Freedom to Read Week’s annual event has concluded but it’s important to keep awareness of banned and challenged books at top of mind.
Books are banned or challenged for a few common reasons. According to the guide, these include “radical” issues such as racism, encouragement of “damaging” lifestyles, violence or negativity, sexual situations, presence of witchcraft or magic, religious affiliations (with marginalized religions) and political bias. In short, the books challenge the current norm and encourage thinking beyond traditional mores. The banning of a book takes society down a very slippery slope to censorism and intimidation. For that reason, the reading of banned books should be encouraged as it allows the reader to make their own judgements and be exposed to new thinking. Isn’t that one of the main points of art – to expand our horizons and look at issues and life a little differently.
Some of my favourite banned/challenged books include:
The Handmaids’ Tale by Margaret Atwood is an Orwellian vision of the new future, featuring Offred, a handmaid, whose one purpose is to breed. Challenged for “vulgarity and sexual overtones” per an article posted online by the CBC in April of 202O. Atwood is quoted, in the same article, as saying” “I am happy to be in the company of the Bible, Shakespeare, John Bunyan, Lord Byron, Emily Bronte, Flaubert, James Joyce, Nawal el Sadawi, Angela Carter, Anonymous of A Woman in Berlin and so many others. Lucky me, I live in a democracy, so at least I’m not in jail or being tossed out of a plane.”
The Harry Potters series by J.K. Rowling, chronicling life at the fictional Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, was banned in numerous schools because of the magical references which some parents felt exposed their children to satanism. According to The Washing Post, a pastor in Nashville was worried that children would learn heretical lessons. He consulted exorcists and then eliminated the books from the school’s library.
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee tells the story of a young girl, Scout, whose father, Atticus Finch, agrees to defend a black man against the accusation by a white girl. In doing so, he takes on the prejudice of an entire town. According to an article published online by Penguin UK, the book has previously held seventh place in 2017 as most challenged and banned books. Recently, it was challenged in Ontario as “violent and oppressive” and “its trope of a white saviour”.
Deeper questions lay behind book banning. Who decides what is “morally” right? Where is the line behind hate and art and who makes it? Classic books such as To Kill A Mockingbird are being challenged by both the traditional “right” and “left”. In any event, to write a book that is relative in this discussion is quite an achievement. If you have a book that you have always wanted to write, we would love to help you get it started.