Friday Link Roundup
Friday Link Roundup

Beacon Recommends: Reading in Celebration of Banned Books Week

Every year in September, people across the country celebrate Banned Books Week to raise awareness about the problem of censorship. In 2012 alone, there were 464 challenges to books reported to the American Library Association's Office of for Intellectual Freedom. Common complaints include content being unsuitable for an age group, the use of offensive language, sexually explicit material, violence, homosexuality, and religious viewpoints. At Beacon, we support the freedom to read, so we asked staff to recommend some of their favorite banned and challenged books. Read on to find out how they were influenced by these books. Happy Banned Books Week!


Helene Atwan, director: Among the American Library Associations's list of most challenged books of last year are a few that are truly perplexing: I can well understand challenging Fifty Shades of Grey, not on the grounds that it’s too sexually explicit, but on the grounds that it’s too poorly written. But Beloved and The Kite Runner for their religious viewpoints? What religious viewpoints, exactly, are we not supposed to read about? The Scary Stories series, ok, on the grounds that it might scare someone, maybe. But if we’re going to remove scary books, I have a much longer list, headed perhaps by Clarence Thomas’s memoirs and everything by Anne Coulter. To Kill a Mockingbird for racism? Isn’t that the book teachers used to open up the discussion of racism? If I had to pick a favorite challenged book, it would be Nabokov’s Lolita, for the voice, the comic genius, but above all the gorgeous descriptive passages, which we tend to forget when thinking about the (memorable) plot. But my favorite among the reasons for trying to ban a book are those used against Brave New World, which has been attacked for insensitivity, nudity, racism, religious viewpoint, and naturally because it’s so sexually explicit. We’re still in a brave new world, I suppose, and we need to be vigilant against all who would ardently seek to protect us from all these evils by controlling what we read. It’s a comforting testament, on the other hand, to the continuing power of the written word. 

Tom Hallock, associate publisher: My great aunt Tay Hohoff was the editor at Lippincott who acquired and edited To Kill a Mockingbird. While I think she would be horrified to see any book banned, I think she might also be pleased to see that more than 50 years after publication, this book was still powerful enough to create discomfort. All I can say looking at the list of the most frequently challenged books is that it’s time for me to read the Captain Underpants series and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

Alyssa Hassan, senior marketing manager: I love a good scare. Books that kept me from falling asleep at night—because I thought every shadow or strange sound was some demonic entity coming to attack me—made up a large portion of my library check-outs growing up. It all started with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, which I first read when I was around 6. In my teens, Stephen King was the author to read. I must have read at least a dozen of his books throughout high school (didn't we all?). Eventually, I moved away from scary books, but in recent years, I've come back to the kind of stories that first fueled my love of reading. So, what I want to recommend is The Shining, which recently reintroduced me to King's terrifying world. It reminded me of what a great writer he is. He really knows how to pull you into the world his characters inhabit. How could I have forgotten that over the years?! In fact, I'd recommend anything by Stephen King, because haven't just about all of his books been banned or challenged at some point?

Marcy Barnes, production director: When I was in 8th grade, I wanted to do my first book report of the school year on The Catcher in the Rye—probably because I saw the older (cooler!) kids carrying it around; it was a bit of an accessory in my preppy New England town in the 80s. I was told by my English teacher that it was too sophisticated and emotionally complex for someone my age. I think she was also concerned by the number of “sons of bitches” in the book. I had to get my 7th grade teacher to back me up; he confirmed that I could handle it. She reluctantly acquiesced. There was a lot of pressure, therefore, for me to really get this book in a “grown-up” way, to get the broad ideas, not just the plot line. It was a whole different kind of book report—no more kid stuff. And, funnily enough, “no more kid stuff” is the overarching theme of CITR that I had to get my head around. It was a revelation. It was the first time I saw the child as “innocent” as “other”—something one can only do when one realizes one is no longer a child. It rocked my foundation. It troubled me deeply. It was one heck of a book report.

Beth Collins, production coordinator: One of my favorite banned books is Peyton Place by Grace Metalious. I read it as an adult with my book club. It wasn’t scandalous to us; we just thought it was a weird, pulpy book. I mentioned to my coworker, Maureen (at Houghton Mifflin), that I was reading it, and she said it was the first “dirty” book she ever read when she was 12 years old. Her mom found her copy and threw it in the trash, but Maureen fished it out and read it in secret. I just love that personal act of defiance of a young girl against the system. 

Lyn Phillips, business operations assistant: I read The Chocolate War as an adult, but it is exactly the kind of twisted, mischievous, down-with-the-system kind of book I would have loved as a teen. So I took a gamble on possibly inciting younger versions of me to raise absolute chaos in a dare to “disturb the universe” and taught it to my ninth grade honors class. Through this one book, my students talked openly about the institution of school, bullying/hazing, abuse of power, cultivating a worthwhile sense of self, and struggling for a sense of belonging. As I had, they wrestled with hating Archie (the true villain) and admiring his brilliant powers of persuasion and manipulation; they rallied behind the protagonist, Jerry, and were both crushed and furious at his downfall. This one book about a boy refusing to sell chocolates for the school fundraiser forced all of us to review our own sense of morality, to question our roles in a system of power, and to dare to disturb the order of things.

Daniel Barks, sales assistant: I strongly recommend Robie Harris’s It’s Perfectly Normal and It’s So Amazing to all parents and educators of young children and adolescents. These straightforward books for kids address all kinds of questions about puberty, pregnancy, and sexual health. The language is simple enough for a young audience to understand while still being direct and free of euphemisms, teaching kids to be comfortable with their bodies and smart when it comes to talking about sex. To top it off, Michael Emberley’s illustrations are colorful and inviting, making the book all the more approachable for young readers and their frequently just-as-embarrassed parents.

Ryan Mita, assistant to the associate publisher: I read The Golden Compass in Pisco, Peru, months after the devastating earthquake struck in 2007. I clung to it, really. I was volunteering with an American non-profit there that specializes in disaster recovery. In teams, we cleared heavy rubble, wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow, week after week. It was exhausting, rewarding, boring work. My Spanish improved rapidly. Most nights, I dove into the rich world of The Golden Compass. Here was a world filled with witch clans, warrior polar bears, and disappearing children. It is my favorite banned book and I recommend it to anyone looking for an imaginative story to escape into.