We will be conducting a Banned Books Week at my university. During the celebrations, members of the university community will go to our bookstore and read from our favorite banned or challenged book for up to 2 minutes as the bookstore workers videotape the reading. Here is the website of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) which is a founding sponsor of Banned Books Week.
I’m extremely excited about the event (and I’m not alone in my excitement), but I can’t decide which book I should read from.
Here are some possibilities but feel free to add your own suggestions:
1. John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath would make a lot of sense because it has been banned very close to where I am right now: Burned by the East St. Louis, IL Public Library (1939) and barred from the Buffalo, NY Public Library (1939) on the grounds that “vulgar words” were used. Banned in Kansas City, MO (1939).
2. Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. This is simply a brilliant book that is a joy to read publicly in any context. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you about the history of the attempts to ban it.
3. John Knowles’s A Separate Peace again makes sense on geographic grounds. Look at the totally cute reasons our local prudes tried to ban it: “Challenged in Vernon-Verona-Sherill, NY School District (1980) as a “filthy, trashy sex novel.” Challenged at the Fannett-Metal High School in Shippensburg, PA (1985) because of its allegedly offensive language. Challenged as appropriate for high school reading lists in the Shelby County, TN school system (1989) because the novel contains “offensive language.” Challenged, but retained in the Champaign, IL high school English classes (1991) despite claims that “unsuitable language” makes it inappropriate. Challenged by the parent of a high school student in Troy, IL (1991) citing profanity and negative attitudes.”
Negative attitudes, how cute is that?
4. Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, my absolutely favorite American novel ever. “Banned in Boston, MA (1927) and burned by the Nazis in Germany (1933) because it “deals with low love affairs.”
Any other suggestions? I don’t want to read from either D.H. Lawrence or William Burroughs because their writing bores me (I don’t think they should be banned on those grounds, though.)