Reading up on banned book week

Columnist Allan Hewitson weighs in on banned books.

Did you know last week was the 30th anniversary of  “banned books week?”

It’s been an annual event for years by the American Library Association and celebrates our “freedom to read.”

You probably didn’t know that – and I’d never heard of it before last week either.

But it intrigued me and as I read a little about it, I began to wonder how many of what they call “challenged or banned books” I’ve personally read in my lifetime, simply thinking they were “classics” of a kind.

Turned out it was quite a number.  And, clearly I didn’t read them (all?) because I was just I peeping about for salaciousness, because I am lead to wonder what people objected to in many of the listed books. Some of the literature I had read were books I truly cannot imagine any adult could find objectionable enough to ban.

As a Brit growing up in the 40s, 50s and 60s, yes I can understand why good old D.H. Lawrence’s raw tale of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” (which was banned in Canada until 1962) or Vladimir Nabokov’s novel “Lolita,” or Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer” would readily find some “church-type” people world wide who are a little squeamish and eager and ready to “ban” them from the local library.

Of course I did read them, didn’t we all? Banning or complaining about a book publicly anywhere is tantamount to an open invitation for young people to get hold of it. Much easier with the internet than in my day where the Carnegie Library did not have a section called “banned books.”

Today, in 2012, we’d wonder why long time classics like “Lord of the Rings,”  by J.R.R. Tolkien, J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye,” Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” or Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises,” (which was actually burned by the Nazis in Germany in big literary bonfires) are on any list at all – or classic stories like “Animal Farm” by George Orwell.

I better understand the Nazis seeing bonfire flammability in books like Hemingway’s, “A Farewell to Arms” but “Call of the Wild” by Jack London, was also fire fodder  — and was banned in Italy and Yugoslavia.

Ireland certainly didn’t seem to like a lot of books over the years. I wonder if there’s not still a long list that may yet be banned in that country. Among the banned in Ireland books (in 1953) was John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” It was a very frequently-challenged book at US schools and described variously as profanity filled, vulgar, filthy, demeaning to women, African Americans and the developmentally challenged (scarily this last was as late as in 2007 in Kansas.) One group wanted it banned because of Steinbeck’s “anti-business attitudes” and his “questionable patriotism.”

But most of the “frequently challenged books” were primarily opposed by parent-run library support groups trying to keep them out of the hands of school children in  numerous jurisdictions all across the USA. Many, particularly in the southern states, were motivated by racism based on segregation policies.

Still, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Ernest Hemingway was long “un-mailable” at the U.S. Post Office in the 1940s and I’m not sure as to why, but it was banned in Boston, Ireland and California. In 1973 11 Turkish booksellers were dragged into court because the book was on a martial-law banned list.

Why, even J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” was burned as satanic in Alamogordo, New Mexico, as recently as 2001, with other Tolkien novels. The movies were circulating well, of course.

Continued on page 6

I was a bit surprised to see “Catcher int the Rye” as one of the most frequently challenged books – but less surprised to see Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses” high on the list. It was banned in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Somalia, Sudan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Quatar, Indonesia, South Africa, and India because of its criticism of Islam.

I didn’t know however that it was burned in West Yorkshire, England in 1989 and temporarily withdrawn from several bookstores on the advice of police who took threats to staff and property seriously.

By the way, from the list of 100 banned or challenged books on a list on the website, I’d read and mostly finished more than 30. I have to admit, in some cases, like James Joyce’s “Ulysses” and some others, I just didn’t get through them totally,  mainly based on style or readability reasons.

I’d think everyone has tossed a book or two away because of reading frustration.

Anyway, I may not be as “well read” as I thought: only 30 per cent of the whole list!

ahewitson@telus.net

Allan Hewitson writes the weekly Under Miscellaneous column.

Just Posted

Outside the Kitimat RCMP police station, Diversity Morgan’s family and Kitimat RCMP come together for a pride flag-raising ceremony. (Jacob Lubberts photo)
Kitimat RCMP host pride flag ceremony in memory of Diversity Morgan

“We’re gathered here in solidarity for anyone who’s ever experienced prejudice or discrimination”

(Haisla First Nation logo)
Haisla Nation host walk for strength and series of virtual sessions for Indigenous History Month

The purpose of the walk is to bring Haisla Nation members together and show their collective support

The District of Kitimat will be awarding business owners with a store front up to $5,000 to cover up to 50 per cent of exterior renovations. (Norhtern Development logo)
The District of Kitimat is awarding $5,000 to storefront owners for exterior renovations

The district has set aside $20,000 this year and non-profits are also eligible

Ron getting loose and sipping a glass of the family’s favourite greek amber spirit, Metaxa. (Photo supplied)
In Our Valley: Ron Lechner

Retired part-time singer and Rio Tinto lifer: Ron Lechner

Map of the road work that will be completed this summer. The streets highlighted in red are what the district planned on completing before additional funding, and the streets highlighted in orange is the road works that will be done with the additional funding. (District of Kitimat photo)
$1.1 million allocated for road work this year in Kitimat

Kitimat council has added $470,000 for more work by deferring four other projects.

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

Most Read