Read any banned books lately?
Have you ever been prevented from reading a particular book? What would your reaction be to such a suggestion? Perhaps the book would seem more appealing.
The week of September 29 – October 6 is the twenty-sixth anniversary of Banned Books Week, the American Library Association’s (ALA) celebration of the freedom to read, based on the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution.
American libraries, including Falvey Memorial Library, promote the free flow of ideas and information. Here are some examples of books that were at one time banned but can now be read and taken out of most libraries.
Mein Kampf was published in Germany in 1925 and in the United States in 1933. Much of the world saw the book as a plan to attain world dominance at the expense of minorities, in particular, the Jews. In the mid-30s, Winston Churchill proclaimed Hitler a danger to world peace. Nobody listened to Churchill. Many wanted Mein Kampf banned because of how it portrayed the Jews. Perhaps if more people had read the book, Hitler might have been stopped before World War II began.
Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published in 1859. Darwin set forth the theory of evolution through natural selection, contending that everyone is descended from a common ancestor, a theory that was and still is controversial. Some people feel that Darwin’s ideas are counter to their religious beliefs. This book has prompted discussion somewhere in the world ever since it was published. One would hope for an open society where people can read the book and talk about it intelligently.
The Popol Vuh, an ancient Guatemalan religious text (circa 1000-1500), tells the creation story in Mayan hieroglyphics by Quiché Maya nobles. In 1523, the Spanish conquistadores subdued the Mayan people and destroyed not only the Popol Vuh but much of the Mayan culture. Few copies of the Popol Vuh survived. However, it was eventually translated into other languages and, in 1985, was published in English. Destroying a work, especially a sacred text, is far worse than suppressing it.
Many books that crop up repeatedly on censored book lists are classic titles read in secondary schools. Two well known examples are The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, published in 1884, and The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, published in 1951. Because these novels use obscene and racist language, some people hope to protect students from such language and controversial ideas by limiting access to these titles. Adolescents pick up language and different ideas from life even if they do not read the books. Would it not be better to have students read these books and discuss them in class under a teacher’s guidance?
If you have read a book which was banned I invite you to send a short paragraph that may appear in Compass, the online library newsletter. Send your remarks to me by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information you may want to consult 120 Banned Books: Censorship Histories of World Literature by Nicholas J. Karolides, Margaret Bald and Dawn B. Sova (New York; Facts on File, 2005 / call number: Z 658 U5 K35 2005). The books mentioned in this article are also available at Falvey.
Every day should be a freedom to-read-whatever-you-want day. Happy reading!
Contributed by Bill Greene