Have you noticed that when something like music or literature is officially banned by a political or religious group that people’s curiosity about it is aroused? Often, the particular song or book receives its most effective promotion by way of the ban. Wouldn’t it make better sense for oppressive regimes and sanctimonious groups to ignore the works all together?
The most obvious example I can think of is the religious reaction, in 1988, to Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. After the Ayatollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, issued the fatwa against Rushdie, the world became aware of the novel. I made a special trip to my favorite book store to order a copy of it. Rushdie’s book was placed on back order due to high public demand for the book. When my copy finally arrived, I could hardly wait to read it.
While I enjoyed Satanic Verses, I wasn’t overwhelmed by the book, nor did I think it was worthy of such a massive outcry. The official ban, only supercharged public interest in Salman Rushdie and his work. I’ve never bothered to re-read the novel. What the ban did do, was make me more aware of other banned books.
There have been official bans on books and knowledge for as long as organized societies have existed. There’s the famous example of the Biblical Tree of Knowledge kerfuffle. The Roman Catholic Church maintained their “Index Librorum Prohibitorum”.
up until 1966. There were very severe penalties for attempting to read anything the clergy deemed unfit. There is Daniel Defoe’s infamous 1722 novel The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders. Even though the author self-censored the grimiest of details in order to keep himself from being jailed, the book was still banned because it was judged to be lewd and indecent.
Then there are Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Sawyer has been banned from several schools and even public libraries. Meanwhile, Finn is one of the most controversial books ever printed. I cannot imagine being deprived of two of my favorite books of all time.
Modern day religious censors would like to ban the entire Harry Potter series of books. Again, my curiosity was piqued by the religious reaction to the books. That led me to pick up a copy of the first in the series to read.
If memory serves me right, I think the first banned book I craved was Robert Newton Peck’s A Day No Pigs Would Die. The school librarian had several copies “on hold” that pupils could borrow only if they had a signed parental permission slip. I’m glad I was given permission to read it. The very graphic, no-holds-barred nature of the book taught me some valuable knowledge of unpleasant truths about life.
Because I’ve learned so many important and interesting lessons from banned books, I celebrate Banned Books Week every year. I make a point of checking out the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. They have links to current lists of challenged books. You can check it out here: http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks
The important take-away about censorship for me, is that if I ever write a book, I hope some self-righteous group will publicly advocate banning it. Then it might become a best-seller.