Saturday, September 27, 2014

Banned Books Week Part Two: Banned Books that Shaped Me

It's time for part two of my salute to banned books. I'm participating in Banned Books Week by joining in on posts coordinated by Sheila over at Book Journey. Yesterday, I talked about why I think censorship in literature is a horrible idea. Today, well...I'm taking a more personal approach.

As part of Banned Books Week, has posted "Banned Books that Shaped America". I decided that I would take a spin on this and drive my opinions about censorship home by using myself as an example. I can talk all day about what could happen in theory, but let's see what really did happen in my case with some of the banned books I read before age eighteen. I present to you: Banned Books that Shaped Me...

1. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. Yup. You read that correctly. Apparently this book was considered offensive because it is "blasphemous and unnatural" for animals to talk. Well...there goes 90% of all children's literature. Additionally, it was offensive as a children's book because *spoiler alert* the spider dies. Oh brother. Things die. Especially (thankfully) spiders. For me, Charlotte's Web was a lesson that you need to have faith in yourself and just be the best you that you can be. What a horrible message to send a child...

2. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein. This book "encourages children to break dishes so they don't have to dry them". Guard your dishware everyone. You have got to be kidding me. People are too dramatic. I saw it as a furthering of my education in poetry (which began with exposure to Dr. Seuss - another banned author). Obviously I didn't learn as much from this book as I should have or I would've gotten out of dishes and gained myself a pony. I should've read Shel Silverstein more carefully. Drat.

3. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. I referenced this one in yesterday's post. This classic from Judy Blume drew fire for being too blunt about puberty and menstruation. Umm...that's exactly why girls like the book. This book is honest. It was why liked it. For most girls, this serves as a good coming of age book. It was one of my favorite pre-teen reads. It didn't damage my psyche or make me a sex-crazed prepubescent. It educated me appropriately about how my body was supposed to work, and it made sure that I felt comfortable with and unashamed of the changes I experienced. Another precious flower tarnished by the work of an evil genius. Please.

4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I read this book as an eighth grader. I loved it. I still do. I didn't become a drunken mess, swearing and partying well into the night. I didn't learn that adultery is cool and hip. Instead, I was exposed to a historical period for America and I read a great story that I have read several times since. It broadened my horizons and entertained me. The horror.

5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Another junior high read (perhaps even 7th memory is fuzzy). I learned about racism and how awful things really could be for people just based on the color of their skin. I felt heartache and shame for my nation. I realized how fortunate I was to live a life where I didn't need to fear treatment like that. I wanted to make sure that I never made anyone in my life feel that I judged them differently based on their heritage. I became a BETTER person. Censorship fail.

6. 1984 by George Orwell. High school? I think this was sophomore year with Mrs. Decime, but my teenage memories are again not to be trusted. What I do remember, is fear. I was woken up to the real possibility of totalitarian government control and learned to value my freedoms and rights. Reading this book was a spurring moment for me. I learned to be informed and educated about my surroundings, and to make up my own mind, not just follow along with popular opinion. I think a few more adults could benefit from this lesson.

7. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Ah, the piece of resistance. Another Mrs. Decime pick if I remember correctly. A banned book about banned books. That's just plain awesome. The message was very obviously lost on some. I may have read this originally in high school, but I just recently picked it up again. It still rings very true. Like 1984, it encourages thinking for oneself rather than simply following along with the crowd. Shouldn't we all be capable of some original thought? Last time I checked, I didn't live in Stepford.

Obviously banned books have scarred me for life (insert eye roll here). Honestly, the Stephen King and Anne Rice novels I was fond of beginning around age thirteen were probably more shocking and offensive than any of the books listed here. Believe it or not though, I'm still not a serial killer, fire starter, vampire, or satanist. How I escaped the evil clutches of these terrible books I guess we'll never know. Oh wait, I do know. It's because they're BOOKS and I have enough common sense to be able to know reality from fiction. I also have the ability to think for myself, interpret the content I read, and apply it appropriately to my life. I think most readers have that ability. The general public should apply a little of that common sense and give readers some credit. Banning or censoring a book is never the answer. Education however, well that's just crazy enough to work...

What about you? Did any banned or challenged books play an important part in your life? What lessons did you learn from books that otherwise could have been kept from your impressionable mind?


  1. I love both your posts. This is another area - like the rampant gun culture - where the US suddenly feels like it's in a different universe to the UK. Many of the 'banned books' I've read over the years - mostly unwittingly, since this doesn't really happen in England - have been amongst the most profound and memorable of my reading life. I'm lucky enough to live in a country where our classroom book boxes were filled with William Golding, Harper Lee, S.E. Hinton, John Steinbeck, Alice Walker, Barry Hines and Emily Bronte, and where school libraries across all age groups were well stocked; in fact, several of the banned/challenged children's books on the list were teacher favourites that would be read aloud to us in our youngest school years. Gritty books encouraged discussion, empathy and thought, and that was only seen as a GOOD thing. No one objected to the choice of material, there was not a murmur of parent or authority interference, and I definitely feel that my reading life would have been less rich and informative and wonderful if these titles had been taken out of my reach. I'm so glad Banned Books Week exists to bring the issue of censorship - and the books themselves - into the spotlight.

    1. Thanks Ellie! I like gritty books. Obviously I'm a big fan of letting readers think for themselves.

  2. The Charlotte's Web one always dumfounded me. Seriously?? I've read lots of books on the banned/challenged list, and I think each one has has been good in its own way. Banning books does nothing but make more people want to read them :)

    1. I thought that one was pretty funny. Animals talking? How dare you. That's just awful to subject a child to.

  3. I love this post! You have taught me so much. I had briefly heard about the banned books week, but I hadn't researched much about it. I'm definitely going to look more into it now. I love all these books that you mentioned today, and I'm pretty shocked that they are banned. Pretty sad. I nearly laughed out loud when I saw Fahrenheit 451 on the list. The irony is hilarious. Great post!

    1. Thanks Leslie! There are some pretty good lists of banned books out there. I have a few of them pinned on my Pinterest boards for future reading ideas. (I'm a rebel like that.) I honestly wonder if the people pushing to ban Fahrenheit 451 had even read the book and if they felt like fools for it later. It kind of seems a bit counter-intuitive.


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