Banned Books Week is an annual event that was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores, and libraries. Books that are challenged can be removed from the educational curriculum, taken off library shelves, and can even be prevented from being sold in certain bookstores.
Previously for Banned Books Week, I wrote a post called Why I Believe in the Freedom to Read.
This year, Banned Books Week ran from the 24th – 30th September (I was a little late in posting as I was on holiday, more on that in my monthly wrap-up!). Supported by various organisations, it aims to increase awareness of banned books, and celebrate the freedom to read, including educating others on the danger of censorship.
All very important issues, and as I’m fully in support of being a rebel, and reading whatever the hell you like in the process, here are my recommendations for Banned Books you should be sinking your teeth into:
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Eleanor has red hair and the wrong clothes, and a chaotic family life. Park is the boy at the back of the bus, with black t-shirts, headphones, and his head in a book.
Set over the course of one school year, this YA novel tells the story of two star-crossed 16 year old misfits, who are smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but are brave and desperate enough to try.
Challenged For: Offensive language.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Far in the future, the World Controllers have created the ideal society. Through clever use of genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational sex and drugs, all its members are happy consumers.
Bernard Marx seems alone harbouring an ill-defined longing to break free. A visit to one of the few remaining Savage Reservations, where the old, imperfect life still continues, may be the cure for his distress…
Banned In: Ireland for comments against religion and the traditional family.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Humbert Humbert has fallen completely and utterly in love with Lolita Haze, his landlady’s twelve-year-old daughter. Reluctantly agreeing to marry Mrs Haze just to be close to Lolita, Humbert suffers greatly in the pursuit of romance; but when Lolita herself starts looking for attention elsewhere, he will carry her off on a desperate cross-country misadventure, all in the name of Love.
Described as being hilarious, flamboyant, heart-breaking and full of ingenious word play, Lolita is an immaculate, unforgettable masterpiece of obsession, delusion and lust.
Banned In: France, Belgium, Argentina, and the UK, among other countries.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable.
Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now.
Challenged For: Sexual content and profanity.
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
One of my favourite books of all time, and a 5* read. This is the unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it.
Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behaviour – to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred.
Challenged For: Many things over the years, but most recently for being “degrading” and “profane”.
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Discovered in the attic in which she spent the last years of her life, Anne Frank’s remarkable diary has since become a world classic—a powerful reminder of the horrors of war and an eloquent testament to the human spirit.
In 1942, with Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, they and another family lived cloistered in the “Secret Annexe” of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death.
Challenged For: This book was challenged by the Alabama State Textbook Committee for being a “real downer”.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house? The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books.
Banned For: Ironically, this 1953 novel about book-banning in a futuristic and consumer-led society has itself been banned on several occasions: it was refused from a school district in the US in the 1990s for using the word “goddamn”.
Challenged For: “Questionable themes” (censorship, repression and religion, to name a few) in the past.
Harry Potter by J K Rowling
Who could believe that one of the most loved children’s books ever is challenged so frequently?
Harry Potter thinks he is an ordinary boy – until he is rescued by an owl, taken to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, learns to play Quidditch, and does battle in a deadly duel. The reason? Harry Potter is a wizard!
Challenged For: My beloved Harry Potter has been opposed by so many parents and school boards for the portrayal of death, evil, and hatred, as well as the supposed promotion of the belief in witchcraft.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Winning will make you famous. Losing means certain death.
The nation of Panem, formed from a post-apocalyptic North America, is a country that consists of a wealthy Capitol region surrounded by 12 poorer districts. Early in its history, a rebellion led by a 13th district against the Capitol resulted in its destruction and the creation of an annual televised event known as the Hunger Games. In punishment, and as a reminder of the power and grace of the Capitol, each district must yield one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 through a lottery system to participate in the games. The ‘tributes’ are chosen during the annual Reaping and are forced to fight to the death, leaving only one survivor to claim victory.
Challenged For: Being inappropriate for the age it is targeted to, and for its political standpoint.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M Danforth
When Cameron Post’s parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is relief. Relief they’ll never know that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl.
But that relief doesn’t last, and Cam is soon forced to move in with her conservative aunt Ruth and her well-intentioned but hopelessly old-fashioned grandmother. She knows that from this point on, her life will forever be different. Survival in Miles City, Montana, means blending in and leaving well enough alone (as her grandmother might say), and Cam becomes an expert at both.
After a Delaware school removed the book from its Summer Reading List due to the f-bomb being in it (even though the other nine books on the list all include numerous curse words), a bunch of authors wrote an open letter to the school, including Emily M Danforth, and an independent book store in the town gave away copies for free. Now that’s fighting the system!
Challenged For: Profanity, LGBT Themes.
What banned or challenged books have you read and loved? And what do you think about censorship? Let me know in the comments, and go get stuck into a banned book!