Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Find Out What They Don't Want You to Know: Read a Banned Book!

Click the picture to check out the ALA information on Banned Books Week

Someday I hope to see my books banned. Given the caliber of literature that attracts this kind of ire, I would be in excellent company. Sherman Alexie, Toni Morrison, Harper Lee, JD Salinger, Alice Walker, Mark Twain, John Steinbeck. It's quite a list of literary luminaries.

If my books were to be banned, it would mean I wrote something that truly mattered--that scared certain kinds of people with the power of the words and ideas. It would mean I shook the establishment. That would be quite a measure of success!

This is Banned Books Week, which is always a great opportunity to see what "they" didn't want you to read. So, to celebrate,  here are some thoughts on the top five Banned and Challenged Classics on the ALA list. It turns out I've read them all, because I'm a rebel, Dottie.

1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. 

Well, of course, they don't want you to read this one. It might give you the impression that rich people are not infallible bastions of society out there to protect the common people with their good sense and practical decision making. You might come away thinking that money can't buy happiness and that there are dangers in trying to be something you're not. G-d forbid!

2. The Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger. 

Another dangerous, subversive book. A person reading this might come to think that there is beauty even in a flawed world or a flawed person. They might come to value sincerity and honesty. A reader might feel less alienated by connecting with a character who feels even more alienated than she does. Can't have that now, can we?

3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. 

Bad things happen in this book. Good people come to harm. And they don't just roll over and take it. They keep moving, they fight back, they endure. Despite their seeming powerlessness against big bankers and the one-percenters of their day, the Joads have a nobility. You might just walk away from these pages thinking that there is such a thing as righteous anger and that respect is worth fighting for. I'm surprised they let this one stay in print. That's some dangerous stuff there.

4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Atticus Finch has gotten a bad rep here lately, thanks to another book. But he was a voice of reason for generations, and I think he still deserves his reputation for patience and calm, clear thinking. The novel allows for plenty of shades of gray when it comes to big moral issues. There is no black and white, even in a story that is largely about the relationship between blacks and whites. Truth is messy. Kindness and empathy are keys to understanding that many forget they have in their pockets, especially during a presidential election. So, yeah. Obviously this book is the devil.

5. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

This one is a triple threat. The main characters are poor, black women. Three things a lot of America doesn't want to talk about, especially not when they pile up into one person like that. Life has not been easy for Celie and Shug, and the story doesn't pull any punches about that. It's not a diatribe or a rant. It's a moving story, one that lets you in on realities that are not pleasant or easy to stomach. So, if we're to keep denying that racism, poverty, and misogyny are problems in this great nation, then this book must be stopped!

So, there you have it.

I'll never understand the impulse to ban a book. If you're not ready to have your horizons stretched or your assumptions questioned, then, fine, keep reading only the things that feed your own egocentric world view. But, it's really not your business what other people read.

When someone tries to tell you that a book is dangerous, I recommend you rush out and read it immediately. Because your mind is your own. You should look at things for yourself and decide their worth. Otherwise, what's your brain for?

Happy Banned Books Week! Read something they'd rather you didn't.


  1. I'm pretty sure I've read all of the ones you listed. I am trying to decide what to read. I've read LOLITA a couple times.

  2. Here's the thing: it used to be easy to figure out what books needed to be read. They were banned, or they were locked in cages in the library. Now we're deprived of these books because they're all hidden in the stacks and not calling attention to themselves. You'd need the literary equivalent of a divining rod to find them.