Have you hugged a banned book lately?

It still boggles my mind that people have banned books – that words can be seen as so powerful that even letting people set eyes to them will somehow create mass chaos or violence or subversion or debauchery or E) All of the above. The fact is, words are tools or instruments. Depending upon the way you use them and the order in which each is deployed, strategically or otherwise, they can have different impacts.

The joy of the first amendment’s right to free speech is that it lends credence to the idea that while we may not all agree on every topic, we each have a right to say what we feel. We may find others’ speech (or writing, as the case may be) abhorrent, rude, or even completely incendiary, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are entitled to their own opinion. Where that opinion has actual basis in reality, there may even be facts as part of their argument. (Facts – how cool are those?!) As long as the speech isn’t inciting violence outright or designed to create dangerous panic (e.g. yelling “fire!” in a crowded theater, which is NOT considered free speech), banning it seems to be a sure-fire way to make oneself look like an ass.

So when we think about things being banned, it always seems so foreign to me. As it is, I think of this type of thing in terms of the (original) movie “Footloose”, where you had a John Lithgow as a pulpit-pounding preacher decrying high school dances as how best to introduce Satan into your lives. I just can’t comprehend BANNING A BOOK. It’s a book. It’s words on a page. Read it, don’t read it. Buy it, don’t buy it. But what use is there in banning the words…as though the thoughts never existed?

I looked over the list of 46 “banned and challenged classics” and bolded below the ones that I’ve read. Almost one-fourth. Guess I still have a lot of reading to do, eh? (Note: the numbers reference placement on the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top Novels of the 20th Century…so they’re considered both dangerous and fabulous.) (Further note: I own and have started several of the novels below but haven’t always finished them. Classics are sometimes chewier than I want at any given point in time.)

1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
3. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
4. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
5. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
6. Ulysses, by James Joyce
7. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
8. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
9. 1984, by George Orwell
11. Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov
12. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
15. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
16. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
17. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
18. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
19. As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
20. A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway
23. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
24. Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
25. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
26. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
27. Native Son, by Richard Wright
28. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
29. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
30. For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway
33. The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
36. Go Tell it on the Mountain, by James Baldwin
38. All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren
40. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
45. The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair
48. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence
49. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
50. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
53. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
55. The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie
57. Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron
64. Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence
66. Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
67. A Separate Peace, by John Knowles
73. Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs
74. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
75. Women in Love, by D.H. Lawrence
80. The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer
84. Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller
88. An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser
97. Rabbit, Run, by John Updike


We’re coming up on Banned Books Week: September 30 – October 6, 2012. During this time, I recommend that you check out or purchase or re-read or at least ponder very strongly the banned books you might want to (re)read. And consider why someone would have wanted to ban them. And shake your head a few times whilst saying, “Never again.” And if you’re a parent, don’t forget to buy your kids banned books – literacy is a greater gift than a Treasury bond because it truly does pay dividends forever.

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