Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
September 30 through October 6 is the 30th annual Banned Books Week, during which we Americans recognize that censorship is bad and more than just a little weird. I've worked in a bookstore for the last three BBWs, and every year I've enjoyed making an extraordinarily bizarre display featuring things like Ulysses, Beloved, and In the Night Kitchen - books that have all been banned or challenged.
But something that isn't much discussed - at least, by the American Library Association, who hosts this whole thing - is that while school districts may ban these books from the classroom and libraries may ban them from their stacks, you can still get copies of banned books. Students prohibited from reading them for class can still soak them up in other settings, and their greatest risk is that of Mom or Dad (who requested the ban in the first place) taking the book away and grounding them. In other countries, some books are actually illegal, and possessing them (let alone reading them) can get you thrown in jail or kicked out of the country.
Book banning in America is, by comparison, kind of a joke. We even have a constitutional amendment about it. But it's still censorship, which is why I like to focus on the subject. The goal is to keep our country from becoming like others - if it doesn't get better, chances are good that it could get worse.
Some of my favorite book banning stories:
- Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr., illust. by Eric Carle (yes, the children's book) - Banned by people in Texas who were trying to prohibit works by a Marxist author who happened to share the same name. They didn't even check to see if this book was by the Marxist or not. This is why you should at least look at the book you're banning and decide for yourself whether to throw the bear out with the bathwater.
- The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer - Banned from being sent by U.S. mail in 1873. (Hey, we're not perfect.) Law at the time prohibited the sending of "obscene" material by mail.
- Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll - Banned in China because animals should not talk. (From the above link.)
This week, I'm reading Lolita (pictured above) in honor of Banned Books Week. Yes, the main character's preferences make me squirm a little (okay, a lot), but Nabokov's writing is gorgeous. I think it's a book worth reading. And though it's a bit like choosing a favorite child, I'd say my favorite banned book is The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky - coming out this week in movie format.
What's your favorite banned book?