By Molly Freeman
Additional contributors: Cody Fenwick, Dane Feldman, Zach Schepis, and Samantha Spoto
Photo courtesy of Carissa Rogers.
Many students who have matriculated through the American school system were assigned to read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. The classic novel depicts a futuristic dystopian world in which books are banned from society and “firemen” are employed to destroy remaining ones they find.
Although Bradbury’s futuristic society is fictional, numerous books have been banned or challenged in libraries and schools around the world. In response, the American Library Association sponsors the annual Banned Books Week–this year it will occur at the end of September.
BTR is getting a jump on Banned Books Week by discussing our favorite books that have been challenged or banned either in the United States or abroad.
Molly’s First Pick
The graphic memoir, Persepolis, follows Marjane Satrapi’s childhood growing up during the Iranian Revolution and her subsequent adolescence in France. Originally published in French, the novel was translated to English and adapted into a film.
The book was banned in 2013 from Chicago-area schools and was one of the ALA’s top 10 most frequently challenged books of 2014. Reasons for challenging Persepolis include gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint, and because it is “politically, racially, and socially offensive.”
I was assigned to read the first part of the memoir as a summer reading assignment for my freshman year at Ithaca College. In a separate class, I read the second part, watched the Persepolis film, and read Satrapi’s other graphic novel, Embroideries. While Persepolis is certainly violent and politically driven, it’s an important novel for American students to read especially because it offers a different viewpoint than what they usually see.
Photo courtesy of Denise Carrasco.
Molly’s Second Pick
Another novel on the ALA’s most frequently challenged books of 2014 is Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Due to the sexual content, homosexual aspects, and depictions of teenagers drinking, smoking, and doing drugs, this book has been challenged repeatedly since 2003.
Although I wasn’t a huge fan of The Perks of Being a Wallflower the way that many of my high school classmates were, it’s certainly an important–and realistic–coming of age story.
Where the Wild Things Are is a favorite book of countless children and adults. It has also been frequently challenged and banned. Even before its publication, author Maurice Sendak clashed with editors over the storyline. Eventually he prevailed, and the book won multiple awards and honors.
Why would anyone object to such a beloved children’s story? Some contend that the main character’s misbehavior sets a bad example for children, while others worry about the dark supernatural imagery. Though I know of no children who were tempted to tantrum or dabble in the occult as a result of Sendak’s classic, I suppose I can’t rule out the possibility.
But I think it’s undoubtedly a shame if kids miss out on such an imaginative and striking tale because of overly trepidatious censors.
Photo courtesy of Cliff.
During my senior year in high school, I was required to read Toni Morrison’s Beloved. I can still remember almost every book I had to read and I recall disliking a fair number of them. More than anything, though, Beloved stands out to me. To be frank, I hated it. But in hindsight, I realize that I mostly hated the way it was taught. My teacher focused more on the symbolism and less on the actual message of the story. Nevertheless, the book was also depressingly eye-opening.
Beloved is banned in some places and challenged in others largely because of its violence and sexual topics, but the importance of the message ought to trump all else. Because the story does not sugar coat the realities of American slavery, it is an effective way of teaching youth the impact and severity of that time period.
Would I read it again? Probably not. Should I? Yes.
Following the publication of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl in the mid ‘50s, customs officials seized hundreds of copies of the poem, considering it illicit reading.
An obscenity trial soon followed. Nine literary experts testified on behalf of the poem and its “social importance.” At the end of the day, Ginsberg’s magnum opus persevered and hit the press, allowing for endless generations of future readers to marvel at its daring and jubilant defiance.
What is the social importance of Howl? There are quite a few.
Living in a time where homosexuality is becoming widely accepted, it’s easy to forget that creative works were eschewed for the mere mention of it. When Ginsberg wrote lines such as “who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy” he didn’t just tip-toe over the line–he ran naked and howling across it, waving his freak flag high for every ashamed man and woman to embrace their socially repressed individualism.
At its very essence, Howl is one of the most sincere, courageous, and bold acts of honesty I’ve seen. Readers don’t need to know that Ginsberg wrote it for the lost souls of his friends, to address the daunting schizophrenia of his mother, his own homosexuality, or that it was a dedication to Carl Solomon–a man he befriended in a psych ward.
Ginsberg will continue to inspire countless artists and individuals alike to unleash their own howls. As the writer once so aptly wrote, “follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.”
Photo courtesy of Pawel Maryanov.
While most people I know dreaded their high school literature classes, I actually enjoyed most of the assigned readings.
To know that these books, particularly J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, have been banned or challenged because of their content leaves me writhing in anger. Readers can learn valuable lessons from this novel; teens can find part of themselves in fictional characters like Holden Caulfield.
A few arguments in favor of banning The Catcher in the Rye claim that the teenage protagonist maintains a negative and foul attitude. Such naysayers only look at the surface of who Holden is and what he stands for. He is a character with strong values and fears similar to numerous adolescents.
People in protest of Holden’s cynical and indecisive temper tend to forget that he is riddled with angst and loneliness. Who at that age hasn’t felt like Holden?
Most importantly, Holden is grieving the loss of his brother, which gravely influenced the teenager and led to a waning mental stability. Holden fears adulthood, of the uncertainty the future holds, and of sacrificing the ease of youthfulness as he ages. The Catcher in the Rye touches on Holden’s moral and spiritual journey as he tries to come to terms with the fleeting nature of life.
Holden still tries to grow. He does not completely give up hope in humanity–despite the fact that so many people give up hope on him.