Running With Lit Matches

This week is Banned Books Week in the United States. Fortunately this is a challenge to the banning of books, not a gathering around the pyre to celebrate narrow-mindedness defended for another year. As a firm believer that experiencing more perspectives on life is not a social evil, I decided to join in. What surprised me was what hasn’t been banned.

My original idea for this post was based giving a brief comment on each of the ten most banned books. However, upon looking at the list of American classics most challenged, something immediately leapt out at me:

1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

2. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

3. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

4. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

5. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

6. Ulysses, by James Joyce

7. Beloved, by Toni Morrison

8. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

9. 1984, by George Orwell

11. Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov

The top 10 entries on the ALA challenged classics list, numbered by place on the Radcliffe 100 Best American Novels

The ten books challenged most often in the United State are, in the same order, the top entries on the Radcliffe Publishing Course list of best American Novels.

Except for one entry. Tenth place on the Radcliffe list, William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, not only doesn’t rate tenth place on the ALA list of challenged books, it doesn’t appear at all.

Interestingly, it is also the only one I haven’t read.

What this says about the specifics of banning books I am not sure: potentially only that I have not seen The Sound and the Fury in a library. A circumstance happily not due to censorship.

However, considering the novels I have read, I regard each of them to be well written and do not feel reading any of them wasted my time, let alone caused me moral harm.

I read most of them either at school or because I chose to include classics in my reading diet. And most of them are not books I would re-read for entertainment.

Which is why I oppose banning books. I have a wider than average reading palate, and most of the books I read for entertainment are still from a fairly narrow range of genres and viewpoints; certainly too narrow to make up for the lack of real diversity in the un-war-torn, politically liberal City of Bristol.

If I didn’t have the option to read beyond my comfort zone, I would have a reasonable grasp of the arguments for and against rights for sentient computers, but no understanding of what people of a different race living in the real world experience.

(And, on a more selfish note, I read an immense amount of books each year. If we ban anything that offends people, there is a risk I will run out and be reduced to sitting by rubbish bins begging for discarded food wrappers just to read the ingredients.)

Do you seek out differing viewpoints when choosing your reading material? Do you think there is a subject so offensive books should not be allowed to mention it?


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