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100-banned-booksWhether soaking in the tub or sitting on the “throne,” many of us find time spent in the “little room” put to better use if we have something to read while we’re at it.  (I once heard—probably read—that if you spent a mere fifteen minutes a day reading, you could read twenty books a year!)

So—like so many others—I read in the bathroom.  But, not wanting to get involved with characters and their escapades in such short spurts of time, I read things that present a whole idea in a paragraph—or less.  Well, sometimes in 2 or 3 pages— but no more.  Things like those collected lists of Harper’s Indexes or a book discussing 2,000 things that might have merited only a footnote in longer treatises.  Magazines like Readers Digest and People make perfect bathroom reading.

For the last few weeks, I have been reading 100 Banned Books by Nicholas Karolides, et. al. (Checkmark Books, 1999).  By no means a complete list of banned books, it manages to present an overview of books outlawed over time from Ovid’s poetry and The Canterbury Tales to The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird.  It would appear that, as soon as Guttenberg lifted the first works off his marvelous printing press, the thought police were out there trying to stifle his efforts.  Karolides and his collaborators have divided their selections into four categories of reasons for banning: political, religious, sexual or social.

For each title discussed, they present a summary of its content, its censorship history, and suggestions for further consideration.  Among the one hundred titles, you would immediately expect to find D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover and the anonymously written Fanny Hill of the Nineteenth Century.  And you do, but there are surprises too—such as Anne Frank’s diary and William Tyndale’s translation of The New Testament.  (Tyndale was burned at the stake.  In the Sixteenth Century, those thought police took their work very seriously.)

Most of those advocating censorship do so from an arrogant assumption that only a few people should be permitted to pass judgment on what the rest of us may read.  Of course their battleground of choice is the world of education—English classes in particular, from middle school right on up to university classrooms.  There is little consistency in the final decisions on whether given works remain in school curricula.

Personal note:  In my first year of teaching I ran smack dab into this issue.  Teaching American literature to 11th graders, I gave students a two-page, single-spaced list of books from which to choose for individual book reports.  One parent—one!—called the principal to object vehemently to the inclusion of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.  I took exception, of course, but my principal suggested that the way to avoid a confrontation was to give students a list of authors, for most parents, often as not, would not recognize authors.  He was right.  But really—The Grapes of Wrath???