Monday 27 September 2010
This week (25th September - 2nd October) is Banned Books Week, organised by the American Civil Liberties Union to raise awareness of the banning of largely innocent books by belt-thumping Americans who (on the whole) live in Texas. I am particularly aware of it this year, partly because I've been writing about censorship and children's books for The New Humanist, and partly because I'm one of the 17 writers to have had a book banned this year. The full list is here. Oh, and the whole of Time-Life Magazine. I'm rather pleased with my 'banned' status as I like being the polar opposite of a bunch of ignorant, anti-intellectual, fundamentalist fools (and wasn't the Bible full of violence last time I looked?) - but at the same time, I don't approve of book bans.
The reasons given for banning this most recent set of books include sexual content or nudity, political objections and 'violence or horror'. My book was banned for 'violence or horror', which came as something of a surprise - perhaps they didn't get beyond the cover. Let's take a look inside. It's called Zombies on the Loose, and it's a simple book for reluctant readers. It shows what lies behind the zombies seen in movies, revealing the history of belief in the undead and the science behind the real people who have been zombified and used as slave labour. It's a light-hearted educational book that uses teenagers' enthusiasm for zombie movies as a way in to teaching something about a different culture. I'm not sure which bit the banners object to. Perhaps it's the first spread, that gives a typical account of a movie zombie. Or maybe it's the true story of a woman thought to be a zombie in Haiti. Or the true account of a man who was enslaved by a bokor, a witch-doctor believed capable or turning people into zombies. Or the instructions for turning someone into a 'zombie' (entranced slave) and keeping them in that state (not detailed enough for a reader to do it).
I'm in illustrious company. Previously and currently banned authors include Shakespeare, Harper Lee, J.D.Salinger, J.K.Rowling, Roald Dahl, and Judy Blume. Step outside the classroom, and we can add James Joyce, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, William Golding, John Steinbeck, Arthur Miller and Chaucer to the list - with plenty of others.
It goes without saying that only fear motivates book bans. After all if the views held by the censors were self-evident truths, no-one would be swayed by reading something that showed a different view, would they?
Take a stand against censorship by supporting Banned Books Week, perhaps by borrowing and reading one of the banned books that will be featured in library displays this week. Here are some useful links:
The books banned this year
The reasons those books were banned
A longer list of banned books, over the years
Some ridiculous reasons given for banning books
An eloquent argument against banning books on sensitive subjects, and a brave personal testament from children's author Lucy Coats.