Banning Books

31 03 2012

When I started to research this, I had no idea there was actually a Banned Books Week. It appears to occur in September, although there is a bit of confusion between the US Banned Books Week and an International Banned Books Week, promoted by Amnesty.

Anyway, in the spirit absurdity, here are some of the more surprising banned books.

John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. Now I have never recovered from reading this at school (hence it is one of my least-liked books) but it is a classic. It has been banned at various times and places in the US for obscenity and the portrayal of the US as seen by migrant workers and those living in extreme poverty. Sometimes the truth hurts.

The Dictionary. Various versions of the Dictionary have been banned for various reasons, often by local schools. For instance, Webster’s 10th Edition was pulled from classroom shelves in Menifee Union School District, California, in Jan 2010, because it include a definition of “oral sex”. Since looking up “dirty” words in the dictionary is a favourite of primary school children, I can only say, what spoil-sports! At least they are reading.

Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, and The Witches. Beloved favourite of children the world-over, these books were banned in the US for obscenity and violence (J&TGP), and sexism and devaluing the life of a child (TW). Maybe they just didn’t get the British sense of humour?

Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl. This classic and heart-rending exposition of the life of a young Jewish girl living under Nazi occupation has apparently attracted the wrath of book-banners several times, most recently January 2010 in a Culpeper County, Virginia school for “sexually explicit” and “homosexual” themes. I think they are missing the point.

The Lorax (Dr Seuss). The Lorax is one of many Dr Seuss Books banned at various times for their secret messages corrupting the minds of innocent children. In the case of The Lorax, it is its environmental “save the trees” message that was seen to be anti-big-business. The latest dispute happened in 2012 during the filming of a movie based on the book, but it had previously been banned (the most recent example I could find was in Laytonville, California in 1989 from a local public school).
Mind you, Dr Seuss was asking for it – The Sneetches discusses racism, The Butter Battle Beetle is about the cold war, isolationism took a blast in Horton hears a Who, Christmas in How the Grinch stole Christmas, and the effects of fear-based thinking in Green Eggs and Ham (banned in China between 1965 and 1991 because of its alleged portrayal of Marxism). How he wasn’t blackballed by the McCarthy Commission, I don’t know.

Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland was also banned in a province in China in 1931 for its portrayal of animals speaking, thinking and otherwise behaving like humans.

George Orwell’s Animal Farm is probably a less surprising banned book, giving its explicit political overtones. It was banned in the US in 1945 for being overly-critical of Russia (obviously pre-Cold War). It was also banned in the United Arab Emirates in 2002 because of the talking pig.

Picture book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? by Bill Martin Jnr was banned in 1967 in the US when its author was confused with an obscure Marxist theorist…… Bill Martin being such an unusual name… (yes, that was sarcasm you detect). Quite what it was about the book that was considered worth banning is not clear. Perhaps they were just being safe in case there was a hidden message.

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales was banned in America under the Federal Anti-Obscenity Act in 1873. Puritans! It was of course for all the tales of sex and debauchery – if you read through the olde Englishe to understand them.

For a map of recent book bans (upheld and overturned) in the US, have a look at this very interesting map. Click on the blue pointers for details. Again, it often seems schools, those places for learning, are the ones doing the banning, often at the instigation of individual parents.

For a selection of books banned in Australia, click here Notable inclusions: The Kama Sutra, a selection by William S Burroughs, Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms, and Ian Fleming’s The Spy who Loved Me.

And if this sort of thing amuses you, google it – this list is really only the tip of the iceberg!





Thanks goodness I never studied Gatsby

3 09 2011

I love reading. I go through phases of what I love to read – sometimes it is biographies (usually of writers or 1920s artists), sometimes it is Classics, sometimes science and statistics books, sometimes pop culture, sometimes fiction, sometimes short stories. I have a bookshelf bulging with favourites that I reread when the mood takes me, and a pile of books next to my bed that have I haven’t yet read. I find it very difficult to walk past a bookshop, and almost never walk out of one without a new book or two. I am a book-a-holic.

My favourite writers are (in no order)
F Scott Fitzgerald (a sense of place and an economy with words)
Dr Suess (a way with words)
Douglas Adams (a sense of the bizarre)

Every time I reread these authors I find new things I hadn’t noticed before. Several decades and many rereadings on, it is a tribute to the quality of their writing that this is still the case.

I was lucky – oh so lucky – that I didn’t have to study Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby for English classes at school. Without fail, every book we studied at school I have developed an abhorrence for.

This came to mind when a librarian friend was commenting on his favourite book – Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. (Side note – we both agreed we pronounce it “roth” not “rath” as seems to be the fashion now). I have never been able to even pick this book up since we dissected, sliced, diced, analysed it to pieces in Year 11. It ceased to be a story and instead became a series of themes and mechanisms, literary devices and conceits. The beauty of the story was lost.

I had always thought it was just me that felt like that, but my librarian friend agreed that English classes destroyed some books for him as well.

He had had the luck not to study Steinbeck’s book and hence he still loved it. I am grateful not to have studied Gatsby.

Fast Fact: The latest 60 Minutes / Vanity Fair Poll found that 65% of people surveyed could not identify who Harper lee was. This despite being given four options (including the correct one) to choose from. She is of course the Pulitzer-prize winning author of To Kill a Mockingbird. So I did learn something in English class!

If you like this post you might also like Old Dogs and New Tricks.