Banned Books Week- Day 3
Caged Birds, Banned Classics & the long history of banning books…
It’s day three of Banned Books Week, and I’m finishing up Maya Angelou’s biographical narrative, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. In today’s post we are also talking about banned classics and our thoughts on some of those, along with a few impressions on the long history and repercussions of banning books.
In our Day 2 post, I listed some of the reasons why I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings has been challenged/banned over the last ten years. The “why” of something has always been an important question for me. In regards to Angelou’s book, the overwhelming theme of the challenges have been based on the sexual themes in the book; rape, sexuality, unwanted pregnancy. Some would argue that is a perfectly valid reason to restrict a child’s access to a book. I would counter that that reasoning should be applied by the parents…each set of parents in relation to THEIR child. In making that decision, the parent(s) should also consider context.
In Angelou’s book, the instances that those challenging it have taken exception to are part of her life’s journey. They – for better or worse- shaped her into the woman and writer she became. For those who first became enamored of her writing because of her poetry- as I did, her biographical narratives give the reader a greater appreciation and understanding of the roots of her poetry. In fact, reading just a portion of her biographies ( there are six(6) volumes in the collection) will help the reader understand not only her work, but her convictions and contributions to society. To read more about this wonderful author and inspirational individual, as well as her body of work, visit her website at : http://mayaangelou.com/
Every year I find myself going through the list of banned and challenged classic literature and shaking my head at the loss for those who were restricted or prohibited from the rich experience to be had between the covers of these titles. I will pick a few from the list and share my personal experiences when I first read them.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger : I first read this when I was 13. It was then, and is still today a controversial novel. It remains on the challenged list year after year with a consistency that amazes me. I remember thinking that it was NOT particularly shocking, beyond its use of the “F” word (and quite sparingly at that- especially by today’s standards), but the main thing I do remember was how much is resonated with me. Those feelings of being disconnected, disillusioned and somewhat different. In retrospect, I know that all teenagers suffer that malaise, but at the time, I felt a little better after the time I spent with Holden Caulfield.
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell: I will admit to having seen the movie many times before I read the book. By then I was in the throes of complete adoration for Clark Gable ( something my mother regarded as strange and oddly troubling). I was around 14 at the time, and since those were the days before cable television or video rentals, I decided to relive my Gone With the Wind movie experience, by checking the book out of the library and playing the movie in my head as I read it. This was my first lesson in the truth that the movie and book sometimes bear little resemblance to each other. Nevertheless, I found myself swept away by Margaret Mitchell’s view of the South. I also learned that romanticism in historical matters are best left to fiction, because the truth is often far more ugly than anything a writer can imagine.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: I also read this when I was around 14. An elderly lady who lived around the corner from us was a former English teacher, retired many years by the time I met her. She introduced me to Faulkner, Steinbeck and many others over the course of time, but the first book she gave me was To Kill a Mockingbird. Many parts of it shocked me, others saddened and enraged me… but more than anything, it made me think. That, to me is the sign of a truly wonderful book. I will never forget that experience or the woman who showed me such an enlightening path.
For more on these and other titles of Classic Literature that have been Banned or Challenged please visit the American Library Association’s website. The direct link to the relevant page is listed below:
A Long Line of Censorship & the Results:
As I said before, I’ve always been interested in the “why” of things. The motivation of an action is oftentimes far more telling than the action itself. Whether the motivation is to suppress free thought, independence or merely to restrict information so that the people under this directive will meekly accept the information they are given. Censorship over the years has been motivated for political and religious reasons. If the old axiom ” Information is power” is true – and I believe it is- then the lack of information renders one powerless. It is why a free and unrestricted press is a cornerstone of our society. The following quotes, courtesy of the ALA website states the case far more eloquently than I can:
As Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., in Texas v. Johnson , said most eloquently:
If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.
If we are to continue to protect our First Amendment, we would do well to keep in mind these words of Noam Chomsky:
If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.
Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.
More on this subject can be found by going to Banned Books Online : http://digital.library.upenn.edu/books/banned-books.html
I’ll be back tomorrow with more for Banned Books Week. There is still time to get in on Simple Pleasures Banned Books Week Read Out on Facebook. Here’s the link to join in on the event: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=240674935979222
Just list your selection for the Read Out and join us at the end of the week for some lively discussion.