Displays at the Norwich Bookstore and the Norwich Public Library during last month’s Banned Books Week reminded us that many beloved books would not have reached us had banning succeeded. Thus, we write today’s post in gratitude for those librarians, booksellers, parents, and teachers who keep banned books circulating. And now, we review SOME (and only some) of our favorite banned books. (Honestly, the lists of what has been banned are pretty incredible and this post could continue for awhile if we had more space, and you had more time.)
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (2003) – This book was banned due to “profanity and atheism”. We caught the profanity when we read it, and didn’t really blink. But somehow,when we think back to enjoying this book, we can’t remember the atheism. What we do remember is a compelling main character who reminded us that being different can be a gift, and that disabilities challenge but also are only part of what makes people amazing. We are grateful this book made it to our reading shelves. And, we know of quite a few lovers of Broadway shows who are grateful as well.
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (2006) – The banned book site states Fun Home is most often challenged due to “violence and graphic images”. This information produced chuckles because Fun Home is a “graphic” memoir. We also chuckled often while actually reading this memoir because Ms. Bechdel treats the fraught material of her childhood with humor and grace. We understand some readers may be squeamish about her unabashed look at suicide, homosexuality, and other themes. But honestly, we believe any squeamishness reinforces the need to read this poignant memoir. We note that Broadway also loved this book. Suddenly, we sense a theme in this post — wish to create an award winning play? Adapt a banned book.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1994) – This book makes one of the Lisas all time best book lists; so, banning it feels personal. We have a hard time understanding how a novel exploring how racism makes a girl wish she had a different color skin could possibly be anything other than enlightening. However, The Bluest Eye is often banned due to “sexually explicit” material, and “containing controversial issues”. We say bring on the controversy and learn.
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) – This all-time “must read” for the Book Jam Lisas is often banned due to “offensive language and racism”. To this we counter, isn’t talking about (and eliminating racism) the point of this book?
Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich (2001) – This book is banned due to its “political viewpoint, and religious viewpoint”. We argue that reading something written by those who don’t share your political views is worthwhile, and perhaps especially helpful during this US election year. More importantly however, we argue this book about Ms. Ehrenreich’s struggle to make ends meet while earning a minimum wage is a must read for anyone making policy, employing people, renting apartments to people, doctoring those without insurance, etc…
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (1937) This was banned “due to offensive language, racism, violence”. We love it for its ability to inspire sobs in a few pages.
Harry Potter series by JK Rowling (assorted years) – Banned “due to satanism”; somehow we missed the satanic references while reading this series. Perhaps we were having too much fun with the magic and the lessons of friendship, loyalty, and standing up to bullies (after all what is Voldemort but an extreme bully?). We are grateful that these books survived banning so that thousands of children around the world could learn that reading is fun.
Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor (1976) – This Newbery Award winning classic makes the banned lists “due to offensive language”. We feel learning from this story and the abuse suffered by the main characters due to their skin color overshadow any offensive language. We also believe the banners definitely missed the fact this book provides an intimate look at life in the USA as an African American girl.
Well, we could keep going; but, we will stop here, with one quick closing thought. While we love the fact everyone uses reviews and recommendations to determine what books to consume (hopefully, the Book Jam helps you with this), we truly abhor the idea of someone deciding that controversial books will be unavailable to anyone rather than merely reviewed. So thank you again to all those educators out there who ensure books remain on shelves to influence all of us.