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  • Ryanne Harper

Celebrating Banned Books Week

It's Banned Books Week, a time to celebrate the freedom to read and bring awareness to the dangers posed by censorship. To celebrate, we're each going to share a couple of our favorites from the most commonly challenged and banned list.

*Before we get started, a big thank you to our parents for never censoring our reading material, to the sometimes horror of other adults around us.*

Jessica's Picks

Beloved, Toni Morrison

Beloved is Morrison’s fictionalized adaptation of the real life of Margaret Garner, a woman who, after being captured as an escaped slave, chose to kill her child rather than return her to the plantation and a fate worse than death. Beloved picks up the story post Civil War, where our main character Sethe and her surviving family are haunted by Beloved, a revenant of the child Sethe killed. Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel explores the complexity of family relationships alongside the lasting physical and psychological effects of slavery.

Why It’s Banned

Public school systems have challenged and banned Beloved due to violent and sexually explicit content. Parents, school board members, and legislators have argued that Morrison’s depiction of antebellum slavery is inappropriate for high school students.

Why You Should Read It

In my honest opinion, the fact that Toni Morrison wrote it is reason enough to read it. Everyone should read everything she wrote, let it sit awhile, then read it all again. Like many banned books, Beloved shines light on realties that aren’t comfortable to look at. Spoiler alert: it isn’t supposed to make you comfortable, it's supposed to make you think. The history Morrison drew from was anything but comfortable. In addition to being historically relevant, Beloved reminds the reader that healing is often a painful process, but we owe it to ourselves to work through it. Because, as Paul D tells Sethe, “You your best thing.” Who doesn’t need to be reminded of that every now and then?

The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien

The Things They Carried is a collection of short stories featuring the fictional members of the Alpha Company platoon during the Vietnam War. The collection explores themes of morality during wartime, brotherhood, and how what we chose to carry and what we put aside effects who we become.

Why It’s Banned

The Things They Carried has been challenged and banned for profanity and graphic portrayals of violence. O’Brien does not sugar coat the realities of his own war experiences, leading some critics to claim his work has political, “anti-American” bias, and that its inclusion in high school curriculums is meant to dissuade students from joining the military.

Why You Should Read It

This is another example of history that should be learned and studied because it’s ugly, not in spite of it. War is violent and traumatic; pretending otherwise serves no good purpose. Read this out of gratitude for the men and women who experience it so you don’t have to. Read it when you’re wrestling with your own decisions of which ideas, responsibilities, expectations, etc. you need to set aside and which you’re going to continue carrying. Read it because there’s nothing “anti-American” about an American veteran telling his story.

Ryanne's Picks

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath is an American masterpiece. The Joad family, like so many American families, packs up everything they own and head to the land of milk and honey, only to be let down once they get there.

This book IS the American story. A story of survival, family, and making due with what you have. Set during the dust bowl, the themes Steinbeck presents still hold true to so many poverty-stricken Americans today.

Why It's Banned

The book was an instant bestseller, but some places in California, particularly Kern County where the Joads end their journey, thought the book was an unfair representation of how migrants from Oklahoma were being treated. They claimed the book was "a lie and libel." Before long, the book was banned in many California schools and libraries, public burnings began soon after.

Why You Should Read It

You should read it because, like Kern County Library Gretchen Knief said - at great risk to her job - "It's such a vicious and dangerous thing to begin," she wrote. "Besides, banning books is so utterly hopeless and futile. Ideas don't die because a book is forbidden reading."

You should read it because, like Jessica mentioned in regards to Beloved, it will make you uncomfortable. Sometimes, it's good to be uncomfortable.

You should read it because it is a story of resilience. It is a story of bravery. It is a story of strong women. And, if you can read this and hear the name Rose of Sharon without clutching your invisible pearls and/or crying a little, there might be something wrong with you.

You should read it because, all these years later, when The Grapes of Wrath is mentioned, the first words out of my mouth are, "That ending." That ending will stick with me for the rest of my life.

Animal Farm and 1984, George Orwell

This is a two for one deal. Orwell can't seem to write anything without pissing somebody off, and I happen to admire him for it.

Animal Farm is a short little story full of all sorts of symbolism and warnings about giving too much power to one class. I think Animal Farm can be summed up in one line.

"All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others."

1984 is one of my favorite books of all time; it's double plus good. I've read it three times and, each time, I get something different out of it. Set in the future, the book warns of giving the government too much control. History is rewritten, language becomes simplified, individuality and creativity are obsolete. It's a nightmare scape that, honestly, is looking a little too much like real life for my liking.

Why Orwell is Banned

Because he's nothing but trouble for those in power. His books are huge, flashing signs warning the masses to not trust those in power too much. So, those in power ban him.

Why You Should Read Him

His stories are good. Really good. He makes you uncomfortable; he makes you think. You should read it because the line "whatever the Party holds to be the truth is the truth" is terrifying and not all that different from "fake news." Currently, it's a scary read, but it's also an important one.

Readers, we are of the firm belief that no book should be banned. Ever. For any reason. Except maybe Jane Eyre. I'm kidding. I just really don't like that book. And that's okay! It's well within my rights. It is not, however, my place to keep others from somehow enjoying it.

So, keep reading because, turns out, war is not peace, freedom is not slavery, ignorance is not strength.

Jessica and Ryanne

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