Be Subversive: Read

Posted: September 23, 2013 by writingsprint in Essay
Tags: , , , ,

bannedIn celebration of Banned Books Week, I want to give talk about some banned books I’ve read and what they meant to me.

The Call of the Wild. Burned by the Nazis in the ’30’s for being too radical, and challenged today for being too mature for young readers. Make no mistake, some of The Call of the Wild is violent. Turn of the century – er, turn of the last century Alaska was a dangerous place to live. Parts of it aren’t safe today, either. I love it because the stories tie people inextricably to nature and our animal sides. Man gets put his proper place a few rungs below the top of the food chain, a seat reserved for mother Nature herself.

Fahrenheit 451. Edited in 1953 with all the “hells” and “damns” blacked out. Well, damn me, but what the happy hell is that all about? Fahrenheit 451 is a damned fine book, and I’ll go to hell in a handbasket before I read a watered down version of it, damn it. Seriously, Fahrenheit 451 is my favorite book of all time. I love the sheer passion of Bradbury’s writing, the way the words drip off the page. Any lover of books would want to reach into Guy Montag’s world and save the book – just one! – from being burned. The idea of the enforcer learning to think with his heart spoke to me in my teens, too. Today, when I want to shut all the electronic crap off and go someplace still, I flip to the scene when Montag is drifting down the river, and finally has time to think.

The Great Gatsby. Challenged at the Baptist College in South Carolina because of its language and references to sex. Well, go hide the freshmen. We can’t eighteen-year-olds thinking people are making babies, now, can we? I’m actually reading this one now. It’s a cool book! I’m embarrassed to admit that I picked it up in an airport because I needed something good to read while I was waiting for my flight. It put a smile on my face to see the lewd behavior, and to imagine what a mature conversation about it would look like at the high school level.

Moby-Dick. Banned from AP English in Texas for conflicting with “community values” in 1996. There are a couple of spots in here that might rub some people the wrong way. Ishmael has a chummy sleeping partner in Queequeg. Out of respect for Queequeg’s traditions, Ishmael, a Christian, joins him in making offerings to Queequeg’s idol – and has a pretty interesting theological rationale for it, too. I found myself fidgeting when I read the chapter about the color white, and how it had come to symbolize power. I wondered how differently that chapter would have been written today. I never finished Moby-Dick because I got frustrated during one of Melville’s diversions between chapters.

A Streetcar Named Desire. The strong sexual content of the play was censored when they were making the movie. I never saw the movie, and I didn’t have a problem with the book. To put myself in the director’s shoes, I think that if I were going to make a movie based on a play or a book, I would want to stay true to the spirit of it. If there’s sex, give them sex. If there’s violence, give them violence. Which is why I could never direct A Clockwork Orange. I don’t have the stomach for it.

To Kill a Mockingbird. Challenged for being degrading, profane, racist, and promoting white supremacy. I remember disliking the book the first time I tried to read it, because I thought, “What kind of a children’s story is this? The second half is all serious!” It’s filled with racist slurs and mature themes. It’s also an honest portrayal of what life used to be like in some parts of our country, and how hard it can be to find justice.

How we read books is a mirror into our souls. We have to be willing to look at the reflection.


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