I now blog over at The Eyre Guide! This blog is an archive of my past posts.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Refined Reader (21) Banned Books

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,

The Refined Reader aims to take a look at the journey to where we are as readers today.  It's part history, part commentary - providing a brief, conversational summary of various aspects of our bookish past and comparing it to how it has affected us in modern times.  I love history, but I am no historian, and while I plan to do my research, if there are any errors, please let me know!  This is as much a learning venture for me as I hope it is for my blog visitors!

The movement to read and support banned books is a great one (headed by ALA) and for this post I was curious to know the origins of this pretty ridiculous practice.  What were the first books ever banned, and how and why it was thought necessary.

Looking at the list of government banned books on Wikipedia - it appears that early banned books included many essays and political texts like the Rights of Man by Thomas Paine, written in 1791 and Mirror of the Polish Crown, published in 1618.  I suppose it's understandable (not right though) that governments feel the need to suppress politically controversial works.  Religion is another reason why books are banned.  The first book banned in America was in 1650 with a text criticizing the Puritan religion by William Pynchon.  Pynchon was accused of heresy and had to move back to England to escape religious persecution (irony!).

Books have also been banned for reasons based on morality - and for the most part, novels fall into that category.  Some early books banned years later on the basis of morality or inappropriate content include Candide by Voltaire, The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.  I thought it was funny that the latter book was banned in Hunan, China because it features anthropomorphized animals which can give children the idea of thinking of humans and animals on the same level.  There's another frequently banned novel that I hadn't heard of before - Fanny Hill by John Cleland, published in 1749, which according to the plot synopsis features explicit descriptions of sex.  It's astonishing to me that this book was even published in 18th century England!

Obviously I think banning books as a practice is unnecessary or misguided at best, and manipulative and controlling at worst.  It is a step in the right direction that so many countries are a part of a globally connected world where ideas are not so easily suppressed, and individual thought and expression has a way of getting around.  And thankfully we do have movements that encourage people to broaden their horizons by reading books that are thought to be too controversial for the average person or child.

Reading up on the topic just now, it's difficult to really pinpoint the origins of this practice.  It's so different for every culture and government.  And there are many, many books that have been banned over the years - some very surprising choices too - but the practice does seem to have died down a bit recently, as some governments realize that there should be more limits to censorship.  Unfortunately it is still an issue today.

Does knowing that a book was banned make you more interested in reading that book?

Washington Coalition

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  1. I don't think it being banned makes me more interested in reading it. I'll still read whatever I want. If I already wanted to read it I would definitely still try to acquire it a different way like ordering an international copy if they were available inenglish.

  2. I think it's so sad that people feel the need to control what others do in their own time. I mean, I get parents wanting to have a degree of control over what their children read, but that's as simple as paying attention to them, really, and not calling out schools or libraries not to have copies. Some of the stuff in The Canterbury Tales is bawdy, but it's certainly not harmful. My mind has not been fouled because I read it!

    I do find myself curious to know what makes people think a book is harmful when it's banned. Banning books does more harm than good in most cases, it seems to me, because people love to do what they're told not to.

  3. I have never really understood banning books. Maybe just don't let your kids read something but having it banned from a library or bookstore or whatever just isn't right to me. I have looked over the list from time to time and the books on there is really hard for me to understand. I didn't even know about banned books till I was an adult. My mom never talked about them and at the time there wasn't Harry Potter to be talked about and banned so I just was never exposed.

  4. Same for me actually - if it sounds interesting, I'll read it!

  5. It's very sad, and upsetting when you think that banning books is basically encouraging ignorance. Sometimes it's not highly useful knowledge to be gained for the book, but it' still opens the mind to something new, and people who feel it's necessary to ban books for a population are putting their prejudices on others. It's just not right!

    I think it's interesting to know what books are banned too - especially when it's hilarious and completely uncalled for - like with the Harry Potter books. And I'm glad for this case that people do what they are told not to! :)

  6. Yes, if parents don't want their kids to read something, they can edit their library haul - that's just fairer for everyone. And it's so ridiculous when books like Harry Potter are banned - it's sad that people think children can't tell the difference between fiction and reality! (Although I sometimes do indulge in a little pretend-this-is-real when I read a good book... :D)

  7. It's so sad when people are so afraid of real life issues! Eleanor and Park is such a wonderful book (although I haven't read it yet, but I know Rainbow is incapable of writing a bad book!) and I'm sure it must help to open your mind to different experiences even if they are unpleasant or not according to some standard of morality.

  8. Finding out a book is/has been banned somewhere definitely makes me interested, though I don't think I go out of my way to read books just because they've been banned somewhere, not if I didn't find myself interested in them to begin with. I think it's really interesting to learn what made them get banned, what the reasoning was- like with Alice in Wonderland. I find that a really intriguing reason.

  9. I'm the same as you - it won't encourage me to read a book I'm not already interested in, but knowing the reasons for some books being banned are fun - especially when they are so crazy like with Alice in Wonderland!

  10. Hmms wouldn't make it more interested in reading but it never would deter me! It amazes me for example that SO many people want to ban Eleanor and Park..It has some dark themes but I can't think of anything in that book that would equal it needing to be banned!