Read any banned books lately?
We're in the middle of Banned Books Week, an annual awareness campaign promoted by the American Library Association and Amnesty International that celebrates the freedom to read.
Do books actually get banned in America? Not lately. The "banning" of books doesn't mean they're seized and no longer available. Doug Archer, librarian and past chair of the ALA's Intellectual Freedom Committee, explains:
Most books on the annual ALA list of banned and challenged books were "only" challenged, never banned. Even if some were removed from libraries, they are still available for purchase in bookstores. Therefore, censorship hasn't really happened because the government hasn't banned the books... Just because libraries and librarians have been so good at defending the freedom of the public to read as they choose, means that we're being dishonest? No, it just means we're doing our job.
In the past century, classics such as John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, William S. Burroughs' The Naked Lunch, and Allen Ginsberg's Howl, were frequently banned or seized. Alice Walker's The Color Purple and three of Toni Morrison's novels -- The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, and Beloved -- have also been targeted by school libraries in recent years.
In March 1885, the Concord (Mass.) Free Library banned Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn a year after its publication. The author was unperturbed and saw the notoriety as a marketing opportunity. He wrote: "The Committee of the Public Library of Concord, Mass., have given us a rattling tip-top puff which will go into every paper in the country. They have expelled Huck from their library as 'trash and suitable only for the slums.' That will sell 25,000 copies for us sure."
More recently, in 2018, the Duluth Public Schools district in Minnesota school district dropped Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird -- along with Huck -- from its required reading list because of the books’ liberal use of a racial slur.
Mockingbird encountered criticism since its publication in 1960. When the Hanover County School Board in Virginia, banned the book in 1966, tne board member called it "immoral literature."
Lee fired back in a letter sent to the Richmond Va. newspaper:
Editor, The News Leader:
Recently I have received echoes down this way of the Hanover County School Board's activities, and what I've heard makes me wonder if any of its members can read.
Surely it is plain to the simplest intelligence that "To Kill a Mockingbird" spells out in words of seldom more than two syllables a code of honor and conduct, Christian in its ethic, that is the heritage of all Southerners. To hear that the novel is "immoral" has made me count the years between now and 1984, for I have yet to come across a better example of doublethink.
I feel, however, that the problem is one of illiteracy, not Marxism. Therefore I enclose a small contribution to the Beadle Bumble Fund that I hope will be used to enroll the Hanover County School Board in any first grade of its choice.
So how many banned books have you read? Here's an American Library Association list of some classics that have been banned, burned, challenged or seized:
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
Ulysses, by James Joyce
Beloved, by Toni Morrison
The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
1984, by George Orwell
Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Animal Farm, by George Orwell
The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
Native Son, by Richard Wright
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey
Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway
The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
Go Tell It on the Mountain, by James Baldwin
All the King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair
Lady Chatterley's Lover, by D.H. Lawrence
A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie
Sophie's Choice, by William Styron
Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence
Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
A Separate Peace, by John Knowles
Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs
Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
Women in Love, by DH Lawrence
The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer
Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller
An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser
Rabbit, Run, by John Updike
Read the reasons these books were banned/challenged, burned and seized at the American Library Association's Banned & Challenged Classics page.