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Have you ever read a banned book?

This post was written by Elysia
on September 25, 2009 | Comments (8)

It’s Banned Book Week!

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you have read a book that someone has tried to ban at some point in your life, even if you weren’t aware of it. Some recognized classics of literature have been the subject of complaints from people trying to get them banned from school and even public libraries: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, just for a start. That’s why every year many groups band together to celebrate Banned Books Week, this year from September 26 to October 3.

One of my favorite books, which was introduced to me as assigned reading in high school, is Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. This book has been attacked by a group of parents in Kansas calling themselves Citizens for Literary Standards in Schools. On their page explaining the reasons they think this book is inappropriate, they write “The book was widely criticized for its frank, open discussion of the emotional and sexual “needs” of women.” Well, yes, but that was one hundred and ten years ago… and nowadays we no longer use quotation marks when referring to the sexual needs of women, so please get with the program. The parent group sums up the book by saying, “Parents should be aware of content such as adultery (with no remorse), suicide, and extreme sensuality. It is another dark, depressing book.” I guess you are only allowed to portray adultery and sensuality as something to be ashamed of, and that we should only read light, happy books? Somehow I just don’t follow this logic. (And for anyone who’s read this book, you’ll know that it contains the most PG depictions of sex ever. The book pulls at your emotions, not your nether regions. Even the suicide scene is surprisingly tame.)

The majority of complaints filed are made by either parents or library patrons, and many of them center around sexual explicitness, offensive language, violence and the like, which frankly might not be appropriate for all ages. (Which is why it’s always a good idea to play and active role in your child’s life and discuss such issues within the family.) Yet some of the complaints seem more subjective (and harmless) to me, like “religious viewpoint” or “political viewpoint” or the ever-popular “homosexuality.” (For example, Uncle Bobby’s Wedding or Heather Has Two Mommies.) These people would out-and-out like no one to have access to materials bearing viewpoints they don’t agree with. And what always gets me are people trying to ban books for the mere reason of “sexual education” such as It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health or the book It’s So Amazing! A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families.

Why is this important to Pagans? Oh, I’m getting to that. If you look over the lists of the most frequently challenged books on the website of the American Library Association (ALA), or this list of banned and challenged books on the website of American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE), you’ll see books being attacked again and again for what is listed as “occult/Satanism” – the same category that once housed Harry Potter for so many years, as well as books like Bridge to Terebithia, the Scary Stories series by Alvin Schwartz, and Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya. (None of which are Satanic, as far as I know.) In the latter book, Ultima is a curandera who lives with the six-year-old boy protagonist, and includes discussions of witches, ghosts, and other mystical things alongside the Catholicism of the boy’s mother.

Therefore, Pagans should remain vigilant as to what books are being challenged and why. If some rowdy parents want to challenge every book that portrays witches or mystics as positive characters, it’s only a matter of time before they’ll want to challenge witches who teach in public schools or work in governmental positions (oh wait – they already do that), lest we give their kids the impression that witches might be nice, even helpful folks! The First Amendment protects free speech as well as free exercise of religion. So anything we can do to back up good ol’ number one will benefit everyone who values tolerance.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

So what can you do? Unlike the Citizens for Literary Standards in Schools, who would council you to raise hell followed by “praying for everyone involved,” the ALA’s suggestions for ways to celebrate Banned Books Week include:

Get involved. Go to school board meetings. Volunteer to help your local school or public library create an event that discusses the freedom to read and helps educate about censorship.

Speak out. Write letters to the editor, your public library director and your local school principal supporting the freedom to read. Talk to your neighbors and friends about why everyone should be allowed to choose for themselves and their families what they read.

Exercise your rights! Check out or re-read a favorite banned book. Encourage your book group to read and discuss one of the books. Give one of your favorite books as a gift.

So, what good banned books have you read lately? Do you think it’s ever appropriate to ban books? Check out the lists of banned books linked to above, and share your thoughts with us here!

Reader Comments

Written By Carrie Obry
on September 25th, 2009 @ 3:23 pm

Great post, Elysia. Trying to ban books is like trying to ban knowledge itself. It’s a response based in fear, not compassion and teaches kids the wrong lessons.

Written By Amy
on September 28th, 2009 @ 8:29 am

So many books on banned or challenged lists are amazing pieces of literature. We need to encourage people to open their minds, not close them.

Written By jeff
on September 28th, 2009 @ 12:09 pm

what happened to edgar casey books none on list????

Written By Leizel
on September 28th, 2009 @ 1:04 pm

This ia a great article. I’m based in Panama City Centra America. We don’t see much drama when it comes to literature and books in schools being banned because the base list of reading books is very standard. On the other hand when it comes to controversial books its later that we have seen some issues around known books like the Harry potter series or the Dan Brown’s tittles but we have access to books anyway. What I did notice however we had a book fair just over a month ago and I was swamped by free biblical freebies for my kids and adults too. I wonder what the reaction will be if I was to give away free pagan themed coloring books or story books. I’m yet to see that but I’m getting ready for next book fair in 2 years!!

Written By Patty
on September 28th, 2009 @ 3:01 pm

I read The Last Temptation of Christ by Kazantzakis as a Catholic when the movie was coming out and the church was in an uproar. It was, to me, one of the BEST fictional books about the life of Jesus that I have ever read. It has made me think more about the Christian faith and its contents than probably any other fictional book ever. When I finally left the church a decade later, it had nothing to do with anything to do with that book, but everything to do with the way the church deals with gender and sexual orientation.

Written By Mariah Maloy
on September 28th, 2009 @ 6:15 pm

I was raised Pentecostal Holiness Christian (halleluiah, Bless You Goddess!), and I saw some censorship on the peripheral. I didn’t run smack into it until a childhood acquaintance, who went to a Baptist school, was shocked at my reading materials that day (Greek Mythology). Apparently, the folks at that school are not allowed to read anything but Bible-based literature. Not that I have anything against Bible-based literature (that was part of my secret in my English Literature and reading comprehension classes, that and a love of reading), but, there is so much more! Then, a few years later, my younger sister was friends with some girls, who’s father would not let them read anything that had any “occult” words within. I learned this because I was reading a book called “The Witch of Blackbird Pond” (I think that was the name of the book, 25 years is a long time ago!). This book was set in Colonial times, and I tried to explain that the “Witch” in the book wasn’t a witch at all, but an English girl who knew how to swim because she learned how before her family left the Bahamas; and you know that only witches float. The older child understood what I was saying, but that her dad didn’t care; it had the word “witch” in it, and that was all he needed to not allow this book. I mean, how silly!
I do believe that some books are not age appropriate. I learned that when I read “Of Mice and Men” in 7th grade and was traumatized (it was a much more satisfying read in the 10th grade).
Oh, yeah, I really don’t understand why the Bible is not part of the banned book list; I mean, it’s got murder, rape, incest, adultery, and, (gasp) witchcraft!
Sorry to ramble, many thanks! Take Care and Bright Blessings!

Written By Steve Sleep
on September 30th, 2009 @ 1:43 pm

As A writer, Artist, and Musician, who if under Nazi Rule would have been considered a ‘Degenerate Artist’ for my Dada and Surrealist work, I’ve made a point of reading the Banned Books. I’ve often come away with more Questions than answers…Why? Why are they Banned. of course the traditional explanation is valid, but c’mon.. Literature is Literature. Those who are threatened by Ideas, I feel deeply sorry for. they miss out on so much in life, by Knee-jerk reactionarianism.

Written By Miles
on October 20th, 2009 @ 10:48 pm

Personally, I believe that this shouldn’t be an issue. It’s against the constitution, for starters. People are always banning things, which is one reason why America has almost no culture. I’m currently in English 2 Honours in highschool. I don’t know why it’s called that, because they don’t teach you grammer anymore these days. Aparently, Eng 2 Hon is code for, “World religions with overpowering Christian overtones.” They’re even taking Norse Mythology out of the course, which is ticking me off, as #1 it’s offensive to my heritage and #2 it’s supposed to be ‘World Religions’, not ‘Christianity and Judaism’. Oh, and this was in a public school. I got sick of the Christian brainwashing in that private middle school I went to and the Baptist youth groups. Anyhow, I believe people are too closed-minded these days. I recall someone telling me that I was going to Hell for having a pentacle on my binder, despite the cross imediately next to it. People are also usually hateful towards gay people, which makes no since. One of my best friends is bi. Years ago, it was African-Americans. Why? The answers are really quite simple: 1. People fear what they don’t understand, 2. Xenophopia, and 3. Paranoia. Man’s egoistic and fearful approaches to things are the reason things like the inquisition, or the law that non-Muslims entering Mecca will be killed, or the anti-communism wars by the US, etc etc. And people get a tendency to get ticked off at an entire group for one incident. It’s not right. I know people that are Muslims and are also some of the nicest people I know. I know Catholics who are pro-gay rights and even practice magick. The closer man is to stopping its petty hatred of all things different, the closer we are to world peace.

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