In honor of Banned Books Week, we’ve asked the staff of the RBMSCL to reflect upon their favorite banned or challenged book:
“To me, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the quintessential banned book. Hilarious, heartfelt, and packed with classic scenes, it has also been seriously offensive in very many ways to very many people in the 125 years since its publication. And yet there has never been any consensus on what, exactly, makes it worth burning—its immorality, poor spelling and grammar, racism, homoeroticism, and encouragement of juvenile delinquency have all come under fire. The book itself remains as tricksy as its narrator, and as its native time and place.”
“One challenged book that I enjoyed reading and discussing in school was Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Not only does this book break away from many literary norms, but I think it also succeeds in charging its readers to think about aspects of community, identity, and survival.”
“Widespread celebrations have marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the American Library Association’s Top 100 banned or challenged novels of the 20th century. As a girl in 1960s Alabama, I was deeply troubled by the pervasive racial inequity that was so much a part of the social fabric. I felt a powerful identification with Scout and her father, Atticus, gave me hope that, eventually, individuals might change that fabric.”
“While not a banned book (banned broadside), Martin Luther’s 95 Theses which he nailed on the Wittenberg Church door on Oct. 31, 1517 greatly influenced me. As an undergraduate at Duke just after the period of social protests in the 1960s, the idea that a provocative list of concerns by an early 16th century monk could transform the establishment inspired me. I went on study Luther and wrote my senior theses on the use of hymnody for protest. Perhaps those protest songs of the 1960s were not so novel after all!”
“Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, a rejoinder to Edmund Burke’s 1790 denunciation, Reflections on the Revolution in France, was so popular that it was published multiple times in 1791 and caused a furor in England. Paine argued that human rights are natural (not given) rights and that government’s are a product of and always accountable to the people. Not unexpectedly, Rights of Man was banned by the British crown for supporting the French Revolution and led to the prosecution of Paine who wisely had left England prior to his conviction. In a time when our nation’s human rights record is questionable to say the least, I am heartened, encouraged, and inspired by Paine’s courage and conviction in arguing that human rights are the foundation of a just society and the publication of Rights of Man reminds me that human rights have been with us since the birth of this country.”
Take a look at the lists of Frequently Challenged Books available at the American Library Association’s website and tell us about your own favorite banned or challenged books!