It's one thing to ban reading material for telling lies like the hate propaganda that Ernst Zundel wrote claiming the Holocaust never happened. However, it's quite another to ban books that tell the truth. This week is banned books week and here are a few titles that were banned at one time or another in the United States or elsewhere, often for telling the truth.
1. All Quiet on the Western Front -- I read this book in my first year of university. Eric Maria Remarque gives a scathing account of what it was like for a soldier to serve in the trenches in World War I and to re-adjust to civilian life. This book was banned and burned in Nazi Germany.
2. Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl. I read this diary was I was young. Anne Frank gives an account of her early childhood as well as her years in hiding in Amsterdam until she and her family are discovered by the Nazis, all perishing in concentration camps, except their father. The Diary of Anne Frank has been banned by various American schoolboards for discussing menstruation and sexual feelings.
3. Gone with the Wind -- Margaret Mitchell weaves a tale of debutantes in the deep South during the Civil War. Some opposed the fact that the protagonist had been married more than once. In recent years, it has been banned for its negative portrayal of black people, many of whom were slaves or servants, although this is an accurate interpretation of the time period.
4. King Lear -- Shakespeare's play was banned for being too political.
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn -- Mark Twain's story is loosely based on his life on the Mississippi River as a young boy. A Massachusetts Library banned the book in 1885 for being socially offensive.
6. The Color Purple -- I read this book in university for an African American Literature course. Alice Walker writes about a woman who is involved in an abusive relationship. A North Carolina school board banned it for its violence and sexual content.
7. Uncle Tom's Cabin -- I also read this book in university. Harriet Beecher Stowe recounts the story of Reverend Josiah Henson, a slave owned by a white family, who eventually finds freedom across Lake Erie in Southwestern Ontario. He contributed greatly to the Underground Railroad. It was banned in the Southern States in the mid-1800's. "So controversial was this novel that, upon meeting Stowe, President Lincoln is credited with saying, 'So, this is the little lady who wrote the big book that made this great war.'" (www.forgetfulone.com)
8. The Lord of the Rings -- Considered to be irreligious by some, J. R. R. Tolkien's hugely popular fantasy is the second most popular selling novel ever (over 150 million copies sold).
9. To Kill a Mockingbird -- I read Harper Lee's novel with my class when I was a student teacher. It's based on a black man who is charged and tried for the rape of a white woman, although he maintains his innocence. In the end, he is declared guilty and sentenced to die. The book was banned by Warren, Indiana schools since it does "psychological damage to the positive integration process".
10. The Grapes of Wrath -- John Steinbeck's novel was banned and burned in Buffalo, New York and Kern County, California. Interestingly enough, Kern County was the setting for the novel. "Detractors accused the author of everything from harboring communist sympathies to exaggeration of the conditions in migrant camps." (http://cornellreading.typepad.com)
Apparently, Nazi supporters held a massive book burning session in Germany in 1933 burning several works by Jewish writers including Einstein and Freud as well as novels penned by writers who simply did not share their world view like those of Thomas Mann and Erich Maria Remarque. While I do not promote the use of foul language or portrayal of excessive violence or inclusion of graphic sexual matter in books, I do promote the truth. Many of these books speak the truth -- and the truth makes us uncomfortable. Although we don't always like to hear these stories, they need to be told, as long as they are age appropriate. Even the best selling book of all time has been banned or burned at one time or another in the past 2000 years. And it definitely speaks the truth!
Photo courtesy http://instructors.dwrl.utexas.edu