Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Let's Talk about Banned Books

Adolf Hitler, Stephanie Meyer and J.K.Rowling are all part of this elite group. What group? I hear you say, and how can I join? Well, to be a part of it, you need to write a seriously controversial or taboo novel first. Yes, Mein KampfTwilight and Harry Potter are just some of the thousands of banned books.

Last year, I became all too acutely aware of the issue of banning books. It is a topic that people don't talk about often, even may not even know about, but it happens everyday. Every minute, to everyone. Even if you don't realise.

This weeks is Banned Books Week, a week long celebration of the freedom of literature and reading. It is held every year on the last week of September, hosted by the ALA (American Library Association). Although it is more of an American thing, this event is for the world to celebrate. Not only celebrate the freedom to read, but also just the idea of freedom.
While also celebrating books, this also raises awareness of recent problems of censorship of books that have been banned throughout the world. An issue that had and probably always be a problem.

So what did I mean by my first paragraph?
Well, last year, when I joined the college newspaper, I decided to write my first article on Banned Books Week. When researching the event for my article, I became aware of how many classic books are banned, what problems people find with them and just how often they are banned throughout the world, not just America, or England, or wherever.
Soon after writing this article, I got my current job at my local bookshop. Sometimes I work in the children's department, mostly cleaning up books that a little 5 year-old decided was a good frisbee (I have witnessed this with my own eyes). Repeatedly, I am asked to recommend books for their 12 year-old advanced reader or their 9 year-old who loves dinosaurs or once a 10 year-old whose grandmother thought he was gay so 'nothing too girly'. Every time I am in shock, in a way, of how some parents or adults are very dismissive of books I show them, perhaps because of the cover. A man brought a YA book back once, I think it was Gone by Michael Grant, because it mentioned on the back 'Lots of violence'.
Okay, so we're hardly banning books left right and centre, but I felt a little broken that people are THAT worried about what their child will see. As Patrick Ness once said, 'Children will find another way' (or something to that effect).

I've read many books that I think my mother would faint if she knew the content. Thankfully, my parents really don't care. They aren't readers, I obviously am. They're just happy that I'm cool with sitting reading a book. And I think that's the best kind of parent. One that lets YOU choose, not themselves choosing.
   I read Before I Die by Jenny Downham when I was in Year 7. So, 11 years-old. An innocent Year 7 kid. For those that don't know, the book is about a 16 year-old girl who is about to die, so writes a list of things to do before that time comes. One of those is...sex.
From what I can remember, the book doesn't hold back much. But because I didn't understand what was happening, I don't think I really enjoyed it because I didn't understand. There are so many re-reads from when I was a kid that I've read and enjoyed so much more! I think if a child reads a book that is far above it's reading age, then, they just don't enjoy it. They don't understand it.
So I came out reading many books like Before I Die, not being a freaky, sex-addict. I don't smoke or do drugs, like you see in many YA books. I drink, but I don't think I've ever got drunk, like many contemporary novels. I think by making banning books for issues such as that makes it even more of an issue that children are more inclined to go after that certain book. After reading some articles about Banned Books Week, I really want to read Catcher in the Rye!


Last year I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower for Banned Books Week (you can see my review here). This deals with sex, drugs, alcohol, suicide - lots of 'dodgy' topics. I was surprised how this was banned, yet many other books I have read that deal with sex even more are not. I've never read it but Just in Case by Meg Rosoff is an example. After a couple of my friends reading it and being so surprised by how that issue is not mentioned on the outside at all. At least, Perks gives you a slight warning.

This year, I read Alice in Wonderland - the movie tie-in edition (purchased unknowingly). The story line is changed slightly but the key issues for the banning of Alice in Wonderland is still there. So why was the lovely whimsical world of Wonderland banned? Because of references to sexual fantasies, the whole Caterpillar smoking thing and, wait for it, 'animals should not be allowed to use human language'. I hope I'm not the only one shaking their head in disbelief right now.

I hope I've made it clear that I am completely against the banning of books. We live in a world of free speech, which includes books. Books are a beautiful, creative vehicle that every child grows up with, be it on a Kindle or with a physical paperback book. Books should be celebrated and allowed by anyone to read. I just think by preventing a child from doing something, even if you feel it is for their own good, is wrong. They may not be able to speak for themselves, vote, drink, marry or be able to work. But they should at least have the freedom to read whatever they wish. Because for children, that is sometimes the only way to express themselves.

Some Books that have been Banned/Challenged:

1. Speak by Laurie Halse Andersen
Synopsis: A girl starts high school after being raped over the summer
Banned: soft pornography, immoral values, glorification of drinking, cursing and pre-marital sex

2. The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank
Synopsis: True diary of a young Jewish girl hiding in Nazi territory during WWII
Banned: too depressing, sexually offensive, thought as pro-Jewish propaganda, pornographic, homosexual 

3. The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald
Synopsis: Nick Carraway moves to New York and adopts an opulent lifestyle
Banned: language and sexual references (interestingly, not banned from Tom's racist comments, the issue of infidelity or the amount of drinking included)

4. Harry Potter series by J.K.Rowling
Synopsis: Series of books charting a young wizard's time at a Wizardry and Witches school, Hogwarts.
Banned: Goes against Bible teachings, too much death and an action of drinking animal's blood

5. The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
Synopsis: Twelve girl and boy teenagers are sent every year to fight to the death
Banned: Anti-ethnic, anti-family, insensitive, offensive language, satanic violence, sexually explicit (erm, where?)


If you want to find out more, have a look here

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