Ramblings on banned books

I’ve got to thank/blame Book Riot for this post.

Over the past fortnight, I have been catching up with a HUGE backlog of podcasts I have been meaning to listen to for months. I listen to them in my car on my way home from work, which takes about 30 minutes. So one podcast can take a couple of evenings to finish. The latest in these catch-ups is from Book Riot. It is from last year, and it briefly mentions parents in Florida requesting books to be pulled from their children’s school because of the promotion of a religion not Christian.

And I realised that there are a fair few Book Riot podcasts that at least once, discuss the fact that parents have requested a book to be banned.

Now, I’m a Brit. I live in the UK, and I suppose I have a sheltered view on these things – but really? Parents getting books banned in schools? I have never ever known that to happen here, not like that anyway.

I would not even expect it.

You don’t want your child to be exposed to a particular book? Request the child to be removed from that particular class, into one where there is a book you are happy for them to read/be exposed to. Simple. Don’t go badgering the already pressured/stressed/under-appreciated/authority-robbed teachers!

Now, the whole issue of books being banned is one I am fascinated by. So many times it has been said that words are powerful, and that books are powerful. It’s true.

I had a very brief and totally not cross referenced or verified look at general book banning across the world, although all of the books I will talk about here are English language. With the exception of one or two, almost all at some point have probably been banned in the USA, UK & Ireland and Australasia in some form or another. Here is a link to Airship with an interesting article on books that remain banned or restricted.

I will begin with The Bible. I am a committed Christian, so it is an obvious one for me. It offends basically everyone: Jesus’ teachings, life, death and resurrection is too radical for people to accept, believe – whatever you want to call it. Illegal in many nations, and sometimes certain translations have been banned!

It got me thinking about Shakespeare & his plays. My breadth of knowledge is limited to Romeo & Juliet, Midsummer Night’s Dream, snippets of Much Ado About Nothing and Taming Of The Shrew. Despite this I know of the following: There is a sex scene, several rather nasty deaths and a bit of swearing in Romeo & Juliet; magic potions, lotions, fairies, a man-donkey and a variety of wrong-partner shenanigans, and a little bit of sweariness; and Hamlet has a power-mad uncle who kills his own brother to take kingship, and his sister-in-law as wife. There’s fighting, treachery and is really quite a dark tale. Yet these are accepted as classics. Shakespeare was a master wordsmith (the English Language wouldn’t exist in the same way without him making stuff up). He has rarely been banned (although these links show that he has in the past!)

I don’t like swearing and foul language. I believe it shows a lack of imagination, occasionally a lack of education and possibly a lack of reading/listening. Instead of banning books because of foul language, use it as a tool to discuss why is it the this language is used. Ask yourself if the book is a reflection on the current social and economic  culture of our times or is the social and economic culture a reflection of what we read? Teach your children that swearing isn’t generally acceptable especially at home (if that’s what you object to), demonstrate to them ways of expression that does not involve swearing.

Use books as tools, as reference points, as knowledge and power.


So, ramblings stopped.

Here are a few of my banned-book favourites (or favourite reason for banning), not necessarily in order…

  1. Fahrenheit 451: A book about book-banning (“Fahrenheit 451, the temperature at which books burn”) was banned for questionable language, and issues surrounding censorship, religion & repression. Having read the book myself, I can’t say that the language was particularly questionable – and talk about ironic! Link: Stylist & banned books week website
  2. Black Beauty: A rather bittersweet tale of cruelty and kindness, but it was banned in Apartheid South Africa because of it’s title. ‘nough said. Stylist again
  3. The Diary of Anne Frank: well, this has been banned in a few places for very different reasons including it being “depressing” and for it portraying Jews positively. Links: TelegraphStylist plus B&N
  4. Animal Farm: As well as being banned for years in many Soviet-controlled countries for the obvious political undertones of the novella, it has also been banned in other countries because it has talking pigs. Yes, talking pigs. (You can get some info about this off good ol’ Wiki, but it is a bit sketchy)

Here’s one more, just because it’s a bit daft for being “banned” and amused me whilst looking all this up: Where’s Waldo , some keen eyed book ban-ner found that on one page, there was some flesh showing from the boob-age area of one of the little illustrated people (I’m guessing they sorted this out for the UK release!)

Finally one that just didn’t bother me: John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath has been banned for all sorts of reasons. The reason I’m not bothered? I read “Of Mice and Men” in school for my GCSE’s I hated every millimetre of that book, I could not find anything so boring as that book. So much so I have refused to read anything by Mr Steinbeck since. It is interesting though why it was banned.

So there are my ramblings for the time being. I’ve not done this to offend people, and if I have, it has not been out of malice. Writers throughout centuries have been there to make people think, to look internally at themselves and to question their surroundings & possibly communities and collective beliefs (think:Charles Dickens).

I would love to know if anyone out there knows of other reasons that books have been banned for – the more obscure/obtuse/downright odd the better – and where. Has it simply been the author, the ideas contained, the simple fact that there is a talking animal in it? Let me know. I will attempt to add another related post with some of my faves!