Monday, September 26, 2011

Last Monday Book: 120 Banned Books

Post by Jenny

It’s Banned Books Week 2011, “the thirtieth annual celebration of the freedom to read.” We are so fortunate that this freedom is guaranteed to us by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, for the threat of censorship—well-intentioned and not—is as alive and well as ever. I hope you will take time this week to consider how the freedom to read what you choose enriches your life.

In keeping with the theme, this month’s Last Monday Book is 120 Banned Books – Censorship Histories of World Literature, by Nicholas J. Karolides, Margaret Bald, and Dawn B. Sova (2005). I have to confess, I did not read all four-hundred-eighty-something pages, but this is a fascinating book for browsing. The 120 titles are categorized according to the grounds for suppression—political, religious, social, and the like. Each entry is introduced by title, author, publisher, original date and place of publication, and literary form. The book and its censorship history are then summarized.

Many of the titles are no doubt as familiar to you as they are to me—books such as Animal Farm, Slaughterhouse-Five, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. But The Analects of Confucius…? I had no idea that in 213 B.C., the Emperor of China “ordered Confucian books burned and threatened to execute anyone who dared to quote them.” As if that weren’t bad enough, the next year, “460 Confucian scholars were buried alive.”

In a less tragic but particularly ironic example of literary censorship, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, wherein books are burned to keep society ignorant and happy, was “expurgated and marketed by the publisher that way for thirteen years” without the author’s knowledge. Over 75 passages were modified and two were removed in the "special edition" sold to high schools.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, the silliness of Captain Underpants, the poetry of Whitman and Ginsberg, innumerable religious and political texts—the written word has come under fire for hundreds of years and hundreds of reasons. 120 Banned Books is an excellent resource for anyone wanting to understand more about the social and historical contexts in which many of our most famous written works have been challenged and/or banned.

For Banned Books Week, I’m rereading The Catcher in the Rye, which is one of the last half-century’s most frequently challenged books. Are you reading a banned book this week?


Patricia Stoltey said...

I didn't know Catcher in the Rye was ever banned by anyone but my mom, and that was when I was a sophomore in high school.

Fahrenheit 451 was the book I reread most recently, and once again felt that sense of anxiety over the idea books could ever be banned and burned.

Deborah said...

It's amazing to me to see some of the books that have been banned. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl; The Color Purple; I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary because it contained the word "oral sex". Give me a break!

Years ago I sought out a book on Wyoming history, "The Banditti of the Plains" by A.S. Mercer. It's an eye-witness account of the events leading up to the Johnson County War of 1892. The Wyoming Stockgrowers' Assn. obtained a court order to have the first printing of the book destroyed but a few copies survived and the book has since been reprinted several times.

Dean K Miller said...

I'd feel so naughty reading a banned book...maybe hiding in the closet with a flash light would be necessary. I work for the gov't, so it'll have to be covert...

Ishta Mercurio said...

Great post! Thanks for the mention of 120 BANNED BOOKS - I'll have to look into getting a copy.

I read Lois Lowry's THE GIVER this week, and am now reading Steinbeck's THE GRAPES OF WRATH. Such amazing literature. People these days really don't write books like they used to.

Jenny said...

Pat, I'm glad you mentioned Fahrenheit 451. I've read that many times.

Deborah, that's an interesting story...I'm glad the book survived!

Dean, maybe you should join a banned book group so you can stay out of the closet :-)

Thanks, Ishta. Classics become classics for a reason, right?

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