When They Came to Delete the Book from the Syllabus

Sorry to have broke my usually reliable blogging schedule.  For some reason a billion writing deadlines have piled up on me this week in particular (I’m submitting something to the Tiny Texas House Writing Competition I mentioned a while back and Sucker magazine, which I mentioned even father back; deadline: this weekend) and instead of dividing my writing time I’ve been (am) burrowing and focusing solely on polishing up my short stories.

But I cannot let something so completely wonderful and appropriate as Banned Book Week go by unmentioned!  My favorite way to celebrate is to start of the week at the National Book Festival in D.C.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get to attend this year and I am extremely jealous of all of you who saw Toni Morrison, Tomi dePaola, Katherine Paterson, and Brian Selznick, the author of the new talk of the town title, Wonderstruck,* a graphic novel like children’s book that made such a big splash that the NYC bookstore Books of Wonder renamed itself Books of Wonderstruck (I believe this is temporary and promotional).

But I did go the year Neil Gaiman made his appearance and read an entire chapter from his not-yet-released, not-yet-a-Newbery-Award-winner book, The Graveyard Book.  Magic.

Aside from this wonderful event, the best way to celebrate Banned Book Week, in my opinion, is to share moments when you personally experienced book censorship.  So here’s my story.

My tenth grade English teacher was an amazing lady.  She introduced me to two of the books that completely changed my life: To Kill a Mockingbird and My Antonia.  I always knew I loved writing, but her class was the first in which I felt that I was actually good at it.  Her prompts were tough, but I honestly enjoyed writing the essays on the weekends.  She assigned a lot of the classics and nobody censured her choices.

But my eleventh grade year, when I had moved on to a different teacher, she decided to add some new material to her class.  She had all her students read Snow Falling on Cedars, a book I was unfamiliar with at the time.  It wasn’t until after her classes read and discussed the book that problems arose.  I don’t want to ruin the story for you but, you see, there’s an extremely brief and extremely not-graphic sex scene.

Are you scandalized?

Apparently somebody’s parents were.  Calls were made and the district formally decreed that the book was never allowed to appear on class syllables again.  Let me explain something here.  My hometown and high school are considered very liberal in the grand scheme of the United States so this minor act of censorship was not taken lightly.  People were furious.  Similar to the recent national outrage about the Republic school district and the not-so-minor censorship of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five (a book, which my school district happened to assign as required reading this summer for my younger sister).

But do you know what the best part of it was?  Everyone took the censorship as a book recommendation.  For weeks afterwards, every copy in the local libraries was borrowed out non-stop.  People went and bought their own copies.  A majority of the students and teachers carried it around in the hallways, reading it during study hall and lunch break.

So if you hear about a book being banned, rush out and get a copy immediately.  If it’s worth being banned, it probably means it’s worth reading.

What’s your banned book story?  Recommend those books!

*I would just like to mention that I’m betting it AT LEAST gets short listed for the Caldecott Award.  He won it back in 2008 with The Invention of Hugo Cabret too.  You heard the prediction here first!

7 thoughts on “When They Came to Delete the Book from the Syllabus

    • Snow Falling on Cedars isn’t my personal favorite, but I agree that the sex scene is totally non-squeamish inducing!

      • The biggest reason I love it is that it takes place on a ficional island in the REAL archipelago that I grew up in! So…unless it really sucked, I’d be bound to like it! I counted up from the books you posted on your next post and I’d read 17…though, of course, I’m familiar with almost all of them. LIke you say, putting a “banned” label on it makes people want to read it more!

      • That is so neat! I would be a huge advocate a book if it was set in my home area too (not that anyone ever sets a book around here). I’m already overly proud of books take place in my state–Perks of Being a Wallflower, for one.

  1. I haven’t had a book banned, but I love that banning a book made it instantly more popular. It reminds me of the way they want to change Huckleberry Finn to be less offensive. I haven’t read it (for shame!) but I think changing the historical accuracy of it would be like going into a history textbook and crossing out the Vietnam War.

    • Huckleberry Finn is actually a bit boring, in my opinion so it takes some commitment to sit down and read it. But I totally agree! It’s a historical document/artifact. If we decided to cross out things that are inappropriate by today’s standards, our reading material would start to get a little choppy. By deleting it we loose a potential teaching moment where readers can learn and discuss controversial things.

  2. Pingback: How May Banned Books Have You Read? « The (Writer's) Waiting Room

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