fREADom: A Brief Reflection on Banned Books

To ban a book is to defeat one of the most unique and rewarding aspects of literature: the idea that there doesn’t have to be just one answer, that different perspectives and experiences can shape and layer onto the text itself. By banning a book (or attempting to), someone is essentially saying “My interpretation, my opinion, is the only correct one. Ever.” Not only is it short-sighted, it’s just plain arrogant!

It’s also, in my opinion, an unfailingly glorified pessimism. For example, summarizing The Lion King by saying it’s about a power-hungry lion who murders his brother and exiles his nephew may be technically true, but what about those sequences full of meerkats and warthogs singing “Hakuna Matata” with their carnivorous friend? Either way is an incomplete picture, an intentionally ignored complexity.

Plus, some of the reasons for objection are absolutely hilarious:

Slyvester and the Magic Pebble: Banned. In 1977, the Illinois Police Association urged librarians to remove the book, which portrays its characters as animals, and presents the police as pigs. The American Library Association reported similar complaints in 11 other states.

…I don’t know whether to be sad for humanity or laugh hysterically.

In any case, take a look through some of the Notable Quotables from frequently banned books, or perhaps pick a banned book to read on your own, in celebration of our freedom of expression! The sheer amount of wit and wisdom in even this brief sampling speaks volumes in defense of these brillant works. Just remember, in art as in life, the transcendance and wonder coexist alongside the offence of reality.  It’s perfectly acceptable to decide what your personal limits are and stand by them, but no one should be barred from experiencing these wonderful authors and ultimately deciding for themselves.

“Many that life deserve death. and some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be so quick to deal out death in judgment.” ~J.R.R Tolkein, The Fellowship of the Ring

“Old pictures look very rugged and young, and the people in the photographs always look happier than you are…I just hope that I remember to tell my kids that they are as happy as I look in my old photographs. and I hope that they believe me.” ~Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

“and Lot’s wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that because it was so human. So she turned into a pillar of salt. So it goes. I’ve finished my war book now. The next one I write is going to be fun. This one is a failure, and had to be, since it was written by a pillar of salt.” ~Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

“Possibly it had occured to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy, it had seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.” ~F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

“Everytime I see that glass, I think of you trying to clean your conscience with a toothbrush.” ~Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?~J.K Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

“‘I have left behind illusion,’ I said to myself. ‘Henceforth, I live in a world of three dimensions- with the aid of my five senses.’ I have since learned that there is no such world; but then as the car turned out of sight of the sight of the house, I thought it took no finding, but lay all about me at the end of the avenue.” ~Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

For a list of most famously and frequently banned books: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/banned/frequentlychallenged/challengedclassics/reasonsbanned

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