Live and Let Read: My Thoughts on Banned and Censored Books

This week is Banned Books Week, so I’m taking this opportunity to talk about something that I have a strong opinion about: banning and censoring books.

“We must always be careful of books and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.” (Cassandra Clare)

Let me start with a little backstory here. The banning of books is nothing new. In fact, it’s believed that the first widely banned book in the U.S. was Uncle Tom’s Cabin, banned for having a “pro-abolitionist agenda” (via lithub). While there are several varied reasons for banning or censoring books, sexual issues, age appropriateness, and the inclusion of witchcraft are pretty common. At one point, the poetry collection Howl (which is brilliant, by the way) was actually put on trial. The defendants had to prove that it had “literary merit.”

You’d think that, in this day and age, book banning or censoring is over and done with. Nope. The face of book banning may have changed, but there are always books being pulled from shelves or school libraries for all kinds of reasons.

Now, where do I stand on book banning and censorship? I am unequivocally against it. If you don’t agree with an idea a book is presenting, you absolutely have the right to choose not to read it. But denying others the right to make that decision for themselves is a slippery slope. Who should get to decide what content is appropriate for everyone?

The wonderful and-yes, sometimes scary- thing about books is how incredibly powerful they can be. They can comfort, educate, and challenge us. Books have the magical ability to both show us how vast this world is, while at the same time reminding us, that maybe we’re not so different or alone after all.

The list of banned and challenged books (a challenged book being one that a group has attempted to have access of removed or restricted) is huge. It includes ‘classics’ such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Catch 22. Children’s books as ubiquitous as Where’s Waldo and A Light in the Attic have also made the list. Unsurprisingly, Harry Potter is one of the most commonly challenged book series to date. Of course, don’t forget to add the Bible to the list: often challenged for violent content.

In fact, speaking of Harry Potter, I was told at one point that I needed to meet with someone to discuss my “unhealthy obsession with witchcraft” simply for reading those books. I was twenty eight years old at the time. See what I’m talking about when I say that book banning or censoring could become a dangerous slope?

I proudly say that I read banned and challenged books. My kids read them (I was so excited when they were introduced to Where the Wild Things Are). In fact, if you’re a reader, chances are you’ve enjoyed a book that’s been challenged or banned- whether you were aware of it or not.

There are many experiences that I haven’t had, shoes that I haven’t walked in, or situations that I haven’t dealt with…but books can help me understand and empathize with those who have. They teach us compassion and broaden our horizons. So, are they dangerous? I should hope so. After all, growth and change generally are.

What about you, Reader? Do you think books should be banned or censored? What “questionable” books have you read and loved? What books have changed you or caused you to see things differently?

Now, go live dangerously. READ.

*For more information about commonly challenged books over the years, check out http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10).


(credit: Grand Snider)

12 thoughts on “Live and Let Read: My Thoughts on Banned and Censored Books

  1. More often than not, books are challenged or banned because adults think the material is “too much” for kids to read, and I guess having actual discussions with kids about a book’s contents is too difficult when just banning them would mean that parents don’t have to parent. (Can’t tell I have strong feelings about book censorship, can you?) I’ve always figured that yeah, there are matters of good taste and legality and all that to consider when it comes to whether some books should be published or read or what have you, but by and large, that’s not why a lot of books get challenged. It’s usually because somebody finds some of the content objectionable and doesn’t want to actually discuss with readers why the contents might be problematic.

    Same thing with “updated rereleases” of old classics, when people wanted to republish some of Mark Twain’s books but remove the racist material. No. Don’t do that. But DO have a frank discussion with people reading it about why some things are wrong by today’s standards, why they were considered more acceptable in the past, and what led to both of those public opinions. If a Christian parent thinks there’s problematic stuff in the Harry Potter books, then said parent needs to sit down and talk with their kid about how okay, those books may be fun and all, but there’s stuff in there that isn’t real and doesn’t fit with how we view the world. (For instance. Myself, I really enjoyed the HP books.)

    Sorry to take up so much space ranting. XD

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love rants! I love getting opinions.
      I think sometimes people are so busy trying to protect their kids from the big scary things of the world that they don’t allow them to experience anything that could be considered controversial. My youngest is still learning to read but we started teaching my 11 yr old how to “self-censor” at a very young age. I’ve never once told him he couldn’t read a. book. On occasion I’ll say something like, “This book might bother you because …” But he’s the one who decides if he wants ti go ahead and read it anyway. He knows to talk with us if he has any questions. Every now and again he’ll start a book and say, “This one has a lot of violence so maybe I should try again when I’m older.” Self-censorship. It teaches him to think for himself. It showd that we trust him. As he gets older and becomes more self-sufficient, hopefully he’ll have a base of self-confidence and self-awareness as well as knowing there is NOTHING he can’t talk about us (his parents) with.

      Like

  2. I absolutely love this post!! I couldn’t agree with you more! It’s fine to decide what you personally want to read, but stopping others from reading something is not ok. And no one has the right to decide something is too “controversial” to read (and I’m always in shock whenever I see lists of banned books- cos I can never understand why any of them are on there!)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This was a terrific post. I am absolutely, totally against banning books. Any book. We are supposed to be intelligent, adult people. We should be allowed to decide what we want to read and leave the rest behind. Also, if we are talking about children, too much power has been taken away from parents already. The parents should be the decision-makers of their own children. I do realize that some parents in the throes of their own demons, are not fit to make important decisions. I think these cases are few and far between among book readers.

    I have read all of the Harry Potter series and loved them. I see no harm in losing yourself and going to a fanciful world such as Hogwart’s. I have also read Lolita, Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Tropic of Cancer. I heard that John Grisham’s first boog “A Time To Kill” was being considered to be banned. “To Kill a Mockingbird”?? One of the greatest works of fiction that have ever been written in my opinion.

    Great post. Now, I will get off my rant. I think I’ll go read.

    Liked by 1 person

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