Saturday, September 25, 2010


Sept. 25 through Oct. 3 is Banned Books Week. Don't ever relax. The thought police are relentless. I say, let's make trouble by reading or rereading as many as we can, carrying copies with us in public and talking about their content where we think it will provoke unease.

Background on the observance and The List may be found here. I have not read every one of the top 100, and then there is the need to read again what has been, in great part, forgotten.

With some of the offending titles I developed a more personal relationship. I was in junior high when I read many of them - some of them, even younger, for the list includes Charlotte's Web and Winnie-the-Pooh. Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, turned me away from family staples, the bologna (or baloney) sandwich and the hot dog for several years. After On the Road and, in honesty, ever since, part of me remains a closet beatnik.

As a junior in high school I was on the newspaper staff. I was asked if I'd like to write a book review column, a first for the paper. It was by far my best assignment, I took it seriously (as a 16-year-old can) and one of the books I wrote about was The Catcher in the Rye. I remember encouraging comments from friends, one was a senior who'd been in the commercial art class I dropped to move to journalism and I took his approval very much to heart. I wondered, though, why he seemed to feel that the column was, in some way, an act of bravery. Soon I learned that by discussing Salinger's book, my expulsion - not suspension - was being considered, the paper's advisor was chastised and the book column, out there where actual, impressionable students could read it, was cancelled.

The Grapes of Wrath gave me a truer picture of history in the San Joaquin Valley, where my father grew up. He could point to sites of Hoovervilles where Dust Bowl families such as the Joads had landed as their options ran out. California was far from the only state where such transient communities grew.

Whatever we once read from this collection of literature deemed unacceptable, we were affected by it, possibly shifted to a depth that lingers still. We were informed, awakened and altered. A mind opened to lives and worlds wider than our front door is still a subversive agent. The revolution continues, choose your side.


Sultan said...

When I think about the Salinger book in retrospect it doesn't really resonate with me, but The Grapes of Wrath was a giant book that everyone really should read.

Radish King said...

This is so excellent. The idea of banning books terrifies me down to my toes. And in this weird political climate it wouldn't surprise me to see it take hold I mean really take hold. I have a banned books bracelet that I wear all the time. It's just small squares of book covers of books that have been banned. It reminds me. I loved Cather. The Jesus Prayer. I've never forgotten any of it. Thank you.

Radish King said...

I meant Catcher but I love Cather too :)

wv: noloot. ain't that the truth! hahahahaha.

Artist and Geek said...

Hi, thanks for posting the link, what a great idea. I skimmed through the list and was shocked at books that were suggested for or actually banned: To kill a mocking bird? The color purple?etc. And some of the ignorance involved as in 1984 for being "pro-communist". Published in 1948 (hence the title), it was Orwell's great concern that we might head into a totalitarian, big brother type of government. Mmmh. If anything, it was anti-communist. Although, I do think that Henry Miller's novels should come with an advisory and Lolita made me uncomfortable until I was told that she represents the love affair one might have with a youth obsessed America.

Anonymous said...

atta grrl,

possible expulsion for free thinking at age 16.

I am so proud of you.

Steinbeck is queued up next on audible as I stitch.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Laoch - And the list of 100 is filled with titles that, whether they continue to resonate for us or not, certainly connect us to the lives we inhabited when we first encountered them. I feel THE GRAPES OF WRATH is every bit as significant today, in light of our economic plight and indifference to suffering.

Rebecca - When the Klan marches in Idaho, I remind myself the right for them to do so is what guides me. I can only think in terms of "how dare you" when any of us is silenced. I love that you have a banned books bracelet...what a cool thing; hmmm, an upcoming art project here?

Holden (reread last year) reminds me of discovering that some grown-ups had not lost all touch with their teenaged selves and knew those thoughts and emotions mattered. (gross oversimplification, pardon.)

noloot, now I KNOW they are watching. Love, M.

Artist and Geek - Thank you for illumination...I had no idea (a statement my son would refer to as Dr. Obvious) that LOLITA was interpreted that way. I probably missed every bit nuance, having read it so long ago. It seems unlikely, though I could be wrong, that anyone stumbles, uninformed, into Burroughs or Henry Miller any more, though I have been grievously misled (in a book group, especially) by titles that seemed to be favored by so many and turned out to be such crap. Now there is a place a warning would be nice.

The notion that "the people" are unequipped to handle knowledge, radical (and frequently compassion-filled) thought is exactly why it has to remain accessible. Isn't it likely that treating us like nitwits for so long will make it so? Oh, but then I just answered my own question. Yrs. in the continuing struggle, M.

Denise - Radical without a clue, at least in the Salinger episode. Because in my home we read anything we wanted from early ages, it truly never occurred to me that there were books that would get me into trouble. So yes, an inadvertent troublemaker, but I appreciate being given credit for it. xo

Erin in Morro Bay said...

Here at the Cambria Library, as in libraries all across the nation, we have displays, bookmarks, bulletin boards, etc. letting the public know about Banned Book Week every year. We all wear shirts with lists of banned books on the back. I'm always amazed by how many of our patrons say "They're not still doing that are they?" or "What's a banned book?" Or worst of all - "Well, some of these should be banned!" What some people don't realize is that if things you "don't" like can be banned, then things you "do" like can be also. Some people want to ban "Brokeback Mountain", but would have a fit if I said "Let's ban anything by Ann Coulter or Bill O'Reilly". The point of freedom of speech and of the press is that everyone gets their say, whether everyone else agrees with it or not. It's a very short step from banning to burning. American libraries are at the forefront of protecting the right of books (all books) to exist and be available to all. Thanks for spreading the word, Marylinn - from me and librarians everywhere.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Erin - How affirming to hear from a librarian, source of this on-going campaign, front line against ignorance and censorship.

Thank you for continuing to keep this threat in front of the public...sometimes I wonder if the computer may be held responsible for what seems like a replay of the Dark Ages as ignorance runs across the land like celebrity gossip. Obviously there are views I wish could be stifled, my belief being they add to our fear and intolerance, yet knowing, as you've written, that my rights and theirs are bound together, as they should be.

Bless all you librarians. The age would be much darker without you. xo