A quote from Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’. A book which, incidentally, took 130 years to be published in its full, uncensored form.
I’ve been ruminating on the topic of challenged books in the wake of this year’s Banned Books Week. In the Graduate Resource Center at Western’s Faculty of Information & Media Studies there is a collection of books which had been banned or challenged. I took the time to look them over and was unsurprised by most of the content; I knew of the controversy surrounding Salman Rushdie’s ‘Satanic Verses’ and the inclusion of novels like Warren Ellis’ ‘American Psycho’ was hardly shocking. (For the record, I disliked Ellis’ book, but that just means I put it down without finishing it, not that I decided I should ‘protect’ others from being exposed to it)
What struck me most was the prevalence of children’s or young adult fiction in the lists of banned books. Of the top ten challenged books in 2012, 6 were books for children or young adults; in 2011, it was 8 of 10. There’s a clear ‘save the children’ mentality present here.
But the books that I recognize on this shelf are the books that I loved most as a child, that I remember most vividly. I loved them because they challenged me. It was exciting and, yes, scary, to read something that was slightly beyond me, that made me think seriously. Children are capable of engaging with morally complex literature, and capable of growing from the experience. If someone is worried about their children consuming certain kinds of media then that is a discussion that they need to have with their children, not a excuse for censorship.
So, in celebration of Banned Books Week, even if it’s a little belated, here a few of my childhood favourites from the banned books shelf, along with the reasons they were challenged:
Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, (1962) – offensive language; undermining religious beliefs; promoting witchcraft, crystal balls, and demons
Lois Lowry’s The Giver, (1993) – offensive language; themes of suicide, infanticide and euthanasia
Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, (1995) – religious viewpoint, political viewpoint
What about you? Do you recognize any books you enjoyed on our shelf or on the ALA’s list of frequently challenged books?