Lessons Learned from Banned Books

Today caps off this year’s Banned Books Week, the one week wherein reading rebels celebrate their right to read whatever they desire. The American Library Association runs the campaign to bring awareness to those books frequently challenged in school, libraries, and retail outlets, and promotes intellectual freedom in those sacred book places.

In 2008, 661 titles were disputed somewhere in the United States, titles including The Prince of Tides, The Lovely Bones, and even Winnie the Pooh. Sex, violence, race relations, and ani-Christian messages are the reasons most cited when books are challenged or stolen from schools and libraries. The good stuff, of course.

This article at NYTimes.com mentions a case in which a Maine patron stole It’s Perfectly Normal: A Book about Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health from his local library due to its “amoral, abnormal contents”. The patron is to be tried for theft. (Abnormal?)

You know, while I know I should be upset by the inanity of book banning, the frequency with which it occurs in America makes me a little bit happy. Books, it appears, still have power. Enough for that Maine reader to risk losing a court case and probably paying out stacks in fees and fines. The book banner rarely, if ever, wins. And the more they dispute these books, the more treasured they become. Win for the Rebel Readers.

At least that’s my experience reading and rereading The Chocolate War, Forever, and The Outsiders over the years. What a thrill to know that when it was most necessary, you, rebellious teenage reader, received the education so many tried to steer you away from. It’s those books we cherish, that taught us everything we needed to know about all that heavy stuff, that adult stuff.

I dragged out some of my old favourites from the Banned Books List, and the highlighted quotes within them read like diary entries from my own life. Rarely, as a teenager, did I read a book without my orange highlighter on hand. I marked everything that jumped out me, moved me, made me want to remember the special bits of every book I read.

Looking them over now, I’m forced to wonder just how much these words and these books shaped the reader — the woman — I am today? And who would I be if I’d not read them at all? Happy Banned Books Week.


by Stephen King

She could, she knew she could be (what)
in another place. She was thick through the waist only because she sometimes felt so miserable, empty, bored, that the only way to fill that gaping, whistling hole was to eat and eat and eat — but she was not that thick through the middle. Her body chemistry would not allow her to go beyond a certain point. And she thought her legs were actually pretty, almost as pretty as Sue Snell’s or Vicky Hanscom’s. She could be
(what o what o what)
could stop the chocolates and her pimples would go down. They always did. She could fix her hair. Buy pantyhose and blue and green tights. Make little skirts and dresses from Butterick and Simplicity patterns. The price of a bus ticket, a train ticket. She could be, could be, could be

Go Tell it on the Mountain

by James Baldwin

Tears stood suddenly in her own eyes, though she could not have said what she was crying for. “Leave me be,” she said to Gabriel, and picked up her bag again. She opened the door; the cold morning air came in. “Good-by,” she said. And then to Gabriel: “Tell her I said good-by.” She walked through the cabin door and down the short steps into the frosty yard. Gabriel watched her, standing frozen between the doors and the weeping bed. Then, as her hand was on the gate, he ran before her, and slammed the gate shut. “Girl where you going? What you doing? You reckon on finding some men up North to dress you in pearls and diamonds?”
Violently, she opened the gate and moved out into the road. He watched her with his jaw hanging, and his lips loose and wet. “If you ever see me again,” she said. “I won’t be wearing rags like yours.”

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

by Ken Kesey

… Because he knows you have to laugh at the things that hurt you just to keep yourself in balance, just to keep the world from running you plumb crazy. He knows there’s a painful side; he knows my thumb smarts and his girlfriend has a bruised breast and the doctor is losing his glasses, but he won’t let the pain blot out the humour no more’n he’ll let the humour blot out the pain.


by Robert Cormier

“Anyway, I was pregnant. It was crazy.” Her voice had a touch of awe and it was as if she were speaking of someone else, not herself. “One time, the first time and my precious virginity which I had battled to save was gone. Just like that. How I had protected that virginity. Fought with guys, cajoled them, almost took up judo at one time. The battle of the hands of all those guys, at dances, at mixers. But quick cheap feels are one thing. I could deal with them. What I couldn’t fight was this gorgeous hunk from Boston College. I’ve never gone for the handsome, virile, the-world-is-mine type. But I did with this guy. Swept me off my feet. I was on a merry-go-round. He was a basketball star. Six three, I mean, I came up to his nipples…” She looked directly at me: “Does this offend you, Paul? Disillusion about you little sister? Will you love me less now?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said.
“But you look so … so sad.”
“Sad because I didn’t realise at the time what was happening to you. It scares me sometimes to think about how the family is so close and yet so far apart. All the secrets we have from each other.” And my own dark secret.

The Was Then, This is Now

by SE Hinton

I haven’t tried to see Mark since then. I heard in a roundabout way that he was sent to the state prison. I’ve just been sort of waiting around for school to start, not much caring whether it does or not. I don’t seem to care about anything any more. It’s like I am worn out with caring about people. I don’t even care about Mark. The guy who was my best friend doesn’t exist any longer, and I don’t want to think about the person who has taken his place. I go over everything that happened last year, trying to figure out what I could have done different if I had the chance, but I don’t know. Mostly I wonder “what if”? What if I had found out about Mark some other time, when I wasn’t half out of my mind with worry about Cathy? What if I hadn’t met her in the first place, would I still have grown away from Mark? What if M&M had a good trip instead of a bad one? What if someone else had turned Mark in — would there still be hope for him? I am too mixed up to really care. And to think, I used to be sure of things. Me, once I had all the answers. I wish I was a kid again, when I had all the answers.