Today is the last day of Banned Books Week. Coincidentally, I’ve been having trouble deciding on topics to blog about, but if there is anything I’m practiced in writing on, it’s books.
America’s Library Association makes a list each year of the top ten banned books. Their website has the lists from 2001 to 2013. Of those, these are my top six, in no particular order.
1. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
I hated Steinbeck in high school. That may have something to do with reading The Pearl twice back when all I wanted out of a book was a happy ending. Spoiler alert: neither The Pearl or Of Mice and Men has a happy ending.
What Of Mice and Men does have is a layered relationship, a tragic series of events, and questions about power and mercy. It is generally challenged for three things: offensive language, racism, and violence.
That is my main problem with this book. If I recall correctly, the racism present in this book was casual and never truly addressed by tone. It’s simply…there.
I did enjoy the book though. His writing is between Fitzgerald and Hemingway in flowering level. And the story is layered, with simplistic language but well-formed metaphors. (Although the absolute best Steinbeck book is The Moon is Down. Just fyi.)
2. Looking for Alaska by John Green
John Green’s Looking for Alaska is an excellent example of the narrative refuting its subject matter.
MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD.
The book has been challenged due to sexual content. One scene has two teenagers engaging in “sexual acts.” But, as the author himself said in one of his Vlogbrothers videos, it is the most awkward sex scene in the history of bad smut. It’s sex without intimacy, and it doesn’t work for them.
There is also underage drinking, smoking, generally shenanigans…but it is an honest look at first love and grief, friendship and tough times, and how suffering can change you and strengthen your relationships.
3. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
Huh. Would you look at that… Another example of the narrative refuting the horrors therein. Imagine that.
My aunt once said she refused to see the movie because the idea of kids killing each other is sick. Which it is. But that’s the point. That’s why (maybe this whole post should be tagged as spoilers) the rebels fight a war to stop it. Because it’s a terrible thing.
One of the reasons it was challenged was because of “religious viewpoint.” I’m not sure I see where that comes into play. “Anti-family,” sure. Considering the amounts of children having to care for themselves and their siblings, child abuse, and the families in career districts who believe honor is more precious than their children’s lives, I can see “anti-family.” And yet, the entire revolution is begun due to the love Katniss has for her sister.
4. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Of all the books on this list, this is the one I read the longest ago. My recollection of it is a little fuzzy, so this may be the shortest entry of the list.
It was my first “post-apocalyptic” novel, and it’s something to think about because of the traits it magnifies from our current society. Materialism, separation of social statuses, people being destined from birth for whatever they are expected to do: these are all things that exist in our own societies to varying extents. Obviously it’s not “as bad,” but perhaps the point is that once these things are present, they have the potential to grow until they are out of control.
I actually need to reread this book though. It was my favorite novel I read in high school.
5. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
I lied. This one will be my shortest, because I’m running out of time to finish this post before we leave.
According to the ALA website, one of the reasons this book has been challenged is because of sexual content. But one of the things I love about this book is that the “sexual content” is so subtle, there are discussions about whether it actually even occurred.
I understand that people don’t want their children reading about sexual content, violence, molestation, racism, sexism, etc. But the truth is that these things exist in the world. It’s important that people see those things in a safe context so they can recognize them if they happen in their real lives.
There are other books on the list that I love. Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen and Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson are also challenged. And the latter does contain (spoiler) a child’s death, which is terribly tragic. But I don’t believe censorship is the answer. The best solutions (personal opinion time) involve open discussions that allow these issues to be visible for what they truly are.
That, and authors who know how to write bad things in a way that show they are actually bad.