Ladies, gentlemen and all other configurations of being, for the longest time, banning books has been seen as a good starting point to enhanced education. (Yes, the irony is not lost on us.) Truly, withholding all the information and awareness that books have brought to the table for centuries simply on the account of “violence”—to cite one of the many ridiculous reasons—can only be for the greater good of the world. This paradoxical ridiculousness, however, has thus been challenged with the celebrations of many literary months, weeks and days that have been brought into existence by the efforts of readers and writers all over the world, who condemn citing the reality of many marginalised people as “too explicit”.
Recently, the book community celebrated one of its most fascinating and significant weeks: Banned Books Week. Upon research, I found that this was an official, annually recognized week, usually by the end of September, where people celebrated, read, challenged and shared their stories regarding books that had been banned for one reason or another. This had been primarily centred in America, where certain books were seen as ‘unfit’ for the school and public libraries, which happen to be major sources of literary material for a large number of children and adults. Truly, the land of the free and the brave. Alas, this deprivation and censorship led to the emergence of this Banned Books Week, now observed every year to encourage intellectual freedom and the values of diverse perspectives.
And so, keeping all facts in mind, I list here five of these books that I, personally, believe everyone should read.
- The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger.
Banned and challenged for its ‘explicit’ nature, The Catcher in the Rye entails the story of a teenager named Holden Caulfield and the angst and rebellion that often accompany the teenage years. Salinger’s articulation is both explicit and eloquent at the same time. Despite attempts at, and successful, bannings of this book, it has remained a pertinent moment in literature for so many. Themes and portrayal of a particular alienation that only teenagers feel has kept this book at an all time high. These years and experiences are justifiably isolating, especially when trying to truly understand your place in the harsh society we know today. And, sometimes, after growing up, we may forget how it all felt but there is always room to reminisce and empathize, always calming to realize that you weren’t alone in your experience. It also has hints of Romanticism, which, honestly, already puts it higher up on my list.
- The Curious Case of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon
Neurodivergent main character. Good portrayal. Unique writing style. Murder Mystery. Need I say more? I will but I mean, it really does speak for itself on why you definitely should be reading this book.
The book again was banned mostly for the use of profane language and some evidence of atheistic beliefs, which are reduced to nothingness when you look at the real message of the book: the world through the eyes of a child with Asperger’s Syndrome, the portrayal of his lived experiences through the use of fascinating literary and structural techniques, and the questions of whether what is considered “normal” is actually the good and the norm for everyone or not. A truly fascinating read.
- Beloved by Toni Morrison
Too ‘violent’. Too ‘foul’. Too ‘ugly’. Perhaps, the word they were looking for was too ‘real’. Beloved was banned for several reasons, which again amounted mostly to it being ‘inappropriate’ for students. But the history of slavery and violence inflicted upon Black people has never been pretty and literature written on it was done with the purpose of making the readers uncomfortable. This book entails the harsh choices Black people, especially black women and mothers, had to make in the face of slavery and the lengths they went to protect what was their own. Holding up the evils of the world to its face is important. Reading about it, acknowledging it and striving to do better, is even more so. Morrison did her part. We must do ours.
- The Colour Purple by Alice Walker
Do we see a pattern yet?
The Colour Purple was banned yet again for graphic content, situations of violence and abuse. However, many claim the world wouldn’t be complete without this book in it. Bringing in ideas of intersectionality and the layers of discrimination and oppression faced by minorities, this book tells the story of Celie and her eventual attainment of freedom. More often than not, the topics considered controversial are just truths authors refuse to ignore, even if they may be uncomfortable. Everyone, no matter the race, sexuality or gender, deserves to find books that represent their lives and reflect the truths they are confronted with on the daily, books they can relate to and books that ultimately give hope.
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
I had mixed feelings when I found out how much The Handmaid’s Tale had been challenged and how many times it faced bans after its release. I wasn’t surprised because the only reasons that had been cited for the banning of many books were the explicit content, profane language or ‘inappropriateness’ of the book. This book definitely does not shy away from the ugly and the raw and the violent. But, at the same time, I was also shocked because I think it is such an important read for everyone. Atwood herself claims that she didn’t include any events in the book that hadn’t already happened. “No imaginary gizmos, no imaginary laws, no imaginary atrocities.” With how relevant this book is in regards to all the events that have happened these past years,—climate change, the rising threat of nationalism and all the rights minorities are denied and continue to fight for—Atwood’s claim is enough to chill us to the bone. The Handmaid’s Tale, thus, remains timeless and an essential read for all.
Personally, the Banned Books Week seems like such an important initiative because a lot of these books portray a reality we can no longer ignore, a reality that needs to be acknowledged and changed. It is high time we acknowledge that discourse is important, and diverse narratives should never be shut out on the account of “censorship”.
What was that Oscar Wilde quote again? Ah, yes:
“The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame.”
So read them all. Especially the ones they tell you not to.
TLC Culture Editor