Remembering literary run-ins with reading censorship
With this being Banned Books Week, I couldn’t help but reminisce on my run-ins with literary censorship.When I was in high school reading the classic “Beowulf,” there was something peculiar about my school’s version of the book. It had thick, black marks through a couple of the book’s passages.Being the curious teens we were, we tried every way we knew how to see what was written underneath the black lines. We held the books up to the light, we squinted, we looked at it from the back of the page. The only word anyone was really able to make out was “hairy.” We were able to draw our own conclusions from there.
Taking a marker to “Beowulf” didn’t protect us from whatever “dirty words” were blacked out. It only made us more inquisitive and detracted from the book.On another occasion, my mother, now a retired elementary school teacher and principal, was reading Harry Potter books to her class. She was asked by the administration to stop, because the Potter tales promoted witchcraft.As President Lyndon B. Johnson said, “Books and ideas are the most effective weapons against intolerance and ignorance.”Though I realize some material isn’t suitable for young children, I think kids, adolescents and adults need to be supplied with as much information and enlightenment as possible from books. We’re only exposed to so many opinions in our own circles.
Quite the idealist, I want to live in a world where people can read about and listen to other people’s opinions without developing a hatred for that person. I mean, you like George Bush’s politics, someone else doesn’t. Can’t you still get together for coffee?Even if you find “Of Mice and Men” racist, can’t you still get something out of it for having read one of Steinbeck’s finest works?In honor of Banned Books Week, feel free to get out there and exercise your right to read a banned book. Some great ones are Robert Cormier’s “The Chocolate War,” Jack London’s “Call of the Wild” and Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury, about a future society where firemen burn books, is an amazing homage to the banned book.
Also, don’t be afraid to hear or read someone else’s opinion and agree to disagree. A battle doesn’t always have to ensue.Reading a book that doesn’t share your beliefs or listening to someone else’s opinion doesn’t make you any less strong in your convictions; it can just help make you a stronger person.Jennifer Harper’s column runs on Wednesdays. She can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 248, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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