Gallery D

Great Literature Chained

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The Book Banners

By James Donahue

Before my eyes went bad I was an ardent book reader. I spent quality time nearly every day with my nose in some of the greatest (and worst) novels ever penned. In college I majored in English Literature and Journalism and earned enough credits to have claimed a minor in American Literature.

As I said, I read, and loved the finest literature available. I also liked poetry and of course I enjoyed non-fiction literature sometimes as much.

It might be said that I would find it hard to believe that certain "moral" organizations would petition the American Library Association to ban specific books from school and public libraries. But I have found books among the racks that were so poorly written and the subject matter so flat that I would have no problem seeing them tossed into a bonfire in the town square. But then who was I to judge?

But seeking to ban such classics as Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath or Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises is just plain nuts.

But then I understand the mind of the nut-crowd that would do such a thing. I wallowed for a few years in the hard-line, Bible-thumping world of Christianity before I came to my senses. I was working as a religion editor for a major Michigan daily newspaper then and I was searching for a spiritual path. I even attended some college level classes in Bible and once studied Catholicism. I briefly thought the Christians might have the answer. This is why I can write that I clearly understand the mind of the enemy on this topic. This gang would have us burn all existing literature except the Bible if they could get away with it.

Any book with a swear word, a derogatory racial phrase, or anything involving sex, whether graphic or not, is taboo. Thus it was that books by writers who lived the great life and wrote about it, using the words spoken by the common people, were found offensive to the Christian sect.

Thus great books like The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, Catch 22, Lolita, To Kill a Mockingbird, Tropic of Cancer, Gone With The Wind, Beloved, Brave New World, The Color Purple, Death of a Salesman, Lord of the Flies, Ulysses and Slaughterhouse Five, just to name a few, ended up on the "ban book" list.

Fortunately the book banning was never taken seriously by the people who loved great literature. In fact, just a news story listing any of these books as having been recommended for banning stirred people to flock to the local libraries to ask for it. It actually helped popularize both the book and the author.

In fact, the efforts to censor such books caused counter groups like the National Coalition Against Censorship to spring up. They are still actively standing up for our freedom to read great literature and also watch great films that have been targeted for banishment.

Every year, the last week in September has been designated "Banned Books Week," described as a celebration of our freedom to read. The coalition reports that about 11,300 books have been challenged since the "consortium of literary-minded sponsors launched the event in 1982.

That organization reports that in 2013 alone, 307 books were targeted for banning. During the last century, 46 of the top 100 novels written were targeted.

Thank goodness for our rebellious spirit. Without it, our literature would have been very dry and uninteresting. And I probably would have sought another vocation. I could not have been inspired to write if I had not been captured by the books I was reading.