Adult Fiction · Children's & Middle Grade · History · Other Stuff · Picture Books

Banned Books Week: “The Most Famous Challenged and Banned Books” Event

banned-books-imageIn the interest of time, instead of a book profile today, I’ve got an event to talk about! “The Most Famous Challenged and Banned Books” was a talk given by Dr. William Hutchings of the UAB Department of English at one of my local libraries. The audience was about twenty to twenty-five people of mature years. I was the youngest there by about thirty years. So, huzzah for all you older folk turning out to support the freedom to read! Dr. Hutchings teaches on British drama, but taught a special topics class on censorship last year. This event was an hour-long survey of the history of book bans, with some pretty fun stuff in there.

  • Plato wanted to keep poets out of his republic because they were liars.
  • In 1958, there was a big stink here in Alabama over The Rabbit’s Wedding, a picture book featuring a bunny with white fur marrying a bunny with black fur. Nice job, Alabama.
  • John Milton made the argument that if reading banned books really caused depravity, the designated censor (who would have to read everything to see if it should be banned) would end up the most depraved citizen of all…
  • The censor who allowed James Joyce’s books into the US did so with the announcement that they might make people vomit, but wouldn’t act as aphrodisiacs, so they were okay.  (Vomiting = not nearly as bad as arousal, apparently.)
  • Mae West was arrested and sent to a workhouse for a week over her play Sex. She there discovered that many of the inmates couldn’t read, and when she got out, she donated $1,000 to the workhouse to create a library where the literate prisoners could teach the rest.
  • Oh, Alabama… this very year, Senator Scott Beason wanted to have The Crucible removed from high schools because it criticizes Joe McCarthy. We can’t be having that, can we?!

Fun facts aside, Dr. Hutchings’ thesis was, “It’s never about what it’s actually about.” You have to ask the question, “Who is trying to keep what out of the hands of whom, and for what reason?” 

When you ask that question, you realize it’s not about black bunnies or violence or sexual content… It’s about defending the established order of things for some group — usually women and/or children — deemed unable to handle an idea or interpret it correctly. The objection to Madame Bovary wasn’t “we can’t talk about adultery,” it was that women shouldn’t hear about adultery. That casts the whole thing in a new light, doesn’t it?

Dr. Hutchings touched on the idea that reading is either a right or a privilege, and came down on the side of reading as a right. That doesn’t mean all books should be free, or that you should have the right to read on company time, or anything like that — it means that reading shouldn’t be a privilege bestowed by existing institutions. That defeats the whole purpose, because any censorship is already an attempt to maintain those institutions. Book bans are some privileged group of people trying to decide what thoughts I get to have, and that’s not acceptable.

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7 thoughts on “Banned Books Week: “The Most Famous Challenged and Banned Books” Event

  1. my question is this: out of all the senators in Washington, which gender has been more publicized as being cheaters and thieves? Not the women, I can assure you of that. So as a man, I sit typing this, saying: men are lying sacks of dirt who have always expected the opposite from their female counterparts than what they, themselves, are willing to do. To those who can’t “cope” with certain triggers, I say “get over it. We have all been abused, mistreated or damaged in some way and yet we aren’t all “triggered” by any special “keyword.”

    To the politicians: stop screwing with freedom of speech. It isn’t one law for Congress, and another for everyone else. To America: Wake Up!!! Get over this PC crap and move on. It was a bad idea when it started and has become an even worse idea as the fanatics fan the flames. fiction is just that: fiction. If it were fact, would you still bury your heads and call it offensive?

    Banning literature just simply based on wanting to keep it out of the hands of the “other” sex, children, or so on is utter nonsense and completely goes against what this country was founded on. Granted, I have read a few books that have made me sick, but do I want them banned? No. We have a choice NOT to read certain things if we find them offensive. Please, people. Use the matter of choice rather than making the choice for everyone out of your selfishness.

    I did find this blog very enlightening. good work. I just needed to add my two-cents as a writer. hope you didn’t mind. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There may be more male cheaters and thieves in Washington because there are more males in Washington! But yes, it’s a good point that men are not qualified to be the gatekeepers of morality any more than any other group.

      I notice you reference trigger warnings as being akin to censorship or book banning, but it’s not actually the same thing. Trigger warnings and content notes are simply notifications of a book’s content to help those who may have experienced trauma. PTSD isn’t something you can just “get over.” Trigger warnings are like movie ratings — they help people decide what media to consume based on their needs and restrictions of the moment. They’re possibly less restrictive since there’s no “R” rating that requires an adult’s approval. They allow readers themselves to choose, and that’s the whole point. (In a classroom setting a person may still be required to consume the media, but they allow vulnerable people to prepare themselves before reading something that could harm them if it catches them unawares). Trauma triggers are real, actual harm, and a simple notification isn’t censorship, it still leaves the choice up to the reader.

      I just needed to clarify that for my readers, as I try to make sure this is a safe space. Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  2. Reblogged this on Eclectic Alli and commented:
    “Fun facts aside, Dr. Hutchings’ thesis was, “It’s never about what it’s actually about.” You have to ask the question, “Who is trying to keep what out of the hands of whom, and for what reason?” ”
    A great reflection on what sounds like an excellent talk about book banning!

    Like

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