Okay, I’m supposed to be writing. I guess I am, but… you know what I mean.

If you didn’t know, it’s Banned Book Week in the U.S., sponsored by the American Library Association. And it’s a subject none of us can ignore. Okay, the situation’s slightly different in the U.S. from Great Britain (as freedom of speech is not a right protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution here, surprisingly*), but I think it’s an issue that affects all of us. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the issue’s much hotter in America and calls are being made every day there to ban books.

I was just looking at the ALA’s list of banned and challenged classics and was frankly shocked and surprised at some of the books included on the list. Not all of them were a shock as a number have lots of sex and violence in them. But to paraphrase what my Dad used to say about TV** “You know how to close the book — don’t read it if it offends you!”

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper LeeI think you’ll be surprised too at some of the things on the list. Here’s a few to chew on:

    • The Colour Purple, by Alice Walker
    • Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
    • Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
    • Rabbit, Run, by John Updike
    • The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
    • Animal Farm, by George Orwell
    • o Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee (recently voted Britain’s favourite novel in one of those polls)
    • The Call of the Wild, by Jack London (I mean, come on…)

There’s a lot more, and you can see the entire list on their website – I can almost guarantee you’ll be surprised by at least one of the books on that list.

And the list of contemporary books that have been challenged is equally surprising. The Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer, The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini, In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak and one I’m going to have to read as it’s upset a lot of people, And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell. Hey, don’t read it if you don’t like it.

The futility of banning books

I used to work in theatre (lighting, sets, that sort of thing) and was a regular at Edinburgh’s Festival Fringe. If you haven’t been, go. There’s hundreds of theatre companies, comedians and other performers putting on shows in the barn to two people and there’s nothing like it anywhere.

Anyway, after several years of spending August in the Scottish capital, we noticed that one of the ways to get your show to do well at the Fringe was to get someone to ban it — or even call for it to be banned. BAM! Instant sell out. Probably a Fringe Award as well. The easiest was to do something slightly or not so slightly sacrilegious, preferably in a Church of Scotland hall, and then invite the vicar or some other member of the church. BAM! Instant sell out!

I think the Church of Scotland got wise to this and stopped banning or commenting on shows at the Fringe, which was probably sensible.

The moral of this story is: banning books only ensures more people will read them, because our bull-headedness goes, “I’d better see what I’m missing — I might be offended!” (I rarely think that last bit as it takes quite a bit to offend me).

So I’m off to read And Tango Makes Three — I think you should read a banned book, too.

* Pleading the Fifth doesn’t work here either. Go figure.
**Dad used to say, “You know where the off switch is — turn it off if you don’t like it!”