This post has been flagged for controversy. DO NOT READ.
When I was in 4th grade, we read Julie of the Wolves aloud, each of my classmates taking turns. At a certain point in the book, my teacher told us to flip ahead, as we would be skipping a chapter. There was the lazy shuffle of pages, and then we continued. I remember counting how many people had to read before it was my turn. Could I possibly get through the extra chapter and still catch up? I decided yes. And there, alone at my desk, I learned how 13-year-old Julie escaped being raped by her young husband. Was I scandalized? Nauseated? Scared? Yes. But that was also the first moment of my life I empathized with the horrors of domestic violence, and sexual violence against women.
Many people still believe that because of that scene, the book is inappropriate for elementary school students. Personally, I feel it’s that the word “inappropriate” has been thrown around too carelessly in discussions about education. Isn’t it “inappropriate” to declare one’s support for literacy, but then vote to ban a book? It’s easy to hide behind such rhetoric, but what you (and he and she) are really saying is, “I’m uncomfortable with this.”
I think we need to give children a little more credit. They are growing up in the internet age, in a world where many questions can be answered with a simple click. They have access to infinite amounts of information, but we’re still denying them…books?
In honor of Banned Books Week, I’ve asked some fellow OUPers for their thoughts. If we learn anything from this form of censorship, it is, at least, that the power of literature is still very much alive. –Lauren Appelwick, Blog Editor
At the tender age of 13, I discovered The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel. It was the summer before I started high school and the story of a young girl (age 5) orphaned by a major earthquake that claimed her family in prehistoric Europe had me riveted from the first lines. Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children series made waves from the start, although I didn’t know it at the time. It was published in 1980, 10 years before I discovered it, and since then the series has sold millions of copies around the world.
The series ranks as #20 on the most Banned Books list for what I can only imagine is the violent sexual attack against the main character in the first book. The series continues to have an explicitly sexual component to it although not a violent one as the novels continue.
These books rank as some of my favorites because they are so amazingly researched. Auel puts years of study and writing (sometimes as long as a decade) between each book and each story is carefully crafted using new archaeological research. The brilliance of the main character can get a wee bit tedious as she’s invented everything from domesticating animals to the sewing needle to CPR but I suppose how else would you work in the element of discovery this time must have been so full of. Crown is due to publish the sixth (and expected final) installment of the series in March 2011.
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Marketing Coordinator • Academic & Professional
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (1926)
- 1930 Boston MA: banned
- 1933 Germany: all Hemingway’s book burned in Nazi bonfires
- 1953 Ireland: banned
- 1960 San Jose CA: banned from San Jose schools. All Hemingway’s books withdrawn from Riverside school libraries.
I love the drunkenly glamorous society of the Lost Generation that Hemingway invites us into as he exposes the darker side behind the “roar” of the “roaring twenties.” His characters so wonderfully illustrate the moral degradation that results from a generation uncertain of its future, with Lady Brett Ashley, defined by her reaction to men and to alcohol, as the most stunning illustration. She’s the ultimate lost character, the epitome of moral disregard, and I think she perfectly demonstrates the brilliance of Hemingway. His characters’ superficiality captures the morality, or lack thereof, of the time, as well as the psychological motivations of a generation. The Great War has shattered their confidence and destroyed their ability to trust in the future, effectively creating a society of alcoholics, with some considering a nice wine “too good for toast-drinking… You don’t want to mix emotions up with wine like that. You lose the taste.” Amazing.
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Development Editor • Medical Division
I’ve never really understood Banned Books Week. It’s something I’ve really struggled with. Maybe Banned Books Week is all about free speech, and if that’s the case, then great, awesome. Free speech is great and important. But aren’t some instances of “banning” books actually just cases where things have been deemed age-inappropriate? And if that’s the case, isn’t taking up a cause for these banned books just blind contrarianism?
I care sincerely about very few things, and one of them is not whether a 13-year-old can find Carolyn Mackler’s The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things in his or her local library. I’m probably missing some point here. But championing the cause of banned books based solely on their banned-ness seems silly.
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I don’t know if this counts as a banned book, since I’ve never found it on a list of banned books, but Samuel R. Delany’s Hogg was considered unpublishable for a long time. It was written in 1969 and didn’t find an outlet until 1995, due pretty much entirely to its content of pedophilia, rape, and extreme sexual violence. I look back now and wonder why I read it, because I didn’t enjoy it – I don’t think anyone could enjoy it – but I felt like I had to finish it to say that I had. I was and still am a huge fan of Delany’s other work. From his lofty, literary scifi to his lit crit and essays on race and gender, I believe that he’s a giant of contemporary American thought. But Hogg is something else entirely. It’s like a dare to the reader: a challenge to face a group of unlikeable, irredeemable characters and understand that the reason they make us so uncomfortable is because they’re real. Typical portrayals of rebels tend to lean toward James Dean or Han Solo in their roguish likeability, but Hogg reminds us that to rebel against a corrupt society might not always be the job of the good guys, and that sometimes walking away from the norm can create monsters. Was it banned? Maybe not. Should you read it? I honestly can’t say. Did it affect me? Yes, for better or for worse.
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Editorial Assistant • Reference Art
My favorite challenged book of all time is Struwwelpeter (“Shockheaded Peter”) by Hans Hoffmann. A German children’s book of cautionary tales written in 1845, Struwwelpeter describes the shocking, exaggerated consequences that befall young children who misbehave. I found my mom’s tattered childhood copy while visiting my grandmother’s house when I was 7 years old and was completely enthralled by Hoffmann’s gruesome and hilariously topsy-turvy world. Most memorable is the story of Little Suck-a-thumb, whose predilection for thumb sucking results in a visit by the great tall tailor who chops off his thumbs with a giant pair of scissors. Graphic images, which no doubt have been terrifying children for decades, illustrate the tales.
Although it is often considered among the most influential children’s book ever written, the book remains extremely controversial and is a victim of silent censorship – it is nearly impossible to find a copy of this book in any public library or book store.
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Acquisitions Editor • Law Division
I haven’t read it in at least twenty years, but I loved Catcher in the Rye for reasons I suspect will not be unusual, namely Holden’s impatience with adult superficiality and all things “phony,” his use of a voice and vocabulary that while perhaps profane and clearly tied to the culture in which he lived still feels amazingly unconstrained and original, and the general sense of angst and suspicion as he contemplates the changing city and (like all of us) must reconcile his distaste for the world with a need to find a place within it.
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Marketing Associate • Trade Reference & Young Adult
I feel as though someone has thrown a Confundus Charm at me when I think about the banning of Harry Potter. Those-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named who decided that Harry isn’t a fit role model for children joined the Death Eaters, as far as I’m concerned. They deprived kids of that thrilling anticipation of receiving a letter via owl with a Hogwarts return address on their twelfth birthday (all those feelings of being too awkward for your own skin were accurate because you’re not a muggle at all, but a wizard/witch!), and then of that subsequent melancholia when it doesn’t come.
The lesson in Harry Potter isn’t that witchcraft wins the day. It’s not even about those real life situations you can actually take from the series, like death and uncomprehending violence. The lesson has always been about love, and not that romantic teenaged star-crossed love that saturates the Young Adult shelf these days. It’s the kind of love that reminds you no matter how alone you may feel you’ll always have someone who loves you. Isn’t that a lesson all children should learn about and be reminded of? I think so, and it’s incredibly Voldemort-like to want to take that away.