What I learned from banned books

By Sarah Allen - [email protected]

As a self-proclaimed word-nerd, I have only one thing to say: “Happy Banned Books Week!”

Book banning seems to be a topic that inspires either: (A) Fierce, impassioned debates, or (B) An uninterested shrug. To put it simply, people either really care or they really don’t.

I fall in the former category and as someone who loves the written word I suppose it’s easy to guess that I’m against banning books.

I was once told that everybody should have an issue that impassions them. For some people that’s the environment; for others it’s the economy. And while I care about those things, if you want me to get up on my proverbial soapbox, ask me about banned books.

The main argument against book banning is simple: It violates our freedom of speech. The counter argument is that books containing questionable content should be subject to banning.

Books are banned for a variety of reasons, from violence and implicit language to bad grammar. (Yes, that’s right – “Junie B. Jones” has been banned because of improper English.)

I have read several banned books. Some were for class, but I read most on my own, just because I was curious.

Some, I loved. Others have been far from favorites.

But, I’ve yet to come across a book that I’ve felt deserved to be banned.

Most banned books, it seems, contain stories that are brutally honest – ones that paint a raw and realistic picture of humanity. And, unfortunately, that picture isn’t always pretty. In fact, sometimes, it’s downright hideous.

But does that mean such stories should be locked away?

I don’t think so.

After all, how can we ever learn if we don’t first recognize our flaws? And how can we then expect to grow if we don’t have platforms for discussion? Because I know I’ve learned quite a bit from every book I’ve read, banned or not.

Here are just a few examples from some more infamous works:

• George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” taught me that our own world and the totalitarian society of Orwell’s nightmares have harrowing similarities.

• In “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey, I discovered how manipulative human nature can be and the dire consequences that often accompany such control.

• “The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier held a similar lesson, depicting a harsh (and ultimately infuriating) battle between conformity and defiance.

• Stephen Chbosky taught me in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” that: “Even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there.”

But perhaps the most jarring lesson came from Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.” The short novel depicts a futuristic society in which firemen don’t put out fires – they start them. Specifically, they burn books. It seems ironic that “Fahrenheit 451” – a story that is basically a warning against censorship – is so often banned.

Unfortunately, the society Bradbury describes – where a lack of books is one of the many ways people are disconnected from each other – is too easy to imagine.

Bradbury’s character Beatty explains that the world’s disdain for reading “didn’t come from the government down.” He says: “There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick.”

In our age of social media, political correctness, and instant gratification, could we be building a road toward Bradbury’s world? I hope not, but still, the possibility burns clear and evident, like a neon sign in a shady part of town.

If you disagree with me, that’s great. Let’s have a discussion – a discussion that never would have happened without a book.

Because, isn’t that the whole point of a book?

To me, banning a book is like trying to quiet a millennia-long conversation.

After all, writing is a means of expression, and reading is a form of not only education, but reaction.

And I can’t help but feel we lose those privileges – expression, education, and reaction – whenever we choose to ban a book.

And why would we ever want to lose those precious freedoms?

Reach Sarah Allen at 937-393-3456, ext. 1680, or on Twitter @SarahAllenHTG.


By Sarah Allen

[email protected]