Some Banned Books You Should Read
“As far as I’m concerned, if you really can’t figure out which political party or which politician to vote for, just ask if they’re on the side of libraries. Are they voting to fund their libraries? Are they voting to keep them free? Then vote for those guys. They’re probably the good guys. And by the same token, the book burners, the book banners, they’re probably the bad guys. It’s a good way to bet.” - Neil Gaiman
I recently read the above quote from Neil Gaiman, who was recently interviewed by the blog I Love Libraries.org. Judging by his words, I’d say he’d probably take a liking to a certain Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman of Vermont, who has recently been on a reading tour of banned books:
I know only so much about US politics myself (on account of not being American), but I’d have to side with Gaiman here and say that’s probably the kind of guy you want to be supporting.
Nonetheless, while this is all good stuff, it’s a shame such a tour even needs to exist.
Unfortunately, book bans and book challenges seem to becoming more popular. Indeed, there were some 1,269 attempts to censor library books and other resources in 2022 across America alone.
And what kind of books are facing censorship? Anarchist cookbooks? Bomb manuals? Terrorism for Dummies? More like “And Tango Meets Three” - a picture book about a real-life pair of male penguins who raised a chick. Because, you know, we don’t want those penguins destroying the fabric of Western society, right?
As a general rule, I’d say that if a book is banned or challenged, you should probably seek it out on principle. Really, go find yourself a list online (like the one linked below) and pick what catches your eye. You’ll have plenty of titles to choose from:
That said, I titled this “banned books you should read,” so here are a few select picks:
Maus by Art Spiegelman
Let’s start with one that seems to always get a mention in these conversations: Maus.
This Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel tells the story of the cruelties that author Spiegelman’s father endured during the holocaust through depictions of Anthropomorphic animals.
The depictions of violence, animal nudity, and profanity got it banned from Texas classrooms in 2022, in a move that Spiegelman described as having “the breath of autocracy and fascism about it”
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
I don’t know what it is with certain American states censoring Holocaust-related material. But even the most famous diary in the world has faced several challenges, with the core concerns typically surrounding Anne Frank’s details regarding her emerging homosexual desires.
If you’ve read the book, you’ll know said passages are reserved and frankly, represent pretty normal thoughts for an adolescent. But according to one mother from Michigan were “pretty pornographic.”
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
This autobiography and coming-of-age story deals with some pretty heavy themes, including sexual assault, misogyny, and racism. For those reasons, it’s become a vital mainstay in educational systems since its release. Why? Because as scary as it may seem, people do actually have to learn about these things. Many have to deal with them directly.
But for the very same reasons that this book has become so treasured, it’s been challenged and banned in high schools and libraries many times over.
Discussing the subject of these bans, Maya once told the Orange County Register:
“I’m always sorry that people ban my books. Many times I’ve been called the most banned. And many times my books are banned by people who never read two sentences. I feel sorry for the young person who never gets to read.”
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
With every passing decade, The Bluest Eye seems only to move up the list of most challenged books in libraries and schools. Make of that what you will.
In any case, the book tells the story of a young African-American woman who, after being made to feel ugly for her black skin, gains an inferiority complex that leaves her pining for “blue eyes.”
The reasons for bans against this book vary, though the ‘controversial’ topic of racism seems to underpin each challenge.
Melissa by Alex Gino (previously published as George)
Some of the books I’ve mentioned here have mature themes like bad language or sexual content. But the reasons for this book being banned are far more straightforward: it’s about a transgender person.
Gino has been pretty outspoken about the reaction the book received: “When I write a book about someone who is transgender … just simply someone who is transgender — they’re not doing anything, they just are transgender — and that book gets banned? That is my existence being so scary and so reprehensible and so monstrous, that I cannot be shown to children.”
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
I don’t even know where to begin with all the terrible things that have been done to Roald Dahl’s literature, including a childhood favorite of mine: James and the Giant Peach. Yes, language and attitudes change. But teaching context, not heavy-handed rewrites is the key to introducing this to new readers.
Unfortunately, as Louis Chilton argues, the changes made to these books may have nothing to do with protecting children and everything to do with business:
On a side note, this book also got into hot water once because of a passage where a spider licks his lips was interpreted as potentially sexual. Go figure.
I’ll leave you with another quote from Stephen Chbosky, an author who knows a thing or two about facing censorship:
“Banning books give us silence when we need speech. It closes our ears when we need to listen. It makes us blind when we need sight.”
Right now, I think we need those senses more than ever. Moreover, we need books to be there for the young people who need them, when they need them.