Shelf Pleasure Celebrates the Right to Read
Banned Books Week runs September 25-October 1st and highlights the freedom to read. It’s also an opportunity to raise awareness of book censorship around the country. Shelf Pleasure spoke to a handful of authors and asked them to share their favorite banned book. You might be surprised at what’s on the list.
“My very favorite banned book is Charlotte’s Web. Not only was it beautifully written by E. B. White, one of the greatest prose stylists of all time, but it’s about friendship, loyalty, tolerance, using your brain to solve problems, birth, death, and love— subjects no one could ever get tired of. The book came out in 1952 and is still beloved today; however, in 2006 Charlotte’s Web was banned by a Kansas school district. Talking animals are ‘unnatural,’ the district decreed, and a spider dying is ‘inappropriate subject matter for a children’s book.’ Go figure.”
“One of my favorite banned books is Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. It captures the wonder and heartache of youth in the unforgettable voice of Arnold Spirit, who’s geeky and wise in a way that makes you laugh and breaks your heart. It’s partly about feeling like an outsider, partly about seeking out the good in people, but mostly about learning how to be your true self in a world that wants you to be something else. I wish I’d been able to read it when I was a teenager, because there’s a bit of Arnold Spirit in all of us.”
“One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey is sometimes requested to be banned for the glorification of prostitution, murder, and obscenity. I can’t imagine using ‘glorification’ to describe anything in Cuckoo’s Nest. If anything, the book shows how easily being different is marginalized, smothered and labeled. In its pages, readers will find frustration, grief, bullying and the human spirit. These are the hallmarks of high school, if not life in general. Why not let readers see that these themes have been around for a long time.”
“Lolita. Its depth and range and beauty remain staggering. What’s it about? The vastness of our psychology? Human sexuality? The relationship between England and America? Like all great works, it encompasses more than can be enumerated. Like most banned works, it’s compelling in its daringness.”
“Even though I’m California born and raised, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, has long been a favorite of mine. For me, this is not – at its heart – a story about the treatment of migrant farm workers by privileged California land owners. Rather it’s a story of the resilience of the human spirit and the true sacredness of life even when everyone and everything around you would have you believe you are worth nothing. I read this often-banned book in high school, nearly four decades ago, and yet it still echoes within me.”
“The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is sometimes challenged because of language and sexual content. Gatsby’s primary theme was the focus on the division of wealth in the roaring 20s, with a spotlight on fleeting materialism and has been taught in high schools for decades. The language is mild, to say the least (“goddam” and “hell” feature but not much else) and the sex is completely off-page, although primary plot points center around rampant infidelity. The restrictions on this book started as late as 1987, which has always seemed ironic to me considering 1987 also saw the debut of rap music legend Public Enemy, whose language is decidedly more severe and sexual references are abundant. While I’ve always adored the story, I’ve always bristled a bit at Fitzgerald’s portrayal of women. Then again, isn’t that what a good piece of literature should do? Expose cracks and faults in society? All debates aside, it’s hard to argue with the timelessness of the major themes: materialism, wealth, and happiness.”
“My favorite banned book is Black Boy by Richard Wright. This is a powerful telling of Wright’s childhood and what it was truly like for him as a black man growing up in the Deep South during the 1920s. I think it’s vital that we educate ourselves on this part of our country’s history, however uncomfortable and unpleasant, so that we can better understand current race relations and hopefully move toward a more compassionate and accepting existence for all.”
“My favorite banned YA book is The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. As a teen it was my first glimpse into the cycle of poverty and violence. I remember the hopelessness I felt for Ponyboy and his friends, and I realized how fortunate I was to be born into a middle-class family.”
“I’m a sucker for any book people have found a dozen excuses to ban, but when I read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, I simply thought it was a fantastic story. Books that spark the imagination, have strong female characters and deliver a message about social justice belong on public bookshelves, within reach of young readers.”
Tell us, which is your pick?
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