Books You Should Read: Banned Book Edition

todaySeptember 21, 2022 85

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By Sofia Psolka
Web Content Contributor 

This is a dangerous time for readers and the public servants who provide access to reading materials. Readers, particularly students, are losing access to critical information, and librarians and teachers are under attack for doing their jobs.-Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

Are you feeling a little rebellious? Do you have the urge to break something? To cheat on a test? To DM that person everyone keeps telling you not to? 

Well, here’s a healthy way to channel that energy: read a book!  

But not just any book—a book that has almost been stripped from shelves across the country! A book that parents, school districts and government officials have fought against for years, in the name of preserving a child’s mind. (We can’t have the kids thinking too hard!) 

These books will warp your mind, no doubt. You will be forced to walk in another’s shoes; possibly, transported to a different time. Previous notions and assumptions will be flipped. Your innermost demons will writhe in agony, as the power of empathy smites them! 

Doesn’t this just seem like the perfect way to scratch that nagging itch? The best part is you can do this incognito, within the confines of your room. (Sorry, freshmen… if you’re super nervous about being caught, there are plenty of hiding spots around San Marcos. Go explore!) 

2022 marks the 40th annual “Banned Book Week”. From Sept. 18-24, the American Library Association (ALA) unites readers and providers of knowledge to celebrate books that have triumphed over the naysayers. 

The Congress of Books 

I’ve always advocated for reading; in high school, I made a name for myself because I was obsessed with “the Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas. I walked the halls, bearing my multi-colored tabbed, school-issued copy with pride. (Yes, it’s okay. You call me a try-hard; I’ve accepted who I am.)  

Yet, the ALA easily takes the prize as champion for book advocacy. They created a Bill of Rights, specifically for libraries! Boiled down, the LBOR states that libraries must provide equal access to as many books as they possibly can. The group responsible for upholding these amendments is the Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF). (In the words of my Introduction to Mass Communication professor, “fascinating stuff!”) 

The ALA’s Fight Censorship page, lists several resources over how to join the movement on the national and local level. To get involved in the San Marcos area, check out the Texas Library Association page. On their site, information about library advocacy, along with federal and state issues is readily available. 

Each year, the OIF stands against censorship by accumulating a short list of the top 10 most challenged books. Some of the titles listed have carried their position for years, while others are recent publications. Since 2016, a rise in LGBTQ+ titles have appeared: “George” by Alex Gino, and “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe being the most prominent. However, books pertaining to race issues such as “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas and “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, and books considered too sexual are also listed. 

Just a few weeks ago, I spoke with a friend’s middle school English teacher. This summer, a surge in nationwide book-bans drove librarians to turn in their two weeks’ notice. Discussing the horrible treatment these guardians of knowledge faced, I brought up my love of Dumas’ work, and to my dismay, the teacher broke the news to me: “the Count of Monte Cristo” is being removed from Texas schools due to “sexually explicit” content. Those of you who have read it know how absurd this is. Yes, there are love affairs, but they are hardly the focus of the overall plot! 

A pyramid display of banned book titles, are shown in between isles, of the San Marcos Library. Top center: a sign says “Read a Banned Book!” Middle left to right: "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," "The Bluest Eye," "Prince & Knight." Bottom left to right: "The Color Purple," "The Outsiders," "Gender Queer," "The Glass Castle," "To Kill a Mockingbird."
The Banned Book Week display at the San Marcos Library.

Interlude of Irony 

Look at “Fahrenheit 451by Ray Bradbury. Fahrenheit 451″ is a book about destroying books, which today, is being banned because it touches on complex moral and social issues. Just to show how ironic this is, here’s a direct quote: 

“Do you understand now why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, pore less, hairless, expressionless.” -Professor Faber, from Fahrenheit 451.”

Professor Faber could see the way the government was controlling intellectual freedom, before it was made law. His biggest regret was not warning others about it. 

If my parents, teachers and local librarians hadn’t exposed me to the world of literature, I wouldn’t be here typing my thoughts—let alone getting them published! To preserve our nation’s five basic freedoms, we must speak against censorship. 

You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” – Ray Bradbury.

My Top 10 out of 100 Banned Books 

Here are my favorites from the “Top 100 Most Banned Books” of 2010-2019 list: 

  1. “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley 

Reason: Depiction of too much sexual freedom and drug abuse. 

While I absolutely agree there is A LOT of sexual content, I argue that it is necessary for the book to be effective. 

Huxely’s story begins in 632 a.f. (“After Ford”); the assembly line revolutionized the creation of humanity. Babies are made in test tubes to maintain a caste system. Monogamy is out—illegal even; polyamory is in. A mysterious drug, “Soma”, keeps civilians dumb, under the government’s watch. Everyone is happy. 

Or so they are told. All it takes is one person’s ideas to change the world. 

This book is one of the most haunting looks into the future I’ve ever read. There is so much to analyze on every page, and the connections to our present society line up a little too well… 

English teachers might get nervous around this book, but that doesn’t mean it should be avoided. There are important discussions to be had over its themes. 

2. “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger  

Reason: Excessive vulgar language, sexual scenes and things concerning moral issues. 

J.D. Salinger is famous for not wanting to be famous. This break-out novel is to blame for his fame. If you were a teen in the ’50s, saying you read this bildungsroman (also known as a coming of age story) was just as cool as getting your driver’s license. 

“The Catcher in the Rye” follows Holden Caulfield as he goofs around New York City, to avoid telling his parents he got kicked out of school. Struggling with his brother’s untimely death, Holden has a nihilistic outlook on life, seeing everyone around him as a “phony”. He searches the city, not in the best places, for a reason to go on and is left empty and alone. 

The story is Salinger’s way of describing his trauma from serving in World War II, using Holden as the personification of PTSD. It’s a bleak theme but continues to resonate with the youth of America—including myself. (Whether or not this is a good thing, I leave the readers to decide.) 

3. “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess  

Reason: Extreme violence, depravity, rape, murder and gang activity. 

This black comedy is one that is not marketed for children—rightfully so. While it is centered on a teenage gang, the atrocities they commit are far too much for kids to register. 

The story follows Alex and his “droogs”, in a future version of London, in which teenagers rule the streets. After a night of the “old ultraviolence”, Alex is framed by his followers and arrested. During his time behind bars, the government offers Alex parole if he volunteers for an extreme form of aversion therapy. What Alex sees as an easy way out ends in suffering and torture. 

I enjoyed this book, for its creative use of language. Alex and his pals speak with a fictional slang called “nadsat”, which blends Russian and Cockney English in an entertaining manner. As for the plot… it was disturbing, but the social commentary Burgess presented is fascinating: when does freedom of choice go too far? 

Alrighty, take a breather if you need to—the heavy-hitters are out of the way. 

4. This One Summer Story” by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated              by Jillian Tamaki  

Reason: inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters, drug use, language and sexual scenarios.  

There is so much to be said about the boundaries this graphic novel reaches. I don’t want to give away too much, as this is a more recent release, so I’ll leave you with a brief synopsis. 

Summer friends, Windy and Rose, have spent much of their childhood together; however, adolescence presents several challenges for the pair. Between struggles with parents, unkindness of peers and the hardships of simply being a teenage girl, the two come to accept that traditions don’t always last. 

As someone who clings to stability, the Tamaki cousins’ story hit a sore spot in my heart. 

5. The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas  

Reason: Profanity and anti-police messages. 

Possibly the most well-known title on this list, “The Hate U Give” received acclaim for its commentary over racism, activism and treatment toward people of color in America. 

Frustrated by the Killing of Oscar Grant, Thomas wrote her book with the hope to encourage others to speak out. In a Walter Brooks interview, Thomas shares her anger toward the injustice done to her community which motivated her to write the “human side” of these cases. 

Personally, this was the first book I read over a topic like this. It was eye-opening, tear-jerking and inspiring. Anyone who defines this book simply as “anti-police” went in with the mindset of an agitator. 

6. Drama” by Raina Telgemeier 

Reason: LGTBQ+ characters and sexually explicit content. 

Telgemeier’s autobiography, “Smile” was my grand introduction to graphic novels. It was only natural for me to pick up “Drama” when it released. 

The theater kid in me, trying to navigate the messy realm of crushes, identity and friendship, loved this story. The depiction of LGBTQ+ characters has been debated, but it was impactful for me as a tween. 

Do the messages stand the test of time? I’d have to shuffle through my shelves and re- read to find out. 

7. “Eleanor & Park” by Rainbow Rowell 

Reason: Anti-Asian sentiment, profanity and sexuality. 

A story set in the 1980s, star-crossed lovers Eleanor and Park are the social outcasts of their high school. By chance, the two sit next to each other on the bus and develop feelings after bonding through similar music tastes. However, they realize that love is bit harder to curate than a mixtape. 

There are themes of financial instability, abuse, subtle sexual content and language that have made Rowell’s book turn some heads. However, exposing these topics to young adult readers can lead to a better understanding of those walking the same halls.  

If it wasn’t for this book, I probably wouldn’t have been inspired to create playlists for others. 

As for the “anti-asian” messages, I can’t truly attest. I would have to re-read and discuss with others to acknowledge the potential issues. As a teenager, I didn’t pick up on any offensive themes—just angsty teens being angsty teens in love, which I found relatable. 

8. “Skippyjon Jones” by Judith Schachner 

Reason: Offensive tropes and stereotypes of Mexican culture and the Spanish speaking community. 

Skippyjon Jones is a Siamese cat, who believes he is a Chihuahua. His alternative persona is a masked, Hispanic vigilante who throws around misused Spanish words. 

Today, I can recognize the racial stereotypes towards the Hispanic community; however, as a Latina child, I have fond memories of reading and re-reading this book. My brother and I often quoted or pretended to be Skippyjon Jones, not caring about the “political correctness”.  

We found a piece of ourselves and had fun with it, simple as that. 

9.Goosebumps” by R.L. Stine 

Reason: Too graphic and scary for children. 

If you haven’t read the series, surely, you’ve heard the title sequence track. This series is most likely the reason I’m a horror fan. “The Night of the Living Dummy” terrified me, but I couldn’t help devouring each chapter, longing to know what came next.  

Of course, I can understand why parents wouldn’t want their kids to be scared, but sometimes kids must live and learn. 

10. “Looking for Alaska” by John Green 

Reason: Offensive language and sexually explicit. 

I love John Green, but if I’m being honest, I didn’t really like this book. (Hence, why it’s on the bottom of my list.)  

The story follows Miles “Pudge” Halter’s experience in the boarding school Culver Creek, before and after a life-changing event. To avoid spoilers, I’ll spare the details. At school, Miles meets the enigmatic Alaska. As typical “love at first sight” stories go, Miles realizes that he doesn’t truly know who Alaska is—hence, why he is “looking” for her.  

I think my disdain for this book is derived from Alaska, as the protagonist’s motivator. She participates in self-destructive behavior, is rude to her peers and is static, remaining mysterious, moody and unpredictable, in the most nauseating way. 

Now, do I think Alaska’s character is bad enough for the book to be banned? No. Like all published works, “Looking for Alaska” deserves a spot on the shelves. 

Even if I didn’t discover a “great perhaps”, I know there is someone out there who picked up this book and did. 

Written by: Hannah Walls

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