Celebrate the books that were banned, by reading them!

Good ReadsBy John Hoover

Every year the American Library Association designates the last week of September as Banned Books Week. The ALA has two categories: challenged books and banned books that they track each year. Challenged books are those where an attempt has been made to remove or restrict materials based upon the objections of a person or group; banned books are those that have been removed from circulation. To learn more about the ALA and banned and challenged books, click here.

Light in the AtticSince 1982, more than 11,000 books have been challenged for a variety of reasons, most frequent being sexual content and objectionable language. Other times the objection is based on, in my opinion, a far less understandable reason. Shel Silverstein’s book of children’s poetry, A Light in the Attic ($19.99), was challenged because of a suggestive illustration that might encourage children to break dishes so they won’t have to dry them.

The staff at Phoenix Books at Misty Valley has put together a list of our favorite challenged and banned books. As always we’ll have copies available in the store in case you want to go wild and read a banned book in September!

UlyssesBill’s choice of favorite banned book is Ulysses ($14.95) by James Joyce.  “The ink was scarcely dry on the initial serialized edition of Ulysses in 1921 than it was drawn into court in America on charges of obscenity.  Although the book’s format and language is still a challenge, it is worth taking in small, wonderful doses.  In a Dublin pub, central character Bloom, who is Jewish, is accused of being a Christ killer.   ‘Who makes that allegation?’ asks Bloom.  ‘I do,’ says a guy at the bar, ‘I am the alligator.’  Punning gems like these are worth mining today in Ulysses, and that they were ever banned makes us happy we can still buy Joyce’s dense, funny, wise masterpiece.

Animal FarmAmanda picked George Orwell’s Animal Farm ($9.99) for our banned books column. “Published in the U.S. in 1946, the story is a thinly veiled criticism of the Russian Revolution and subsequent rise of Communism (and thus the reason it was banned).  Nevertheless, it’’s an eerily contemporary book, with the farm animals’ propensity to believe without question that which they wish to hear.  Political commentary aside, the book is beautifully written.  I highly recommend Animal Farm.  If you read it long ago, you’ll be amazed (or frightened!) at how of-the-moment the book feels.”

Kim decided to base her choices on the most ridiculous reasons for being Grapes of Wrathbanned. “Topping my personal list would be either The Grapes of Wrath ($18) by John Steinbeck for being insulting to the poor, or Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl ($6.99) for being too depressing. Both of which are poignant, beautifully told stories of two very different, but troubling times in our contemporary history. Also, for very early readers, is the classic board book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?($7.95) by Bill Martin. Reason for being banned: there was apparently another, different author named Bill Martin who was a Marxist and was deemed objectionable. (Way to get your facts straight before passing judgment people!)

Lord of FliesBoth Lynne and Sara picked Lord of the Flies ($9.99) by William Golding. Sara says, “This book is about a group of boys whose airplane crashes onto an island. There they must learn to survive on their own and try to work out problems as they arise and was banned for ‘too much violence and profanity.’” Lynne says, “I read it many, many years ago-in my teens – and I remember that it was the first book that really made me think. I was horrified that human beings could descend so low and could be so cruel. It still has that effect. Anyone who hasn’t read it should.”

Sara’s second pick is a book that relates to her work as a teacher, SylvesterSylvester and the Magic Pebble ($17.99) by William Steig. “The donkey in the story finds a pebble and keeps wishing for the impossible. Unfortunately, this book was banned because ‘the police are portrayed as pigs.’”

My choice, Brave New World ($15.99) by Aldous Huxley, has been challenged and banned in a number of places. Published in 1932, it was banned that same year in Ireland for alleged anti-religion and anti-family themes as well as sexual content. Since then it has been challenged or banned in several countries including the United States. It ranked 36th on theBrave New World ALA’s list of top 100 challenged books between 2000 and 2009 but in 1999 it ranked 5th on the Modern Library list of 100 Best English-language novels of the 20th century. The book anticipates developments in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and classical conditioning that combine profoundly to change society. Brave New World was a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading as a teenager and enjoyed even more rereading as an adult.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeGood Reads

About the Author: After a 35-year career as a high school social studies teacher, John Hoover and his wife, Sally, retired to Vermont. He lives in Windham where he serves as a Justice of the Peace and Library Trustee. He works part time as a book-seller at Misty Valley Books, is active at St. Luke's Episcopal Church and sings in several choral groups.

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