Books are powerful. Banning books strikes terror in the heart of every writer. But, it’s not a new subject.
Many have seen photos of good little Nazis tossing books, gleefully, into a pit of hell bonfire in Nazi Germany. Decades earlier in the US, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a story about slavery in 1850s America, was banned in the south just before the US Civil War. The South African Apartheid regime banned Frankenstein in 1955 for obscenity. To Kill a Mockingbird, dealing with racism, has been on a merry-go-round of controversy in several school districts in the US, as recent as this year.
I go on to read a report from Banned Books from Pen America—a compilation of banned books between July 2021 and March 2022.
Reading the list, my heart shakes. “No way! Away with book bans! Never ban a thing!” And I write furiously against all and every book ban that ever existed in the history of humanity.
Digging deeper, I see Margaret Sanger’s pamphlet “Family of Limitations,” banned in 1914 under The Comstock Law of 1873. Technically, not a book, but never mind.
My thoughts slow, and I reel back from my initial knee-jerk conclusion. Why? Because her views aligned with eugenics (although some say her words are taken out of context), and her clinics “serviced” the low-income population. Sanger’s writings are a fly in my ointment.
In Sanger’s time, the eugenics movement was popular. Today, it is so thoroughly discredited it’s not worth arguing about, and for good reason. (Eugenics might make a comeback with the rise of genetic engineering, but that’s a subject for another time.)
I back away from the emotional pull that banned books produces in me, and I begin again.
Let’s restart with the term “banned books”.
How is the term “banned books” defined? I look. I see that it totally depends on who is doing the defining: schools or laws or organisations or unions or teachers. Also, it depends on how long the writing was off the shelf: long-term, short-term, temporary, never banned but repeatedly threatened.
Whoa! So many aspects and arguments and perspectives! Not simple.
“Banned books” is multidimensional. A single blog post cannot possibly contain it. A part of me is weary to even broach this topic, so vast is it.
But, I’ll take the journey. Yes, I have a lot of things on my To Do list, but slowly, bit by bit, I’ll look at individual books that have been banned. What made them targets? What were the circumstances? And so on. Who knows what I’ll find. Maybe in the end, I’ll simply redefine or clarify something for myself.
My aim is to arrive at an informed conclusion on the topic of banned books.
In this process, feel free to suggest books and their circumstances in the comments section. I’ll do my best to look into them.