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This week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt at That Artsy Reader Girl is “Favorite Book Quotes.” Now, I love some good book quotes. Back home, I have journals filled with them, now I have some saved on my computer, and I have a lot on GoodReads too. But this is Banned Books Week and I try to focus exclusively on that every year. I’m going to post my Top Ten Favorite Banned Books. I’ll probably circle back to the real prompt at another time.
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein was a perennial favorite of both my sister and me. We re-read these poems often, but we still giggled every time we read them. The National Coalition Against Censorship says this collection of poems was banned because it “glorified Satan, suicide and cannibalism, and also encouraged children to be disobedient.” Ummm…. Did we read the same book? I can sort of see the “disobedient” thing but my sister and I both knew those poems were just funny fantasies. We would never have dropped dishes on the floor, for example. But it was fun to dream about doing it!
Anastasia Krupnik series by Lois Lowry–I can’t say that I remember any particulars about these books but I clearly remember searching for them every week at the library. According to Banned Library, it’s been banned because of “a vulgarity for human waste, as well as the use of a slang term for sex.” Well, that didn’t scar me, obviously, because I don’t remember any of that. I was remarkably sheltered as a child but even I heard my dad drop the occasional “S-word.” I can only conclude that some people need more important things to occupy their time.
The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling–I’m well aware of the J. K. Rowling controversy (and disagree with her apparent views of the trans community 100%) but I love these books. Don’t we all need to be reminded sometimes, especially in 2020, that “[Happiness] can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” The American Library Association says that the series has been banned “for referring to magic and witchcraft, for containing actual curses and spells, and for characters that use ‘nefarious means’ to attain goals.” Anyone out there successfully used “Accio” to call their book from across the room? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? It’s such nonsense to focus on external trappings when there’s so much in these books about the power of love and friendship to defeat darkness. That’s all I’m going to say about that.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle–I love this tale of Meg, Charles, and Calvin traveling across space and time to find Meg and Charles’s father. But, according to The Banned Book Project at Carnegie Mellon University, it’s been challenged many times for “being too religious and for being not religious enough.” I just remember a tale of familial love that crosses all barriers and I think that’s an awesome takeaway from a middle-grade book.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is one of my very favorite books, banned or not. The American Library Association has information for multiple challenges, but this one seems to sum up the most complaints best, that it “represents institutionalized racism under the guise of good literature.” This complaint was lodged by Black parents so it’s impossible for me to rebut that argument. They have lived with racism, not me, so their views on racism carry infinitely more weight than mine. I can only present my view as a White Southern woman, for what it’s worth. Scout’s innocence and devastation in the face of Tom Robinson’s trial helped me, growing up in an all-White community, to see the injustice too and laid some important foundations for my ethical and moral development. I would love to hear others’ perspectives on this issue in the comments.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini–This book has at least one very dark scene early on but I loved this peek into life in Afghanistan. The American Library Association says it has been banned because “it includes sexual violence and was thought to ‘lead to terrorism’ and ‘promote Islam.'” *Insert eyeroll* Those last two are obviously claims made by ignoramuses who saw nothing more than the author’s last name and possibly the setting and made some mightily inaccurate conclusions. The sexual violence is there, (see my reference to a “very dark scene” above) but, even though it should never occur, it does happen. I’m not saying we should accept it or stop fighting its prevalence, but when it does happen, there are long-lasting consequences that have to be dealt with. This book tackles some of them.
The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett–I was surprised by how much I loved this chunkster that centers around building a cathedral in 12-century England. This was a meaty book with so many well-developed characters that I both loved and hated. There’s plenty to discuss in this novel! The National Coalition Against Censorship says the book was banned because of sexual content. I have to admit to being a bit surprised to see it in a high school English curriculum for that very reason. But it sounds like the teacher warned of the content and offered an alternative, which seems like a reasonable accommodation to me.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller–I rarely liked books that I had to read for English class, but this was an exception (probably because I chose it myself from a list of books the teacher gave us). I liked that it pointed out the absurdity of war and I found certain parts funny and others horrifying. The book was banned, according to Elon University’s website, for “profanity and objectionable language.” I hope I’m not stereotyping here, but isn’t that kind of language a fact of military life? I felt it added to the authenticity of the story, especially given that Heller himself was a WWII veteran. I also find it ironic that the language is objectionable but not the violence.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker–This was another book that surprised me. I honestly only picked it up because of Banned Books Week a few years ago. It is a very tough read at times, with domestic abuse and rape and all kinds of violence against women. But it’s also the story of Celie, the main character, coming into her own and finding a community of strong women who stand beside each other. The American Library Association says the book was banned for “profanity and sexual references.” As I wrote in my review, “Difficult as the subjects are, they are a reality in our world. If a book like this, that is ultimately about the things that truly matter in life, can give even one person the strength to get through their own troubles, it should be kept on the shelves.”
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck is a classic that I had to read in high school and absolutely hated. I thought it was depressing. Possibly, I hadn’t forgiven Steinbeck for Of Mice and Men, which I’d had to read the year before (I still haven’t forgiven him for that one). But my old book club decided to read it and then go see it on stage at the local community theatre several years ago. It resonated with me that time. I saw glimmers of hope in the fact that the Joads just kept going and refused to be beaten and in the way the migrant community took care of each other, even when they had so impossibly little to give. The Grapes of Wrath has been banned a lot, usually for reasons centering around language and sex, according to the American Library Association. As I wrote in my review, “There’s not really much sex. What is there mostly happened in the past and the character is ashamed of his actions. The language is rough, but these are rough times. That’s how most of us tend to talk when we find ourselves in impossible situations.”
That’s my list! Have you read any of these? Did you like them? Which books would you choose? Link up every Tuesday at That Artsy Reader Girl!