Thursday, August 14, 2008

My Favorite Banned Books

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William SteigI've been rereading my favorite books lately--some that I haven't picked up since high school--and enjoying them all over again. I'm not sure if it's because now I'm a married woman but some of them seem to be a lit-tle bit juicier the second time around. I guess I must have been clueless about half of what was going on but at any rate the whole thing got me thinking about how so many of my favorite books have been banned at one point or another for a variety or reasons.

You'd be surprised at what gets kicked off the shelves--though a few of these haven't been banned outright but were merely challenged.

1. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig. I don't know if you've read other books by William Steig but a lot of them are . . . odd. Shrek is one of his creations and let me just say that the movie is an improvement but I really like this little picture book about a donkey that finds a magic pebble and accidentally wishes himself into a rock. Oops.

It was banned in several U.S. cities because the police are pigs. Literally. Sylvester's a donkey and the cops are pigs which shows how dense I am because I never caught the joke--if you can call that a joke. Apparently there were people who found that offensive enough to ban the book so children reading it wouldn't be influenced by a work of fiction showing disrespect for law enforcement and be turned to a life of crime. You know, seems like I saw a government study showing how drastically crime has risen since the book's publication . . .

Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor2. Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor. This is the one I'm currently reading--though it's possible that by the time this post goes live I may have been sitting up all night to finish it and slurp up every exciting tidbit--with Andrew out of town there's no telling how late I will stay up.

It's a historical romance novel set in 17th century England with Amber St. Clare (what a name) as the main character/tramp. While banning Sylvester and the Magic Pebble might be funny, I can see how this 1944 saga got itself into a bit of trouble--the lovely heroine hops from bed to bed to bed and though you recognize how trashy she is you can't help but root for her (in her defense it's not as if there were a lot of professional options open to women three hundred years ago, especially once they'd been ill-used).

It's a 20th century version of Moll Flanders (another fun banned book) and according to Wikipedia "Fourteen states banned [Forever Amber] as pornography. The first was Massachusetts, whose attorney general cited 70 references to sexual intercourse, 39 illegitimate pregnancies, 7 abortions, and 10 descriptions of women undressing in front of men as reasons for banning the novel." Sounds as if he enjoyed the book pretty thoroughly doesn't it? Quite literally banned in Boston.

Funny thing is, I couldn't remember anything that happened in it from my first reading so it's as if I'm reading it new all over again. While there is a promiscuous plot line it's pretty tame by today's standards--I doubt it would get a PG-13 rating if filmed just as it is written. Go Amber!

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck3. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. This novella is my favorite work by Steinbeck and it has been challenged by school boards since its publication because of vulgar language, racism, violence and "not representing traditional values." You might think this happened 50 years ago but no, that occurred in 2005 in Illinois. Maybe someone woke up, figured that this 1937 work bore the responsibility for the moral decay, Communism and poor grammar of the past seventy years and decided to suddenly do something about it.

I find it interesting when a book is challenged because it portrays racism. Why is racism something that should be prettied over? Unfortunately it's part of our history and is a viable force in many people's lives so to pretend that it doesn't exist--or never existed--is not only illogical but dangerous, echoing that "they who do not study history are doomed to repeat it" sentiment. I've never understood why a book with a "mature" theme whether it's racism, adultery, treason or murder should be automatically forbidden--it entirely depends on what the books says about the theme. You can't find a book with more adultery than Anna Karenina but Tolstoy hardly glamorizes it, just the opposite in fact, and because of its subject matter I find his masterpiece one of the most tragic and moral books there are. Just an opinion.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding4. Lord of the Flies. I read this my sophomore year of high school and it's one of the few books from that period of my life that I can still recall in vivid detail. It was an exciting book and our teacher presented it in a way that sparked debate and conversation and taught us about political philosophy and human nature.

Unfortunately it has been very popular with the censors and has made the list of most banned books of the 20th century though I had a hard time nailing down exactly what it was they objected too. The best I could come up with was that it said ugly things about us as a race. I guess someone didn't feel it was constructive criticism.

5. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. I feel sheepish allowing Rowling the honor of being included on a list alongside Steinbeck and Golding (her books should really be considered glamorized screen plays) but darn it, I enjoyed them and it bugs me that they've been banned here and protested there.

From what I understand the argument is that they portray witchcraft. Is talking about wizards the same thing as talking about witchcraft? Seems to me there's a difference but besides this gap in reasoning I've wondered why--if the books are so dangerous--those who want to get them pulled off the shelves can't produce a sample of the population who has supposedly been turned to the dark side through Harry Potter. Surely, if these books really are as dangerous as some are claiming, there must be a bunch of people one could turn to as proof that Harry Potter is an evil influence. Anyone? You know, kind of a Catcher in the Rye-Mark David Chapman kind of thing.

6. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. I was just about to say "Well if you're going to ban Harry Potter for having magic then you ought to take out The Wizard of Oz, Half Magic, A Wrinkle in Time, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Odyssey and Lord of the Rings" but then I got to the next entry on the list and what do you know? They did ban it!

Supposedly (and I haven't confirmed this so you might take it with a grain of salt) in 2001 in Alamagordo, New Mexico LOTR was burned along with other books deemed inappropriate. With all the bad things going on in the world, with all the injustice and evil left to fight it makes me shake my head to think that someone felt that by burning this particular book they were making the world a safer place. I guess they were picking their battles. "Low hanging fruit" as they say?

7. Tess of the D'urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. This isn't really surprising because all of Hardy's works were published in Victorian times so I've always assumed that they all offended those carefully-guarded English eyes.

They're all about unhappy people making unhappy choices and they all end up--interestingly enough--unhappy. But they have great names: Eustacia Vye, Tess Durbeyfield, Bathsheba Everdene, Diggory Venn, Tamsin Yeobright, Arabella Donn, Damon Wildeve--with names like that his characters are obviously doomed to a very dramatic destruction.

Anyway, Tess is seduced by a man posing as her cousin and when she bears his child she's ruined. She finds true love later but this new perfect guy doesn't know her past--what will happen if she tells him? Will Tess marry Angel? (yes, that's her man's name) Will he forgive her her past? Inquiring minds want to know.

8. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. If stories of unwed mothers don't shock you then maybe you'll get a jolt out of Hardy's last novel (he just wasn't getting the hint about toning down the subject matter was he?)

Jude is tricked into marrying Arabella. Jude is unhappy. So Jude leaves Arabella and finds another named Sue who has left her own unhappy marriage. They unionize (so to speak) and produce six children but not without a great deal of guilt and trauma which finally results in their oldest child killing the other children before hanging himself to ease his parents' difficulties. However, despite their child's ironic intentions Jude and Sue feel this does not help their difficulties and is instead God's judgment come against them so the two break up, dying broken-hearted in the end.

Now what's there to object to in that I ask?

But I do love Thomas Hardy--he's just about my favorite and I feel sad that the book produced enough backlash to drive him from literature (so the story goes). He ended up writing poetry instead. I'm sure that really cheered him up--I mean I know so many happy, cheerful, non-depressed poets.

9. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. I remember this one fanning the flames of my young heart back in high school but I didn't really remember it having anything worthy of being cast from the library shelves. Shows how much I know because it was banned in Anaheim, California in 1984 for using the word "nigger." I'd be curious to know if anyone else finds this baffling--slavery, bigotry and race hatred just don't seem like something that should be forgotten or hushed up. Reminds me of those who want to claim the Holocaust never happened.

Besides I don't think that Gone with the Wind is exactly the rallying cry for neo-Nazi or Aryan hate groups, they've got their own pamphlets and reading material I hear so I'd imagine once again, the power of this novel to lead people astray is pretty minimal. All I remember is reading the book, loving it completely, recognizing that Scarlet was a fascinating, nasty woman with few morals except to survive at all costs and that life back then was tough--but most especially if you were black.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare10. The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. Before I did this list I had the false impression that book burning was a thing of the 1950s that came and went with McCarthyism and Black Lists and Red Scares. Oh how wrong I was. Seems that back in 2002--a mere six years ago--this book was challenged in Cromwell (coincidence?) Connecticut on the grounds that it promotes witchcraft and violence. Did they even read the book? I find it ironic that this Newberry Award winner, one of the best children's books ever written which has survived almost fifty years of publication (through Joseph McCarthy himself) finally was called to the mat by the Crowmwell School District. If only they'd discovered the dangers sooner they'd have been able to save all those millions of kids such as myself who grew up loving this book from a life of pain and suffering.

It makes me wonder if those who spend their time crusading against books like this have even been to the movies recently. I could be wrong but seems to me that some of the latest trailers I saw were a bit more violent than anything Speare came up with. No one seems to be protesting those.

Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert11. Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert. Perhaps it should be called Madame Ovary instead given all the adultery going on in those pages but once again, just as I said with Anna Karenina, it's not the subject matter so much as the way the subject matter is treated that makes a difference to me. Anyone reading how Madame Bovary destroys herself and those around her would be hard-pressed to say this book paints a pretty picture of infidelity and as I recall even the Bible has a thing or two to say about the subject. It's all in how the act is presented that makes the difference.

12. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding. Kind of an old-fashioned soap opera with mistaken identities, illegitimate children and lost/found fortunes. I suppose it goes against my previous sentence claiming tone is the definer of what is bad and good because Mr. Jones kind of romps through life without much responsibility or penalty for his *ahem* "friendliness." But if it is a soap opera it's the most euphemistic, vague and ambiguous soap opera I've ever seen. You have to be pretty up on 19th century English slang to get most of what's going on.

the Lorax by Dr. Seuss13. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. And I leave you with a laugh. The Lorax was supposedly challenged in 1989 by the Laytonville, California Unified School District because the book “criminalizes the forest industry.”

I'm not a huge fan of the book because even as a kid I felt as if it was shoving a message down my throat--ditto for the The Sneeches and The Butter Battle--just because I was young doesn't mean I didn't know what a metaphor was and kids don't necessarily like to feel like they're in school when they're reading a picture book. Nonetheless I'm trying to visualize the person who felt they'd be able to sleep better at night knowing that one less child would be subjected to the evils of Dr. Seuss' political leanings.

Strange people out there folks, strange people.


And if books aren't your thing you might try your hand at movies--here's a puzzle to see how well you know your cinema. Guess the movie from the typeface on the poster. How many can you name?

Sponsored by The Fine Art of Family--Beautiful jewelry by designer Monica Rich Kosann.

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miriama said...

So, here I am early (EARLY) in the morning reading your post and laughing out loud. Very loudly in the house while my family sleeps. I have argued against censorship for years but apparently the best way to do that is your way. With humor we may see how silly it all is. Apparently I needed some of these people to save me as well. I loved Lord of the flies, Lord of the Rings (perhaps I loved Lords? gasp!) and many other books mentioned. My parents, heathens that they were, rejoiced in the fact that I liked to read. Period.

Sarah said...

great post. i am often baffled by what constitutes the "banning" of a book. some of my favorites are on the ALA's banned book list and it's also a great source of finding "new" things to read.

Maddy said...

I'm not familiar with a couple of those, but the rest seem pretty much mainstream, standard, everyone should have read, kind of books.

Probably just dates me.

Maybe you could plan a trip to Hardy country to match the scenery for real.

There again, Steinbeck country is much nearer to me if you fancy a visit.

There again Alaska is pretty much equidistant away from either!


KittyCat said...

Cool post from a cool place! It baffles me too how some of these great works of literature make it into a 'banned' list. Then again, which piece of work doesn't contain something un-PC nowadays?

I'd just read the Penguin Readers' version of "Madame Bovary" and can't wait to real the real thing. I didn't like her very much as a person either...

Amber said...

I was named after "Forever Amber." Should I be flattered or offended? :-)

Flea said...

2, 5, 8, 11 and 12 I haven't read. Though I've listened to parts of all the Potter series, as my youngest checked out the audio version of all of them.

Sylvester has long been a favorite, as has Lord of the Flies. Tess - LOVED IT. Went back a few years ago and read Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd (read several of his in college) and was not impressed. Dull and two dimensional.

DID NOT like Gone with the Wind when I read it in high school. I hated Scarlet so much that I skipped the last 100 pages and read the last chapter.

Amber M. said...

I was named after "Forever Amber", too! Imagine my surprise when I atually read the book. Yikes.

Abby said...

This is a GREAT post! So interesting. I haven't read a couple of these. Need to put them on my to read list. I had to giggle about the Harry Potter reference. Trying to imagine some evil kid running around causing chaos with a lightning press on tattoo on their forhead and taped glasses he he! After reading those books about Hogwarts I thought they had quite a few reference to the bible interestingly enough!

Tammy said...

You said: those who want to get them pulled off the shelves can't produce a sample of the population who has supposedly been turned to the dark side through Harry Potter.

Oh, but I can! When the last Harry Potter book that came out I had to go to Barnes and Noble for a quick errand. Imagine my surprise and shock when the whole store was full of witches and wizards! ;-)

MommyK said...

I had no idea Sylvester and the Magic Pebble was a banned book. Egads! People are crazy. We have it and my son loves it.

I don't believe in censorship, so it infuriates me when other people try and decide for me what is offensive.

ames said...

I think banning books is absurd and only encourages the kind of closed-minded thinking that does indeed doom us to repeat history again and again. Fahrenheit 451, anyone?

Harry Potter is the dark side? Oh dear...

Janet said...

I've read ALL of those books, some more than once. I truly believe that very few of the people who want to ban them actually read them (well, except that man in Boston - wonder how many times he actually read it? More than once I'd say, if he counted everything!).
My response has always been, "I have a book that has a story about a man who cuts up his mistress into pieces and sends the parts to a bunch of people, and there's a whole chapter in which a man (we think) describes his lover's naked body in great detail. And several men have 2 or 3 wives. What should I do with that book?"
"Oh, get rid of it, burn it, what's the name of it, we should get it off every shelf in the country."
"Yeah, it's the Bible."
" Those stories are NOT in the Bible."
I used to be able to quote chapter and verse of Genesis for the concubine story, but I haven't had to use it for awhile.
As to Harry Potter, that book inspired MANY kids to read who had never picked up a book. That can only be a good thing.

Munchkins and Music said...

I should read my old books! That would be fun. I remember Lord of the Flies!!

Munchkins and Music said...

I should read my old books! That would be fun. I remember Lord of the Flies!!

Deb@Bird On A Wire said...

I've read all of these some when I was young and some as an adult. (the harry potter series). I too am amazed at what the "censors" find as objectionable. Seems pretty silly. I've always been a book monger, a literary collector. I passed my love of books along to my own kids and others we know and our collection continues to grow. Thanks for your joyful look at it all!

Debbie said...

Yes, the world is full of crazy people and ideas. I am perplexed by it on a daily basis. My children have some friends who aren't allowed to read some of the books on your list, as well as some parents who read each book prior to the child being allowed to. Thank goodness I don't have time for that!

Oliva said...

I LOVE The Lorax, and its message!

angie said...

I love so many of these books, too. I'll have to get Forever Amber. I've never read it. I love Tess of the D'urbervilles and especially the Witch of Blackbird pond.

LK said...

HOW are some of these books banned? They're classics! Well, some of them, anyway. But if these works of literature are banned, what is actually being read in high schools across the country now, watered-down, PC versions of love and togetherness? Gracious, literature is a reflection of the culture and of humanity itself, which, frankly, stinks sometimes.

I enjoyed this post, but man, am I a little sad about it now.

Doll Clothes Gal said...

What a fantactic post - it defies belief in most cases why these most of these books have been subjecct to cencorship of a kind.

Also I think it very fair to include Rawlings in this illustrious list of authors - her imagination and writing style is up there with the best.

Kaye said...

I also am confused when wonderful books get banned. Like To Kill a Mockingbird. Yes, there is racially charged language in the book...that's part of the entire premise of the book! How can you emphasize what a problem racism is if you can't honestly express it? Arghh.

I've heard that some libraries have even banned the dictionary because of some of the words were "vulgar." Wow.

carrie said...

Lots of good books on that list.

I love the first one you mentioned. We've read several by that author and find them hysterical!

I too love the Potter books. Screenplays or not, they captured my dwindling attention span.

I can't believe anyone would ban LOTR. Outrageous.

My husband and I also call it Madame Ovary. Too funny!

Deanna said...

As an adult I read The Witch of Blackbird Pond and I loved it!!! I can't imagine such a great book being put to rest forever.

Daisy said...

I love #10 and more on your list. I'm on our building's committee to handle book challenges; last year I took that as an excuse to read all the Golden Compass books, just so I'd be prepared.
Ah, such a sacrifice. :) I don't anticipate Forever Amber landing on an elementary school shelf, but I might read it anyway.

JENNIFER said...

I continue to amaze at how much people "read" into what they read.

And how much they want to protect all of us from making our own decisions :)

cndymkr / jean said...

Great post. I can't imagine banning books, it just boggles my mind. I love to read. I've read most of the ones you mentioned and while I may not have enjoyed all of them I would never try to prevent my son from reading them. Again, this is a great post - a reminder that "book burning" is still alive here.

An Ordinary Mom said...

What an interesting list and topic. Several of these books I was assigned to read for school assignments and most of them I enjoyed. However, I have never liked "Lord of the Flies" or "Catcher in the Rye" for that matter. Just not up my alley.

Heffalump said...

They wanted to ban the Witch of Blackbird Pond? That is one of my favorite books!

AlaneM said...

I don't know a lot of those books but I do hate book banning. I'm a big believer that parents are the ones to choose wether or not their child is ready to read a particular book or if they can read it at all. But it needs to be done on an individual basis & not by society at large!
Yeah, my dad was an elemantary librarian - I heard all kinds of banning stories growing up.
My favorite author of childrens books is Jack Prelutsky. Some mom was always whining about their kid getting nightmares fromt his book Nightmares bla bla bla...drove my dad nuts!
I loved him & got to go to a reading when I was a kid - he scared the dickens out of me by banging the top of the table I was sitting under - trying to prevent him scaring me, of course :)

Lis Garrett said...

Isn't it funny how some people get SO bent out of shape over a book? I now think that one of my missions in life shall be to write a book that is later challenged. I'd make it the most unPC book, just to spite.

I've read most of those books. We have Sylvester and the Magic Pebble and (I must be dense)I didn't catch the correlation of pigs and law enforcement. Petty stuff like that tends to go WAY over my head anyway. (rolling eyes)

I have to say . . . I'm mighty interested in book #2. Just might have to read it!

all over the map said...

I never really enjoyed Of Mice and Men and can you believe I've never read Lord of The Flies. Terrible i know. Seems a trip to the local library is in order.
I'd like to give some of the ones I was "required" to read another chance as I'm older and wiser now and might actually enjoy them. or perhaps have a better understanding or appreciation if you will.
Off the subject, but I completely loathed 1984. Blech!Did you read that one?
I liked Tess of the D'ubervilles.

all over the map said...

That movie poster quiz is hard!

Beck said...

This post was awesome.
I think there's a difference between books that I am uncomfortable with my munchkins reading, and me thinking that I should have the right to keep books out of YOUR children's hands.

Also: "Amber St. Claire" is maybe the trampiest name I've ever heard. Ha!

jubilee said...

Enlightening. I've read many of these books and never once considered them worthy to be banned. I am not one for censorship, though I have pretty strict standards for my kids' reading.

And just for the record, (hope I am not about to start something here) I have to shake my head and wonder when someone brings up the Bible and uses it to back their argument for not banning books. The Bible does not give salacious details (and in many cases, no details) for some of the awful things mentioned(and those awful things are never condoned), so it cannot really be used for comparison, nor the end all, beat all argument.

Yes, my name is Arizona said...

I loved Madame Bovary.

I really don't think the people who ban the books read them. My step-mother was offended when I told her I read a magazine called Conscious Choice. She thought it was a gay magazine (oh, the horror...) and said she would never read such a thing. Imagine her horror when I told her her husband's (my dad's) company advertised in it. She was embarrassed when I revealed that its a magazine about healthy living and environmentalism. Strange people, indeed.

flip flop mama said...

I'm happy to say I've read 7 of those books and loved them all. Banning books is ridiculous.

The Source said...

The Lord of the Flies scared the mess out of me in the 9th grade!

Phyllis Sommer said...

yep, some of my favorite books are the banned ones. it does make me want to go out and read them, it's that contrarian streak in me, i suppose:-) i like that sylvester story, i never ever noticed the pigs either!

Wendy said...

I loved Sylvester as a child, but now that I read it as an adult and parent, it's pretty bleak (except for the ending)! We still read it of course, but I pretend it's all okay with me.... :)

CountessLaurie said...

Thanks, Michelle! A reading list, just in time for fall and winter!

feefifoto said...

Sylvester. And. The. Magic. Pebble.

Seriously? Banned from libraries? Are these people completely out of their minds?

I recently added your blog to my reader. I enjoy your writing and look forward to reading your blog posts.

Killlashandra said...

You know the funny thing about banned books is we've read almost all of them anyway... Interesting post about them though.

Mercy's Maid said...

Oh the topic of book burning riles me up! :)

I do not understand how someone could feel self-important enough to try to dictate what other people's children can read.

It's perfectly logical to want to monitor what one's own child reads, but how dare someone try to control what someone else's child reads.


Pencil Writer said...

I enjoyed your reviews. You do such a good job with reviews of movies, books, etc. Thanks for your time--and talent!

Elizabeth said...

What an excellent list! I love most of those books. How odd that they have all been banned at some point.

Meredith said...

Thankyou for your list of Fave Banned Books! Love it. Yes,lots of strange people out there. I know because I am related to many of them!!

J at said...

I love, love, love a few of these books. The joyful look on Sylvester's parents' faces when he becomes no longer a pebble is priceless.

Love Scarlet. No, I wouldn't want to know her in real life. But you do find yourself rooting for her.

Lorax? Sneetches? LOVED those books. Loved them. Love to call things that I can't figure out 'thneeds', and imagine the brown barbalutes. In their barbalute suits.

I kind of think that banned book lists might be a good list of books to buy and read, and pass on to your kids when they're the right age.

J at said...

Oh, and Emma Bovary never fails to break my heart. She pisses me off, and breaks my heart.

BlondeMomBlog (Jamie) said...

I still have my childhood copy of Abel's Island by William Steig, which I loved. I also have my high school copy of Lord of the Flies and my college copy of Gone With the Wind. I'm a literary rebel! ;)

Winter said...

Love Madame Bovary... just when I think my love life couldn't get any worse I pick up this book!

Kelly - PTT said...

I read Witch of Blackbird Pond to my kids a couple years ago. It will always be one of our favorites. I can't believe these books are banned in some places.

texasholly said...

Some of my favorite books. People seriously just need to chill.

I had my C.S. Lewis space trilogy books confiscated in boarding school because they might warp my mind. Yes, they were that ignorant about C.S. Lewis. Hello? Intelligent life anywhere?

Mark Twain Books said...

Wow, I can't believe you mentioned a Wrinkle in Time! I haven't even though about that book since I read it in like...3rd grade, I think. I realize that doesn't really have anything to do with the banning topic, but I just had to let you know that thinking about that book made me smile, so thanks for that. :D

Jason said...

i remember reading lord of the flies in middle school. it was on tv the other day. i love dr. seuss and all his books. The Lorax is a classic.