Happy belated Banned Books week! It was Sept 27th through Oct 4th.

I’ve been working on this essay for a few weeks now and I’ve been hesitant to post given its current political resonance. It’s not that I don’t have definite political opinions, it’s just that there’s no need to pile on.

By now, more than likely you’ve seen the email? The one that lists all the books Sarah Palin wants banned. I promise I’m not going off on a political polemic (relax Harry & Chris), mainly because I want to focus on the books — not the abuse of power that seemed at the root of that particular dispute.

Where I DO want to go is towards a mind-set out that shuts down the exchange of ideas in a heartbeat. That frightens me. If something offends us, should it cease to exist…. really, does that make any sense? We can’t read things with which we disagree? Do you remember an old episode of The Waltons? It was required viewing in my childhood home. As WWII looms closer, the good folks of Walton’s Mountain work themselves into a frenzy against anything German. Events turn ugly, a book burning is planned to provide the necessary catharsis. John-Boy appalled by the venom, pulls an elderly German woman from the crowd (outing her as a German in the process), hands her a small book demanding she read from it. Haltingly, she fumbles for the translation, “In the beginning, God created….” The crowd, released from its hysteria, began to drift away, putting out the fire — disbelieving their descent into mobocracy. As a child that made quite an impression on me — how could anyone destroy, even unwittingly, books?

Oddly enough, quite often the books most challenged are children’s books. As a parent, I do understand the desire to protect your kids from everything. But books, somehow that just seems as if you are denying the foundations of the discernment you are trying to teach — my philosophy, anyway. Here are the most banned of 2007……

    1. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell. (It’s about PENGUINS!!!)

    2. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier. (#4 on the all time list) (a kid refuses to participate in the school fund-raiser)

    3. Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes. (coming of age story. Henkes is one of those writers that just gets how it feels to be a kid)

    4. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. (the fury over this is because Pullman repeatedly tweaks conservatives with his religious views)

    5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. (#5 on the all time list) (that anyone would deny another person the sheer poetry of Twain baffles me)

    6. The Color Purple by Alice Walker. (#18 on the all time list) (OK — this is a hard read — but ultimately redemptive)

    7. TTYL by Lauren Myracle. (teenage girls & IMs — not necessarily for the faint-hearted, very girl-centric)

    8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. (#3 on the all time list) (her powerful memoir captures the reader)

    9. It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris. (#15 on the all time list) (believe it or not it’s a non-fiction, “your changing body” book — don’t parents look for a book like this to help with the “talk”?)

    10. The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. (a gay young man’s coming of age story — unfortunately it’s not as well-written as others, but why would that make it a bad book?)

While neither the alleged Sarah Palins, the actual Anthony Comstocks and Frederick Wertham’s can truly shut off anyone’s mind – they can slow the discourse to such an extent that readers & writers become cautious, afraid to risk new ideas – and that is why we must celebrate and read even things with which we disagree.

Now for the more fun part of this discussion, what books would you bring to a deserted island? Do you have a list? Mine keeps evolving…. When I first began my list, it was during my Linda Hamilton/survivalist mode. I wanted to make sure I had all the bases covered in case I had to restart the world 🙂 !

So here’s a sampling of the books I’ve had on the list and some I’ve added over the years:

    Bible (one with a big concordance)
    Complete Works of Shakespeare
    Complete Works of Dickens
    Complete Works of Twain
    Complete Works of Austen
    101 Greatest Poems, has to include some Langston Hughes
    Plato’s Republic
    Voltaire’s Candide
    Rousseau’s Social Contract
    Erasmus’ In Praise of Folly
    Camus’ The Plague
    Lincoln’s Speeches & Writings
    Norton Anthology of Literature
    Robin Hood
    Little Women
    Anne of Green Gables
    Martin Luther King’s Letters from a Birmingham Jail or Compiled Works
    Hoyle’s Rules
    Blackstone Law
    Robert’s Rules of Order
    Atlas of the World
    Scout Handbook/First Aid Manual
    Reference Set (Dictionary/Thesaurus)
    Math Textbook
    Science Textbook
    World History Textbook
    US History Textbook
    Paperback novels to fit in the crevices of the box

songs to rebel with: Not ready to make nice (Dixie Chicks); The World will Know (from Newsies); When the Deal Goes Down (Bob Dylan); This is not a Test (She & Him); To Love the Language (Harry Connick); Against History (Dan Wilson); Dirty Living (Brendan James); Parents Just Don’t Understand (DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, blast from the past?); The Temptation of Adam (Josh Ritter); La Vie Boheme (cast of Rent); Express Yourself (Madonna); Truth Hits Everybody (Police); Dangerous (Akon); Why are People Like That (Junior Wells); Whatever Gets you Through the Night (John Lennon); You Know I’m No Good (Amy Winehouse); One of Us (Joan Osborne); and We’re All Gonna Die Someday (Kasey Chambers)

If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. → John Stuart Mill

Take care,

6 thoughts on “books, banned & beloved

  1. Books I’d take on a deserted island? Hmmm…

    Norman Maclean “Young Men and Fire”. This is the first title that came to mind. Even though I’ve read it three times.

    Ernest Hemingway “The Old Man and the Sea”

    Richard Henry Dana “Two Years Before the Mast”

    Jean Shepherd “In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash”

    Sarah Vowell “Assassination Vacation”

    I’d have to leave all my Cormac McArthy and James Ellroy at home for fear of hanging myself.

    I’m sure I’ll think of more. Like Henry Adams’ “History of the United States”

  2. If I was gonna take any of great & grumpy old men which is how I tend to categorize Hemingway, Faulkner, Steinbeck & their ilk — I’d probably have to have, “the Grapes of Wrath,”

    my history would probably be Howard Zinn’s version — and my science would be Simon Winchester, Bill Bryson or the cool, guy who used to do the “Connections,” show…

    OMG, how could I forget Sarah Vowell?! You are the one who introduced me to her and I’ve gone back and read everything she’s written. Have you read her new one, “The Wordy Shipmates”? I’m waiting until the holidays to curl up with it — I saw her pitching it on Jon Stewart and thought I would wake Chris, I was laughing so hard!

    Chris is giving me grief because there is no Coddington or Sears, though I might have to include Trudeau, Silber & Blight….

    Take care,

  3. I’ve not yet read “The Wordy Shipmates” – I’m waiting for it to make it to a used bookstore.

    You can’t get any more un-Hemingway than Steinbeck.

    Howard Zinn? Might as well take along Das Kapital to keep the theme going.

    You should really read “Young Men and Fire” if you haven’t yet.

  4. True on the Steinbeck/Hemingway continuum, but Tom Joad and more poignantly Jim Casy are 2 of my favorite yin/yang male characters….. they are like Hawkeye & Uncas, Mercutio, and Mr. Darcy — fictional heroes I adored!

    Zinn is a little opinionated, isn’t he? But, he’s a nice balance with Gordon Woods, Bernard Bailyn and Gary Gallagher….

    Note to self — get some more southern authors on this list!

    I need to pick up a copy of MacLean, you haven’t steered me wrong so far!


  5. Banned books? How ’bout the famous book based on “oral “tradition” rather than true science/history that sends most into a frenzy including Palin. Like, ohhh, uhmm, you know, The Bible?!?

    If ever stranded on a desert island I’d like to say something high brow like “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” However, depending when and if I’d be found, before I perish from malnutrion, I would have to say the latest issue of Penthouse. You know for those long sweltering evenings when one has time to think–too much! Also, what do you do after looking for sea shells, picking coconuts (if available,) and eating raw fish all day?

  6. John, I’d say you need to pick your battles on that one – the Bible/the Koran and the Talmud all have prose, poetry and ethics worth the keeping even if you don’t feel the faith 🙂

    And, while that may work for the 1st few years, you may need to think about Playboy for a little more intellectual stimulation in the long run — that’s the one for the “articles,” isn’t it?

    Take care,

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