This week is Banned Book Week, and your local librarians are really getting into it as usual. It’s probably not a surprise that librarians generally don’t love it when a book in their collection is challenged. It’s essentially like having a stranger come into your workplace and telling you you’re doing your job wrong. I mean, aside from the assault on the First Amendment, it’s a very personal slap in the face.
And on the flip side – who wants someone telling them what they can and can’t read? I was looking over the list of books that were banned or challenged in 2007-2008 and came across several books that I’ve loved – some of them are even my favorite books! Then there were other books that I haven’t read, but when I read why they were challenged — I kind of wanted to! And then there was that other category of books… the books I had to read for school and HATED. The books that if you’d asked me ten years ago, I might have supported banning just to get them off my reading list…
Banned Books That I Have Loved
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
Reason challenged: “Pornographic” content
This graphic novel/biography is an engrossing read, if more likely to appeal to memoir fans than the traditional graphic novel fans. It’s the functional/dysfunctional tale of the author’s relationship with her father, who is an avid reader, an English teacher, a DIY-er, and a closeted homosexual. And it’s a blunt and upfront portrayal of life – but if you consider this pornography… well, you may want to cancel your cable subscription.
The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer
Reason challenged: The book was accused of dealing with the occult.
Again, sadly, this accusation is way off the mark. While the book does deal with some supernatural/spiritual themes, the book is set in a futuristic dystopia that doesn’t really translate to, say, satan worship. Cosmo Hill is a young orphan who escapes from rounds of abusive experimentation and drug testing and joins a group of young vigilantes who hunt down ghost like creatures that appear to prey on the wounded or dying.
Harry Potter, 1-7, by J.K. Rowling
Reason challenged: Promoting witchcraft
Modern – and historical – witchcraft bears very, very little resemblance to anything that happens in a Harry Potter book, which has always made this claim somewhat ridiculous, especially since the books have some heavy moral themes. I haven’t met a single die-hard fan (and I’ve met some) who have mistaken this book for reality. At the end of the day, Harry Potter is just a great series, with proven universal appeal, about an ordinary boy who finds out he’s a wizard. The catch is that he has to fight the evilest, evil wizard who was ever evil. No pressure, Harry!
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Reason challenged: Frequent use of racial epithets
Mark Twain knew how to write a great story, but he was, sadly, a not-too-enlightened product of his time. The debate goes on about whether or not this text is deeply or superficially racist, and to what extent it is openly offensive, and I’m not going to go into it. All I can speak to is that when I read it, I loved it. It’s funny, frequently ridiculous, a tiny bit though provoking, and a fabulous adventure story. The book deserves to be a classic, despite it’s flaws.
Banned Books That Have Just Made My “To Read” List
Jake Reinvented by Gordan Korman
Reason Challenged: Contains teen drinking, sex and violence.
Gordan Korman is an old favorite of mine, so I’m not thrilled that someone feels the need to pick at his – let’s not lie – realistic depiction of a modern high school (as opposed to the books he wrote when he was, what? 13?!). I haven’t read this book yet – it’s a re-imagining of The Great Gatsby, never one of my favorites – but it’s definitely on my list.
Child of the Dark Prophecy by T. A. Baron
Reason challenged: Accused of dealing with the occult.
It’s a little sad when people feel the need to get het up over an Arthurian fantasy. From what I understand, this book is an appealing young adult fantasy about a boy who thinks he’s the one prophesied to destroy Avalon, his own beloved home. It sounds pretty interesting, so I’ll check it out and let you know how evil it is.
King & King by Linda de Haan and Stern Niljand
Reason challenged: Advances the “homosexual agenda”
A modern fairy tale of a prince who searches for his true love – and finds that it’s another prince! I doubt seriously that this book promotes anything other than tolerance, and I’ve always been a big fan of fairy tale re-tellings, so I might just check this one out, even though I’m probably a bit older than the target demographic.
Banned Books That I Have Loathed (But Support in Theory)
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Reason challenged: Profanity, bad portrayal of Jesus, complete lack of political correctness.
This book is the tragic tale of an unlikely pair of migrant laborers with big dreams. I had to read this for school back in the day, and I don’t remember being overly offended by the content so much as offended that I had to read something that so completely went against my literary tastes. It’s a good book, it’s an American classic, but I hated it.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Reason challenged: Strong sexual content
This is a book about one man’s strange experience of war, and time travel, centered around the horrible tragedy of the fire bombing of Dresden. Another required reading nightmare, as far as I was concerned, despite having a number of things I usually like, like time travel and aliens. Though there is, in fact, strong sexual content, it isn’t as nearly disturbing as the portrayal of women was to my budding feminist sensibilities. I’m not saying I’d stop anyone from reading the book… but I’m not going to recommend it to anyone either.