In honor of Banned Books Week, which lasts until October sixth, I’m revisiting my favorite banned book: Beloved by Toni Morrison. I first read this masterpiece in a high school English course; it’s dense and lyrical and moving. The story is based on a real-life tragedy: an escaped slave woman who murdered her own children to stop her owner from recapturing them. That woman is Sethe, and her life story is one of mingled despair and hope, tragedy and good luck. The narrative is touched by the supernatural: the spirit of Sethe’s murdered baby, whose headstone only reads Beloved, has haunted her house ever since her death. 20 years later, when a pretty 20 year old girl turns up on Sethe’s front step knowing things only a family member could know, it’s unclear what her intentions and her identity really are.
Sethe’s story is magical and moving. It’s been banned or challenged for containing offensive language, explicit sexuality, and being “unsuited to age group,” according to the American Library Association’s list of banned and challenged books. When I read this novel as a teenager, I wasn’t scarred, offended, or damaged: Morrison’s book was, instead, eye-opening and moving. It made me more interested in literature and in history, and it gave my class fodder for discussions that improved our understanding of reading and the way it impacts real life. I hope you’ll check it out: you won’t be disappointed.
To learn more about this book, censorship, and Banned Books Week, check out the ALA Banned Books Week website.
Most people are familiar with Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax –a story about the little mustachioed creature who warns the Once-ler (and the reader) about the harm caused by taking advantage of nature’s resources, but did you know that this classic book was challenged in a California Public School in 1989 for demonizing the logging industry to children?
Of the top ten banned books of 2008, all were children/young adult books (or adult fiction being read by young adults) and of those, seven were cited for being “unsuitable for age group.” What is interesting is how often the books challenged by adults are the most beloved by children– all of my childhood favorites were on the list of banned books from 1990-1999: Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George, The Witches by Roald Dahl and The Giver by Lois Lowry. I have no doubt that I would be a different person if I had not experienced these stories as a ten-year-old, an eleven-year-old and a twelve-year-old (respectively).
…interesting fact: [The Lorax] used to contain the line, “I hear things are just as bad up in Lake Erie,” but 14 years after the book was published, the Ohio Sea Grant Program wrote to Seuss and told him how much the conditions had improved and implored him to take the line out. Dr. Seuss agreed and said that it wouldn’t be in future editions. (from mentalfloss.com’s The Quick 10: Stories Behind 10 Dr. Seuss Stories by Stacy Conradt )
Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien written between 1937 – 1949) it contains the three books : Fellowship of the Ring; Two Towers and Return of the King.
Burned in Alamagordo, N. Mex. (2001) outside Christ Community Church along with other Tolkien novels as satanic. Between 2001 – 2003 Peter Jackson created three epic movies based on these books. The films were nominated for and won many awards including winning 17 Oscars.
Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)
Burned by the East St. Louis, III. Public Library (1939) and barred from the Buffalo, N.Y Public Library (1939) on the grounds that “vulgar words” were used. Banned in Kansas City, Mo. (1939); Kern County Calif, the scene of Steinbeck’s novel, (1939). “Grapes of Wrath has been challenged through the years for among many things including using the name of God and Jesus in a vain and profane manner along with inappropriate sexual references. The has only been one film of this book, filmed in 1940. It starred Henry Fonda and John Carradine. The movie received 7 Oscar nominations in 1940, winning for best director and best supporting actress Jane Darwell.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
This book has been challenged since 1977 for using profanity and being a filthy trashy novel. The most recent challenged was at the Stanford Middle School in Durham, N.C. (2004) because the 1961 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel uses the word “nigger.” The movie was filmed in 1960. It starred Gregory Peck. It was nominated for 8 Oscars winning 3 including best actor, Gregory Peck.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker (1982)
Color Purple as been challenged since its publication mostly for “sexual and social explicitness” and its “troubling ideas about race relations, man’s relationship to God, African history and human sexuality.” The book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983. The movie was filmed in 1984 with Whoopie Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey. It was nominated for 8 Oscars.
My favorite banned book is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I loved this book; I loved the movie. I can still picture (in black and white) Gregory Peck portaying the consummate Southern lawyer Atticus Finch, wiping his brow in the hot, segregated courtroom while his adoring daughter Scout, looks on from the balcony.
Set in a small Southern town in Alabama during the Depression, the book follows three years in the life of 8-year-old Scout Finch, her brother Jem and their father, Atticus, who defends a black man accused of raping a white woman. Thus, the book covers many issues, but because it is told through the eyes of young Scout, it never comes off as judgmental or preachy.
I could never understand why someone would not want others to read this book. It won the Pulitzer Prise, it’s been translated into more than forty languages and was voted the best novel of the twentieth century. If somehow you got through school without reading this book, now is the time to do so. Come to think of it, it may be about time for me to read it again — it’s that good!
Catcher in the Rye was a pivotal book for me. It was one of the first books that I read that seemed to speak the Truth… about phoniness and superficiality and adult hypocrisy.
As a preteen, I didn’t probe into the actual copyright date; I thought it had just been written about my generation – actually about ME specifically.
Up until that point, I’d mostly read series like Trixie Beldon and Nancy Drew, both admirable but neither of whom were very introspective.
I remember sprawling on my bed for an entire Sunday afternoon – not being able to put the book down, yet not wanting to let my new soulmate, Holden Caulfield, out of my life, either.
David Ulin says in the LA Times, “We possess the books we read, animating the waiting stillness of their language, but they possess us also, filling us with thoughts and observations, asking us to make them part of ourselves.”
The American Library Association (ALA) has designated September 26-October 3 as Banned Books Week in order to raise awareness of continuing threats against intellectual freedom. You may be surprised to find that even in this modern age of openess and equality, censorship remains a constant threat. Follow along with us this week as our librarians highlight their Favorite Banned Books.
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is the heartbreaking story of a family struggling with the sudden and unexplained loss of their oldest daughter. Told from the perspective of the murdered daughter as she watches her family and friends from “the other side”, Susie narrates what happened to her (raped and murdered by the neighbor), agonizes as her parents and siblings mourn, and struggles to come to terms with what her own life on earth meant. There is a lot of sadness in this book, but there is also a great deal of celebration, joy and enduring love.