Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Musings on Banned Books

Banned Book List for 2014
(Opens window)

When I read over the banned book list, I realized that I had read quite a few of them for school. Some I read for leisure after I had graduated from school. However, I was surprised at how many banned books that I had unwittingly read, since so few of them seemed to have perturbed me.

 The banned books and other classics that I read for school were actually meant to be read only by mature people. As teenagers, we often missed the point that the author was making. But since it was probably the only exposure that we would have to any serious literature, we were required to read them.

 The banned book that everyone wanted to read was J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye.” At the time, it was not considered worth studying. However, we had heard about it being smutty and vulgar. So, naturally everyone had to read it on the sly.

 Meanwhile, the state school board required that everyone read “Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain. Even though it was reported to be racist, they still wanted us to read Twain’s classic of American literature. At the time, my school was a majority African-American/ Hispanic high school. Half the students had problems with the dialect of the characters, while the other half with the culture it portrayed. Racism was the last thing on people’s minds as to why they disliked the book.

 The other books that we had to read for American literature class were “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Red Badge of Courage” by Stephen Crane, and “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The complaints that my class had about all these books was that someone always ended up dying in them. We were so sick of reading about dead and dying characters that we revolted and stopped reading. As far as I know, none of these books were banned because for having too many deaths depicted. What adults failed to realize is that teenagers do not share their sensibilities. Each group is shocked by unrelated things.

 With the other banned books that I read as an adult, I was unaware of any controversy. “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury and “Stranger in a Strange Land” by Robert Heinlein, I read since I enjoy science fiction. However, I disliked Heinlein’s fascist overtones in his book. I was thrilled to read “Our Bodies, Ourselves” by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. Finally a book about women’s health issues written by and for women! “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown fascinated me with its counter point of view of history. However, I disliked Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind” because for me, it was a racist soap opera.

 I met people who both loved and hated these books. I think that each book, in its own way, make adults uncomfortable. Moreover, I think that some adults transfer their discomfort to children. Rather than realizing that people do have the freedom not to read, certain adults decided to instead ban these books. Personally, I think that the more attention paid to these books, the more people will want to read them. (Consider “Catcher in the Rye.”) As for whether children would be troubled by them, people such as Stephen King, noted horror author, have pointed out that what bothers children is different from what adults are concerned about.

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