C.S. Lewis and Tolkein did for the 19th & 20th Century. I actually know a couple of people who fervently believe the Harry Potter books “teach Satanism”. Of course, they’ve never even read them, they are just blindly believing what some other person has decided to preach. UGH! Maddening. But, their loss. I’m sure grateful I live in a place I can still get a hold of and read any book I want. As far as I’m concerned, EVERYONE deserves that. Oh, how ironic I just learned that The Book Thief (another one of my VERY favorites) is listed! *facepalm* It’s all about the repression of books, ideas, and freedom…and it even includes a poignant book burning episode.

      • You could have written my blog post for me. Of course, I loved The Book Thief too! It is amazing to me that Fahrenheit 451 and The Book THeif are on these lists, because as you said, they are both about “repression of books, ideas, and freedom.” I fervently believe that books are banned by people who don’t read.

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