B is for Banned Books

Author: Anne

Date Published: May 1st 2017, 6:33pm


Here is a republished blog from two years ago about banned books. This is still an issue in many parts of the world

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From the creation of the printed word people have seen it as dangerous and consequently books have been banned from publication and from circulation. It’s something that is so prevalent even in today’s society that there is a Banned Books week each year, organised from America.

I have to say that I thought originally when planning this blog that banned books would affect me only in a wider sense, as a moral issue, rather than impacting on me personally – I’m not a great reader of cutting edge books. I then remembered that when I was a child there was a huge outcry because public libraries where I lived had made a decision not to stock children’s books by Enid Blyton. The argument for this was that the books were out of date, sexist, racist in places and not well written. I cannot but agree with this assessment but I loved these books and grew up with them as a staple part of my reading diet and one of the reasons that I continued to read. I felt as a child that the decision to ban them was unfair because it didn’t take into account what the users of the service wanted – I am not sure that I have changed my position over the years.

A second experience came when I had a child still at infant school. He brought home a book from the school library which had some golliwog characters. I mentioned it to a teacher as I was surprised that it had been stocked given the era of political correctness and was told that it had obviously been overlooked and would be removed immediately. Please note that I hadn’t asked for it to be taken out of stock. I know that people have lots of views about golliwog characters in children’s books – I am of the view that if their existence offends an ethnic group in our country because of the way in which the word or the character has been used in the past then they should be removed – I don’t want my right to read to overpower the feelings of a group of fellow citizens.

These two examples encapsulate, to a large extent, the arguments put forward for banning books – firstly, that the content is inferior/dangerous, and secondly that the book offends. My first reaction would be to say that books should not be banned at all but that access to some should be limited for children until they are old enough to deal with the issues raised and that there should be well publicised warnings about content that may cause problems to adults – I can see immediately that this probably doesn’t cover all eventualities and I am somewhat relieved that I am unlikely ever to be put in a position of having to make a decision of this sort.

Book banning falls unto two main types – those that are banned from publication by the state and those that are banned from an institution or similar. Here are a few examples of both. I will leave you to form a judgement about whether these should have been banned – I am inclined to think not.

BOOKS BANNED BY STATES

“The Spycatcher” by Peter Wright. This was banned in Britain in the 1980s because it allegedly revealed state secrets about the intelligence agencies. I remember well the uproar at the time

“Wild Swans” by Jung Chang. Banned in China because of the subject matter and remains so today. (I understand that the author’s latest book about the Empress Cixi, which I am currently reading and enjoying, has also been banned in China).

“Lady Chatterley’s Lover” by DH Lawrence. Banned in Britain because of its subject matter and the subject of a famous trial

“All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque. Banned in Nazi Germany because of its representation of the futility of war

“The Diary of Anne Frank”. Banned in Lebanon because of its positive depiction of Jews

“The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown. Banned in Lebanon by the request of the Roman Catholic church as it considers that it insults the Holy Family

“The Satanic Verses” by Salman Rushdie. Banned in much of the Muslim world and the subject of death threats against the author and his publishers

I am sad to say that these are only a few of the books I could have mentioned.

BOOKS BANNED BY INSTITUTIONS

The institutions here tend to be schools and libraries almost exclusively in the USA where the system allows greater scope for challenges to the books taught or stocked than in the UK.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee – because of offensive language and portrayal of racism. Also the use of derogatory words to describe black people.

The Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer – sexually explicit (in the view of the complainants)

The Harry Potter Books by JK Rowling – the portrayal of magic as real and desirable (this is often by very conservative religious groups)

“The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison – unsuitable issues for young people (this reason has also been given for “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker and “Catcher in the Rye” by JD Salinger)

“Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck – use of profanity

These books have been subject to many challenges – if you search the Internet you can find considerably more.


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