The first time I ever thought about censorship, I was a careless twenty-two-year-old backpacker sitting on an airplane. The flight attendant came around to collect trash and asked if I was finished with my newspaper.
“Oh, no. Still reading,” I said, tucking it into my carry-on.
She nodded at it and smiled.
I smiled back. “Still reading,” I repeated, louder this time because, well, that’s what Americans do when we’re in a foreign country and someone doesn’t understand us.
“No. Sorry.” She was still smiling. “I must have newspaper. We are landing.”
It took a moment for me to understand that the South China Morning Post I’d picked up outside my sister’s flat in Hong Kong constituted some sort of contraband on this airplane bound for mainland China.
I looked at this polite woman for a long, puzzled moment and handed over my paper.
In the U.S., we take free speech for granted. Or at least, I do. I walk into a bookstore, peruse the shelves, and buy whatever catches my eye. If I want something not at the bookstore, I get online and it arrives at my doorstep in a nice cardboard box within days. I really don’t consider myself a fan of pornography or smut or otherwise offensive material. I’m mostly a curious person who likes to keep up with current events (hence, the newspaper on the airplane) and read a wide variety of fiction that strikes my fancy.
Next week is Banned Books Week. I was pretty surprised to read a list of the top 100 banned books of the last decade, and see some of my very favorite works of fiction among them. Here’s a sample:
Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
Blubber by Judy Blume
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engles
The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
Are You there God? It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Junie B. Jones by Barbara Park
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Notice a name on here more than once? Yes, it’s Judy Blume. She was one of my favorite authors growing up. I remember being drawn to her books because she seemed so real. Her characters seemed to be actual people, like me, with questions and insecurities and life dilemmas I could relate to. I blew through her books like a tornado and then moved on to other, more “high-brow” fiction. For me Judy Blume was a revelation, an amazing sign that some of those dusty tomes sitting in the library or bookstore might have something to say to me.
Have you read any of these banned books? I sure hope so. If you want to see more, check out the American Library Association site:
I honestly can’t imagine living in a country where flight attendants collected offensive newspapers as passengers landed at JFK. I wouldn’t like to live in a place where people got gunned down for drawing cartoons or where Captain Underpants was considered threatening.
Tell me about your favorite banned book and be eligible to receive a $20 gift card to your favorite online bookstore. Then go buy yourself some offensive material. And guess what! Because next week is also release week for the DEADLY PROMISES anthology, featuring Sherrilyn Kenyon, Dianna Love, Cindy Gerard, and myself, I’ll give away a copy of that, too. Highly offensive and smutty. I promise. 🙂 Leave a comment for a chance to win.