Banned Books Week was last week, September 21 through September 27, and I love that we have a whole week set aside to celebrate the freedom to read. Freadom, if you will. (I stole that from someone else, so don’t hold me accountable to the cheesiness.)
Reading takes you on adventures. Reading teaches you about good and evil, about who you are, about how people think. You cheer for the good guys, boo the bad guys, or you’re confused because you suddenly realize when you’re reading Lord of the Flies in your senior lit class that good and evil are messy, blurry things, and the world is not clear cut. When you read “The Awakening,” you’re puzzled and confused and maybe annoyed because, What the heck, lady?, but when you look back on it again when you’re 24, you suddenly understand a bit more about what Kate Chopin was talking about, and you applaud the strength it must have taken to hurl those words into a world where they would assuredly be rejected and scorned.
We have to keep reading them.
When we ban books and deem them “unreadable,” we ban ideals. We ban education. We ban questions. We ban learning from our mistakes. We ban open-mindedness. We ban words, and when we ban words, we ban the power and ability to grow and change and better ourselves.
It’s interesting that all this hubbub in Jefferson County in Colorado has reached its head during this week, too, because as it turns out, censorship can affect what we learn in the classroom beyond the literature we read. In case you haven’t heard, a woman in JeffCo wants to alter the AP history curriculum to put the United States in a “more positive” light—which is the politically correct manner of stating that she wants to lie to make America look better than we really are. Thankfully, students and teaching are rising up against that, calling for honesty in the classroom. I am sad that this idea to manipulate curriculum came from my home state, but I am so proud to see the reactions against it are also from my fellow Coloradoans. Read more about the JeffCo issue here. (Check out Twitter, too, because there are some funny hashtag conversations going down. #jeffcoschoolboardhistory)
But I digress.
When I was in about 4th or 5th grade, I was avidly reading the Harry Potter series—I mean, I could hardly put it down. I have a picture of me with some of my extended family and I wouldn’t even put the book down to take the picture. I was cradling it in my arms. My mom decided to read it, too, to see what it was all about because Focus on the Family was implying it would turn my generation into a bunch of satan-worshipping drones.
My mom actually found a lot of good in the books. Good triumphing over evil. A down-to-earth, hesitant “chosen one” becomes a hero through sacrifice, friendship, trust, and love. Friends look out for friends. Family sacrifices for each other. Evil fails because it lacks love. Good succeeds because they have love.
I am thankful that I grew up in a household that gave me the freedom to read books that were challenging, mature, and good. They are part of who I am. I’m not afraid of ideas that challenge or contradict me anymore. How many wonderful lines would have not been highlighted in chapter books. How many pages would have no annotations. How many journal entries about quotes and themes and characters would never have been written if I hadn’t grown up in a home where books were never banned and were always embraced.
Here are some of my favorite banned/challenged books, in case you’re looking for some good books to read!
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
“I was within and without. Simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding
“Maybe there is a beast … Maybe it’s only us.”
- The Awakening by Kate Chopin
”The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth.”
- Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
“It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness. Nothing more.”
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
”So, I guess we are who we are for alot of reasons. And maybe we’ll never know most of them. But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.”
- The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
“It seemed funny that the sunset she saw from her patio and the one I saw from the back steps was the same one. Maybe the two worlds we lived in weren’t so different. We saw the same sunset.”
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
“I don’t understand it any more than you do, but one thing I’ve learned is that you don’t have to understand things for them to be.”
- The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
“I’m more than just a piece in their Games.”
- The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien
“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”
- The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
“Murderers are not monsters, they’re men. And that’s the most frightening thing about them.”
- Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
“Let the wild rumpus start!”
- Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
“They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force—nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others.”
- The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
“I told him I believed in hell, and that certain people, like me, had to live in hell before they died, to make up for missing out on it after death, since they didn’t believe in life after death, and what each person believed happened to him when he died.”
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
“She comprehended the perversity of life, that in the struggle lies the joy.”
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
What are some of your favorite banned or challenged books?