Each year as the weather starts to get a little cooler and the leaves start to turn, one of my favorite times at the library rolls around. The end of September always ushers in Banned Books Week, which runs September 27th through October 3rd this year. It’s an annual event that celebrates the freedom to read. Part of the Banned Books Week celebration is the fact that most of these books have remained available to the public, even though people continue to try and challenge them.

The Joplin Public Library tries to do a display every year highlighting banned and challenged books. In putting together this year’s design in our large display case, I decided to look at books that have been banned not just in America, but around the world. Some were banned years ago, while others have just been denied to the public more recently, showing that censorship is an ongoing fight.

I was surprised to find out that in 1931 the children’s classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll was banned in China. The censor responsible for banning it was offended by its portrayal of anthropomorphized animals acting on a human level. He believed that having animals speak was an insult to humans and it would teach Chinese children to consider humans and animals on the same level, which would be disastrous.

A book that faced moral outrage when it came out was Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis. This scathing satire about religious fundamentalist and evangelistic fervor sweeping the nation in the 1920s was banned in Kansas City, Mo., and Boston, Mass., when it was published. The book was also roundly denounced from many pulpits as offensive and outrageous. I must admit this is one of my favorite classics, with multiple copies finding homes on my bookshelf.

1984 by George Orwell also found itself under fire when it came out. It was banned in the Soviet Union in 1950 because Stalin understood it was a satire based on his leadership and was highly anti-Communist. The book also came under fire and was nearly banned in the United States and the United Kingdom during the early 1960s during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In a highly ironic incident, Jackson County, Fla., parents challenged the book for being pro-Communist in 1981.

Newer books have faced battles as well. Dan Brown’s highly popular The Da Vinci Code was banned in Lebanon after Catholic leaders deemed it offensive to Christianity. The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy was banned in Malaysia for “sadistic material” and for being a “threat to morality”.

Even today in America, books aren’t safe from government censorship. Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontlines of Afghanistan and the Path to Victory by Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffler is a memoir looking at his five months as a Civilian Defense Operative in 2003. After being published, the initial release was purchased by the Pentagon and destroyed, except for 60 to 70 copies. A second edition, censored and redacted by the Department of Defense was released, but because of the government’s attempt at hiding the information, more attention has ended up being drawn to the book.

Every year, during Banned Books Week, I find myself remembering times that I was told I couldn’t read something, which only resulted in becoming determined to read the item. One of my favorite censorship stories is from the sixth grade when I developed a passion for florid historical novels. North and the South by John Jakes became one of my passions, with me reading it about three times that year at least. I loaned my personal copy to a friend at school who, while reading it, marked some of the more “passionate” scenes with yellow sticky notes. At one point during a school day, after finishing schoolwork I realized I had nothing to read, so I took my copy back from her to read while waiting for my classmates to catch up. Of course, that is when my principal decided to walk through our classroom. He wanted to know why I was reading when everyone else was working on an assignment. Then he wanted to see what I was reading. Of course, he turned to the marked pages. The next thing you know, I’m sitting in his office waiting for him to get my mom on the phone. While waiting for her to be available, he turned to me and asked, “Does your mother know the trash you’re reading?” Lacking a filter for my tongue even back then, I immediately answered, “If you look in the front, you’ll see my mother gave me that trash for Christmas.” Because of that answer and the fact that I wouldn’t tell him who marked the pages, I served some in-school suspension, but I still love North and the South to this day. Because it’s been more than a few years since then, I can now safely say Lori Wilkerson was responsible for those sticky tabs, and the funny thing is she ended up marrying that principal’s son.

To help fight censorship and book banning, stop by and pick up one of the many books at the library featured in our display. A quote in our display case states it best: “Any book worth banning is a book worth reading!”

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