“The books are to remind us what asses and fools we are. They're Caesar's praetorian guard, whispering as the parade roars down the avenue, ‘Remember, Caesar, thou art mortal.’ Most of us can't rush around, talking to everyone, know all the cities of the world, we haven't time, money or that many friends. The things you're looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book.”-Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradburry
Any person who grew up a book worm knows the impact a well written story can have on the soul. The words leap off the pages to take you on new adventures, to make you laugh or cry. They can create a burning anger in the pit of your stomach and can even give someone hope. A character’s choices can embarrass, frighten or even inspire someone to do great things. Most importantly, a book can change a person’s perspective and truly make them think differently about the world around them.
Although I had always enjoyed the stories I found in books, it wasn't until Junior High that I came to understand the true power of the written word. In my Talented and Gifted (TAG) course, a teacher named Mrs. McMahon gave the assignment to read and discuss a banned book that, ironically enough, was about banned books, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. To this day it is one of my favorite books. I had not known much about censorship before her class, and when I read the book it inspired me to read many more books that others had pushed to keep away from the public in some form or fashion. If Fahrenheit 451 had taught me anything, it was that information was precious and if someone attempted to keep it from you it through censorship, it was probably important. There was nothing more valuable then intellectual freedom. People only censor what makes them uncomfortable, and I have found that it is often times somewhere between discomfort and understanding that we grow the most. So in honor of banned books week, I would like to present the top 10 banned books and stories that have impacted my life or changed my perspective in some way, and hopefully it inspires you to read them too. These books are listed on the American Library Association's website dedicated to listing the most frequently challenged and banned books.
10. The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson (1948)
Quote: "’They do say,’ Mr. Adams said to Old Man Warner, who stood next to him, ‘that over in the north village they're talking of giving up the lottery.’
Old Man Warner snorted. ‘Pack of crazy fools,’ he said. ‘Listening to the young folks, nothing's good enough for them. Next thing you know, they'll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live that way for a while. Used to be a saying about 'Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.' First thing you know, we'd all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There's always been a lottery,’ he added petulantly.”
Summary: In a small town, a yearly lottery takes place to keep the traditions and the crops of the town alive. This lottery has deadly consequences however, causing the winner, Ms. Hutchinson, to question the importance of blindly following tradition.
Banned for: Questioning small town values and attacking the importance of tradition.
Impact: When I initially read this short story in high school, I was confused. I didn't understand exactly what had happened in the story and when I finally understood the confusion changed to a feeling of horror. Although the story begins in a picturesque small town setting, it takes a sharp turn and ends violently and grotesquely; an intense contrast. The unsettling nature of this story, however, allows for the reader to see how blindly following a tradition without questioning can allow for horrible consequences. It taught me that one should never follow tradition simply for the sake of tradition. We must question everything.
9. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)
Quote: “But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin!”-John
Summary: In a dystopian future, humans have given their free will to a totalitarian world government in exchange for security and happiness. Relationships are discouraged and sex is required. Children are no longer born, but grown in bottles and cultivated to fit certain roles within society, creating a caste system. Drug use is encouraged and any form of individuality, including religion, is frowned upon. Bernard Marx and Hemholtz Watson want more from their lives than this lack of individuality, however. Marx wants to be in love with Leina, a woman quite happy with society’s arrangement, and Watson wishes to find passion and individuality in his writing. When Marx takes Leina on a date to a reservation of “savages”, or those who did not succumb to this new world order, they discover a man named John whose mother had gone missing from their society years before. When John is brought back to “civilization”, he is disgusted by what society has become. He finds that he is in love with Leina as well, but finds her promiscuity and drug use troubling. He is also troubled by society’s unwillingness to be unhappy and finds their existence to be lacking, because the struggle of living and trying to find meaning in life is quite often what makes life worth living at all. His only solace is in teaching Hemholtz the work of Shakespeare, inspiring Hemholtz to be a passionate writer. The more John tries to fight civilization, the more intrigued society becomes with him, causing a desensitized society to have an unhealthy obsession with his actions. In the end, all characters find that they are unable to fight society, and all are consumed in some way by it.
Banned for: Insensitivity, sexually explicit content, religious ideas, racism.
Impact: This book creates an unsettled feeling in one’s skin that is hard to explain but makes one truly understand the importance of balance. Unadulterated pleasure leaves us wanting and pure hardships can break us. One allows us to enjoy the other and makes us whole. We must never give up our individuality and freedom for security, because when others decide things for us, it creates a hollow society that is no longer required to learn and grow. What is real is better than anything that is dreamed. As a person who has sought happiness her whole life, this book taught me to take comfort in the journey of finding it and taught me to not mistake the sensation of pleasure for true happiness.
8. Go Ask Alice by Anonymous (1971)
Quote: “I'm partly somebody else trying to fit in and say the right things and do the right thing and be in the right place and wear what everybody else is wearing. Sometimes I think we're all trying to be shadows of each other, trying to buy the same records and everything even if we don't like them. Kids are like robots, off an assembly line, and I don't want to be a robot!” -Beatrice Sparks
Summary: Written in diary form, the story tells of a teenage girl who becomes addicted to drugs. The story delves into how the teenage girl wishes to fit in and find herself in life, as well as her want to communicate and relate to her family as most teenagers want to do. She first uses drugs to fit in, and then finds herself in a vicious cycle of using drugs to numb the pain that has come from a life of drug use. The diary discusses the main character's downward spiral and her eventual path to redemption.
Banned for: Drug use and sexual content.
Impact: I cried when I read this book in the 7th grade. Almost every teenager feels lost, insecure or confused at some point, and to read the horrors of losing oneself so completely and being unable to come back from it was very moving, especially since this story is written as a “true story”. It was a cautionary tale of depending on others to define who you are and the importance of communication with those who are around you. It taught me that everyone feels lost, and that's okay, but it's important to never lose yourself in the image of others.
7. Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling (1997-2007)
Quote: “We've all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That's who we really are.”-Sirius Black, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Summary: A young wizard named Harry Potter fights the evil wizard Lord Voldemort, who killed Harry’s parents and seeks to cleanse the wizarding world of the non-magic community. In each book within the series, Harry finds new adventures with his friends Ron and Hermione at Hogwarts, the school of witchcraft and wizardry, all while dealing with his unsettling connections to Lord Voldemort. It is a classic tale of good versus evil and one person making a difference in the world.
Banned for: Violent content, association with the occult and witchcraft, believed to be Satanic, viewed as anti-family.
Impact: As a child who was raised on these stories, it is often quite confusing to me when I hear others say that this story is evil in any way. The story of Harry Potter is the age old story of good versus evil. Although magic is involved, it is only a side story to the main one which is much more important. It highlights that we are responsible for our own choices, and that is what makes us good or bad. That in the end, evil is not inevitable. We are who we choose to be. The story reminds us that even if we feel we are small and unimportant, we must always stand against evil even if we aren’t sure how. This book can transform the way we see ourselves and has always reminded me that even when their seems to be more bad than good in the world, love and light are always worth fighting for.
6. Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945)
Quote: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
Summary: The animals of Manor Farm are tired of the farmer known as Mr. Jones taking advantage of their labor while they receive little to no benefits in return. When they run off the cruel farmer, they decide to run the farm themselves and change the name to Animal Farm. They come together to create a utopia where all the animals are deemed equal and where everyone can benefit from the work that they put into the farm. The pigs, deemed the most intelligent, wish to oversee the work of the farm. Soon, the power hungry pig Napoleon begins to find reasons to hoard what others have reaped, and when others challenge him he runs them off or has them killed. The animals again begin to find that they are receiving little to no benefits from their labor, while Napoleon and the other pigs are becoming more powerful. The pigs benefit from selling the animals products to other farmers in the area and push the animals to work harder. Soon, the animals find that they can no longer tell the difference between the men and the pigs.
Banned for: Both communist and anti-communist texts.
Impact: As a person who was raised on a military base, who had a military family and who attended military schools, the idea that communism was an unsustainable and cruel system while capitalism was truly the only acceptable way of life was not an unusual idea to hear. Reading a book that looked down on a communist system wasn’t out of the question for a child who had learned that communism was never a good idea. However, after reading this book I began to realize that both systems of capitalism and communism were easily corruptible and that it wasn’t the system itself that was flawed, it was those who were given large amounts of power. Although this was not the overall goal of the author or theme of the book, it allowed for a bit of free thinking that I possibly would not have engaged in before.
5. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (1976)
Quote: “You see that fig tree over yonder, Cassie? Them other trees all around...that oak and walnut, they’re a lot bigger and they take up more room and give so much more shade they almost overshadow that little ole fig. But that fig’s got roots and it belongs in that yard as much as that oak and walnut...It don’t give up. It give up, it’ll die. There’s a lesson to be learned from that little tree, Cassie girl, ‘cause we’re like it. We keep doing what we gotta, and we don’t give up. We can’t.”
Summary: In Jim Crow era rural Mississippi, the Logan family fights to keep their land while facing many racial injustices. Cassie, the Logan’s daughter, begins to understand the harsh reality of how racism plays a role in the treatment of her family and other black people in the area, while her mother tries to fight the racism through boycotting the local Wallace store. The store is owned by the Wallace family who has claimed responsibility for the lynching of many black men in their town while facing no repercussions from local law enforcement. Cassie’s father is attacked and her mother loses her job due to her participation in the boycott, and soon her cousin T.J. is framed for murder, causing Cassie and her family to witness the true horrors of racism when a lynch mob comes for T.J and burns the family’s land down.
Banned for: Language deemed offensive.
Impact: When I read this book in the 5th grade, I cried at the horrors the Logan family faced. How could anyone be so cruel? Although I had been raised in a racially diverse neighborhood and was aware that racism existed in real life, the idea of such hatred and violence such as that described in the book was appalling and I could barely stand the idea. To this day, when racial violence is reported by the media I find myself thinking of the character T.J., his mouth filled with blood as he is drug from his home after he was accused of a crime he wasn't responsible for. Just as when I originally read this book so many years before, my heart hurts at the thought of such injustice. When such injustice happens in real life however, I think of Cassie's mom who fought for justice and refused to accept the way the world was. I think of Cassie who defiantly stood on the sidewalk and refused to move just because the world looked down on her. I mostly think of Cassie's father who told her that they could never give up, just like the fig tree could never give up just because other trees were larger and took up more room. After reading this book in middle school I found myself seeking out other books that talked about racial issues and became more interested in the history of the civil rights movement in history class. This story forced me to look at what many to this day turn away from, and perhaps helped to mold how I see the world today.
4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
Quote: “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” -Atticus Finch
Summary: Set in Jim Crow Era Alabama, the story discusses three years out of the lives of Scout, Jem and Atticus Finch. Atticus Finch, a white lawyer, is representing a black man named Tom Robinson who has been falsely accused of raping and beating a white woman. Scout and Jem find themselves barraged by racial slurs and hatred from the people in the town due to their father’s stance that Robinson is innocent. Both children find ways to deal with such hatred. When Robinson is found guilty in the trial even after Atticus has proven his innocence, the children find themselves trying to understand the harsh realities of racism once again. When the children are attacked by the father of the victim in the trial of Tom Robinson, a neighbor known to the children as “Boo” Radley, a man who they had prejudged earlier in the novel, protects them by killing their attacker. This teaches Scout that people are rarely who we believe them to be and allows her to see the world with new eyes.
Banned for: Racist dialogue, offensive language and deemed unsuitable for children.
Impact: When one is raised in a military family, it is not unusual to believe that one has to fight for one’s rights and freedoms. The idea that Harper Lee presented here however, was that fighting takes many forms and sometimes just standing up for what is right and not backing down simply because it is hard is fighting. It also left the important message that people are not usually who we believe them to be, and if we can shake away preconceived notions and simply think the best of people, we may be surprised to find that those who we often turn from are truly good inside.
3. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947)
Quote: “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”-Anne Frank
Summary: The diary of a young Jewish girl who is hiding with her family during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Anne Frank discusses her life, her thoughts on her family’s situation as well as her dreams for the future.
Banned for: Sexual content, distressing themes, questions of authenticity.
Impact: As a child obsessed with Jewish culture and World War II, the story of Anne Frank moved me deeply. The true story forced me to see that life can be cruel and that it is important to stand against such evil in the world. Although the content is depressing, as those who object to the story have stated, it forces a child to understand that sometimes the good people don’t win, sometimes good people die, but it’s still important to hope and it’s still important to try to fight for the betterment of the world. It also gave me perspective, allowing me to see that if Anne Frank could face her problems with hope, so could I.
2. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (2003)
Quote: “Every faith in the world is based on fabrication. That is the definition of faith―acceptance of that which we imagine to be true, that which we cannot prove. Every religion describes God through metaphor, allegory, and exaggeration, from the early Egyptians through modern Sunday school. Metaphors are a way to help our minds process the unprocessable. The problems arise when we begin to believe literally in our own metaphors...Those who truly understand their faiths understand the stories are metaphorical.”
Summary: Robert Langdon, a Harvard symbologist, is drug into a conspiracy of biblical proportions when the Louvre curator, Jacques Saunière, is murdered by a member of Opus Dei due to his belief that Sauniere knows the location of the Holy Grail. Before he dies, Sauniere leaves Langdon’s name at the crime scene. Langdon and the curator's granddaughter Sophie attempt to search for clues left behind by Sauniere to discover an alternative narrative of the Bible and story of Jesus. Opus Dei, a secret organization determined to protect the Church, sends a monk to recover the Holy Grail, believed to not be a cup but the bloodline of Christ and Mary Magdalene. They are willing to kill to keep the Holy Grail a secret due to their belief that the revelation of Christ’s humanity would destroy the faith of millions and destroy the Church itself. Langdon and Sophie must question history and faith to finally clear Langdon's name and find the truth of the Holy Grail.
Banned for: Blasphemous content.
Impact: When my TAG class first read this book in Junior High, it was often difficult to hear the idea of Jesus Christ, a figure I had been raised to see as God-like, was thought to have children and be a mortal man. It seemed very blasphemous to me. At that point in my life, I was not one to question my faith and the teachings of Christianity. The class discussed whether or not this book had the potential to rattle the faith of others and why it angered others to have their faith drawn into question. We discussed whether or not it made a difference in how people viewed the Church and those who created it. And then my teacher, Mrs. McMahon, posed a question that would forever change the way I viewed faith: “Even if evidence came out to prove that Jesus in fact was not divine but was just a good man, would it really matter? If he did amazing things as a plain man and managed to inspire the world to live good lives because of his good deeds, would his divinity truly matter? What would it hurt if he was just a good man? And what would it hurt if you simply continued believing he was divine?” I mulled this idea over for a few classes. I had never truly considered such an idea before. The book had started a conversation that pushed the boundaries of my faith and made me consider something I had once been uncomfortable considering. So what if it was true? Could I not believe how I chose to? And if I began to see him as simply a man, wasn’t he still a man who changed the world? Because of this book, it forever impacted how I measured my faith and perhaps allowed me to eventually become comfortable with questioning my religion many years later.
1. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)
Quote: “If you don't want a man unhappy politically, don't give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of 'facts' they feel stuffed, but absolutely 'brilliant' with information. Then they'll feel they're thinking, they'll get a sense of motion without moving. And they'll be happy, because facts of that sort don't change.”
Summary: In the future, firemen don’t put out fires but start them. Books have been outlawed and when they are discovered the firemen come to burn them. Guy Montag, a fireman, one day begins to question this process when he starts a friendship with an eccentric teenage neighbor named Clarisse. Montag steals a book from a house meant to be burned and begins a journey in understanding the importance of books and the dangers of censorship. He finds that in a world that began moving too fast, books were pushed aside for things such as television and radio that could offer a sensation of happiness, not true intellectual stimulation. In fact, he truly knew very little about the world around him or the people he surrounded himself with due to the speed of their lives. He finds that censorship became imperative in a world that wanted to control information and didn’t want to offend others. Many were willing to give it up for things that numbed them and allowed them to believe they were happy. After he is discovered, he is exiled and a war begins that no one knew about due to the lack of knowledge on current events, because current events don’t make people happy. Those in exile are determined to make a better world from the ashes of the old one.
Banned for: Religious viewpoints, language.
Impact: When I read this book in TAG during Junior High, I had already known the amazing world of books. I was not aware, however, of censorship or how a book could spark an idea that changed the world. I had never considered how televisions and screen time gave information so quickly that it substituted good old fashioned thinking. I had never thought of how others could deprive me of information of the world, and it wasn’t until I came face to face with the idea of someone taking away my ability to learn and think freely that I realized how important it was to fight for it. The class and this book forever changed the way I read, for now I knew that these weren’t just stories, but a world that could teach me something about myself that I never knew was there. It could change the way I saw the world. A book about banning books was in fact, the most important book I’d ever read in my life. �