Do you have any idea what Margaret Mitchell, Benjamin Franklin, J.K. Rowling, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Pat Conroy have in Common? Well, yes, they all wrote books that became bestsellers. But I was thinking of the fact that they also wrote books that people have tried to suppress in one way or another over the years. They’ve all been the object of censors.
Ben Franklin’s Autobiography was deemed by some to be too racy for kids and adults because Ol’ Ben rhapsodized on the lovemarking virtues of mature women and got his book banned beginning in 1789. Gone with the Wind had too many crude and sexy parts for some readers in the 1930s (although a lot more snapped it up and turned it into one of the world’s all-time bestselling novels. Rowling’s famously popular “Harry Potter” series has offended would-be censors because it supposedly panders to witchcraft, a charge leveled by the book-banners right here in Georgia not too long ago.
In many of these instances, the censors didn’t want to keep the materials from just the prying eyes of youngsters, they wanted to bar them from anyone’s experience, young or old. If something offended the censors, then it surely offended everyone. It’s that vision of the self-annointed, the righteous whose beliefs somehow transcend whatever anyone else thinks.
I mention this because we’re into Banned Books Week, September 25 – October 2. It’s a good time to recall some of the efforts of censors over the decades, as we are reminded by the week’s sponsors, the American Library Association and the American Booksellers Association, along with a number of other organizations. Even a partial list of banned books reads like a compilation of the greatest works of literature: Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Slaughterhoouse-Five, The Origin of the Species, Ulysses, The Color Purple, To Kill a Mockingbirfd, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Farewell to Arms, 1984, The Diary of Anne Frank. And on and on.
Censoring would be a joke, truly, if it weren’t so serious an offense. That said, I find myself still chuckling at the effort many years ago to ban Henry James’ The Wings of the Dove, a novel so dense and difficult that it’s impossible to believe the would-be banners ever got past page 6. (I got to page 11 once before quitting.) Of course, that’s part of the problem, too. A lot of censors have never read the material they seek to eradicate. while far too many others have read it and failed to understand it. An age when blatant censoring is increasingly accompanied by pariochial illiteracy makes for a very sad time.
So go enjoy the week. Thumb your nose at the censors. Head over to your local library or bookstore and pick up a copy of The Prince of Tides, or The Grapes of Wrath, or maybe The Scarlet Letter. And then read it; after all, that’s the ultimate rebuke to anyone who wants to keep you away from books.