It’s here, it’s finally here! From September 25 to October 1, the literature world is celebrating Banned Books Week. The theme this year is something close to my heart as a female of color: it’s about celebrating diversity and the books that contain them.
I mean, it should be common sense, right? Of course we should celebrate diversity, why are books with topics on diversity even banned in the first place? That sounds pretty stupid, don’t you think?
Well, my curious, upstanding reader, let me tell you a harsh truth about the world: people are stupid.
Okay, okay, I’m kidding. Maybe. Partly. But I digress. To tell you the truth, dear reader, I myself have been surprised at this week’s theme. I mean, who in the world would ban diverse books? But according to ALA, a whooping 52% of the books challenged/banned over the last 10 years are from titles that have diverse content, which means books by and/or about people of color, LGBT, and the disabled.
So let’s go read about…
Why Diverse Books are Getting Banned (Presented In A Helpful List Format!)
- Offensive language
- Sexual content
- Not age-appropriate
Wait, what? But a lot of books are getting challenged or banned because of those reasons.
Yes, but again, a 52% of them are by authors or about characters that fall on the marginalized spectrum (people of color, LGBT, disabled, religious minority). So is it just coincidence, or is there some unspoken, underlying factor? Are the reasons stated above just a cover to something more deeply ingrained into our systems?
I remember back in college when I was studying mass media and communications, this concept was bashed into our brains quite often: There is a subliminal message in everything, and most of the time people will grow up with this subliminal message influencing their decisions.
Perhaps those who have complained or challenged diverse books don’t outwardly challenge them because they’re diverse, although I’m sure there are some people that do straight-out say, “Ew gross this book is like, literally gay, let’s ban this gross thing.”
But what’s even more dangerous is when people complain about something such as sex in one book, when the other book with as much sex isn’t challenged just because of, say, the gender of the two protagonists. Because people think they’re complaining about sex, when what they’re really complaining about is “sex between two females.”
And this happens on a subconscious level.
Because of the subliminal message that society ingrains in a person’s mind, that it doesn’t even occur for them to ask themselves, “perhaps that by complaining about the many sex scenes between two people of the same sex, I am just being an unintentionally homophobic jerk?”
ALA does believe that diversity is an unspoken factor in challenges or bans. Regardless, whether we are intentionally or subconsciously banning diverse books, that 52% is admittedly quite a large percentage.
In fact, in ALA’s top ten frequently challenged books list for 2015, seven of them can be considered as having diverse content.
- LGBT: Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, I Am Jazz, Two Boys Kissing
- Religion: Habibi (Islam), Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan (Islam), The Bible (Judeo-Christian)
- Autism: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Okay, but so what?
The main point in all kinds of censorships is the intent to silence. And as Ellen Hopkins put it, the silencing of these books comes from fear, because people are afraid of things that they can’t understand.
Books, however, have always been a way for people to express something about ourselves, society, and humanity. I can even say that books are a tool for people to understand other people through the stories within their pages. So when we silence these words from diverse books? We’re silencing the potential for humanity to grow and evolve into one that’s more understanding and accepting. And the elimination of compassion in humanity is something that we must not tolerate.
If you want to express your support for Banned Books Week, you can go to their official site at bannedbooksweek.org and grab yourself a Twibbon! You can also purchase promotional products from the ALA store, or support through other means.
And in the spirit of Banned Books Week and because I’m feeling super rebellious today, here’s a list of banned books I’ve personally read, complete with a short review!
Banned Books I’ve Read and Recommend
Author: George Orwell
Summary: This is what the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror would be like if it were set in the future but with less coiffures, guillotines, and hard-to-pronounce names like Lafayette (La-Fa-YET), Desmoulins (De-moo-LAN), and Louis-Antoine de St. Just (Loo-WEE Ant-WON de San-JOOST).
Short Review: I love this book. Like, really love it. I’m a sucker for anything French Revolution and picking this up and reading it was like finding my own piece of heaven… except, you know, it’s actually about a really sucky world with a totalitarian regime and where everyone can’t trust anyone else. If you’re into dystopian books and you haven’t read this yet, you better go to the nearest bookstore/online shop and BUY IT NOW because you are missing an important part of your life.
Why was this banned?: For pro-communism speech, sexual content, and deviant ideas
My rating: (5 / 5)
Author: Haruki Murakami
Summary: A dude and dudette’s best friend dies and they deal with it sometimes not very well. There’s a lot of angst and a lot of Beatles references and INCREDIBLY AMAZING PROSE. Also everything is sad.
Short Review: If I could steal someone’s style of writing I would steal Haruki Murakami’s. His prose is one of the best I’ve read. And this book, although different from the surrealism of his other novels such as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, is still a recommended read. It’s a story of love, loss, and sexuality told in a beautiful interweaving of words.
Why was this banned?: Drugs, all of that sexy sex times, homosexuality
My rating: (4 / 5)
Lord of the Flies
Author: William Golding
Summary: This is the book that some people compare to The Hunger Games and Battle Royale, except that’s it’s less about Roman gladiators and more of stranded children coming together to form a society. Spoilers: it does not end well.
Short Review: This is a brutal book and also my favorite character gets killed, which made me sad even if I saw it coming a mile away. It’s supposed to be a commentary on society, ranging from topics such as ableism, misogyny, and racism. But I mostly remember boys going ballistic and hunting down a pig, and then sticking its severed head on a pike. There is a lot of symbolism, but you probably went through all that during required reading in class so I won’t bore you with it.
Why was this banned?: Profanity, excessive violence
My rating: (5 / 5)
The Perks of Being A Wallflower
Author: Stephen Chbosky
Summary: Wallflower dude and gay best friend meet quirky girl and get into shenanigans. In the process, they learn about life and love and listen to sweet alternative music. Also the source of the meme “And in that moment, I swear, we were [insert adjective here].”
Short Review: I remember reading this before the movie came out and liking it. It must be because I’m a sucker for coming-of-age books and there were a fair amount of lines from this book that struck me right in the feels. (and yes, “And in that moment, I swear, we were infinite.” was one of those lines.) It touches on topics of depression, sexuality, and abuse. My only complaint is that the gay dude gets the stereotypical sad end to his relationship, which I’m so over with. Give me more happy gay couple stories, people!
Why was this banned?: Apparently because of a chapter on rape. Stephen Chbosky has a great response to the rape scene and the ban in general.
My rating: (4 / 5)
The Lord of the Rings
Author: JRR Tolkien
Summary: Short dude with hairy feet gets a cursed ring from uncle THANKS A LOT UNCLE. Thus, a wizard that’s sometimes mistaken for Dumbledore in those picture-quotes takes him on a journey to a land of ETERNAL FLAME AND DEATH and everything evil so he can destroy the ring. Also there are elves and dwarves and some unwashed dude that turns out to be a king or whatever.
Short Review: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the ring was great. The Two Towers had dragging scenes though, and Tolkien’s dry and academical prose kind of got to me after a while. I do love the world JRR Tolkien created, however, and admire his dedication to writing entire languages and then writing a book to showcase those invented languages. But more importantly: what the hell this was banned?!
Why was this banned?: Apparently some church burned copies down because they believed the books were Satanic L O L
My rating: (4 / 5)
I’ve read a couple more books that have been banned, of course (even Fifty Shades of Grey *shudders*). Maybe I’ll make a post about the other banned books I’ve read but left out of this list for next year’s banned books week! Or at some random point in the future, I’m sure.
Which books on this list (either on my personal list or the banned books week list) have you read before/are excited about reading? Do you know of any other banned books that I haven’t mentioned (I know there are a lot)? Let me know in the comments!