While I’m not completely in agreement with the American Library Association on their interpretation of free speech and freedom of the press, it’s always fascinating to read through their list of the most commonly banned books in the United States.
For example, on their 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000 there are some pretty surprising entries, including Nobel Laureate Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, John Steinbeck’s powerful Of Mice and Men, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Madeleine L’Engle’s wonderful A Wrinkle in Time, and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Some of the banned books, of course, aren’t any surprise at all, including The New Joy of Gay Sex, Sex, Daddy’s Roommate, Heather has Two Mommies, and even a book that figures in many amusing CIA conspiracy theories, The Anarchist Cookbook.
Then there are the books that I just can’t, for the life of me, figure out how they ended up on a banned list at all. Most notably on that list is the completely innocuous Where’s Waldo. Did I miss something hidden in these illustrations that makes this particular title profane, sacrilegious or otherwise offensive to the group that Monty Python would call All Right Thinking People?
And, finally, there’s phenomenal irony in that Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is a “banned” book too. As much as Orwell’s oft-quoted 1984, Brave New World helped put a name to the fears of fascism, socialism, and much more, to parody the folly that is politics and nations, public trends and popularity. And here it is, alongside another book that also aggressively discusses mob mentalities: Lord of the Flies.
So, my suggestion to you: exercise your freedom of speech, your right to be exposed to thoughts, perspectives, and literary works by people that aren’t accepted in so-called mainstream America by buying and reading at least one book on the list!
If you want my suggestions for the most important works out of the ALA 100, here’s my top ten:
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
- Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
- Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
- Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Or go straight to the source and see what the general populace appears to find the most threatening to the status quo.
Either way, expand your brain, defy convention, think for yourself, and read a banned book today.
On the Waldo books, yes you did miss something. Although most people probably would too. In the images where you are looking for Waldo, there is one that shows a topless female sunbather. Now I had come across a website that showed some other possibilities. Like a couple in a sexual position, and a couple of people mooning others. None really showing anything, but the body positions made it clear what was happening.
I can just see it now. A parent cleaning up a childs room, comes across a Waldo book under the kids matress. “Tommy, we have to talk!”
I’m more amazed that “A Wrinkle in Time” is on the list myself. That and the Harry Potter stuff.
Harry Potter doesn’t surprise me: anything with “magic” in it, spells, etc., seems to come up on some radar screen or other. Independent of the fact that the morality play of good versus evil is the core, fundamental element of just about any good work of fiction (including the Bible, Koran, etc), there’s a lack of tolerance in modern society for wizardry: notice that in addition to Harry Potter, Goosebumps and many other popular children’s series are on the banned list.
In terms of Waldo, well, do people go over these books with a magnifying lens? Indeed, I just scrounged around in Google for a while and can’t find any actual pictures of topless people, copulating couples, etc etc., on the Web. I think this is like looking at tea leaves — you see what you want to see. Paging Dr. Rorschach?
“I think this is like looking at tea leaves — you see what you want to see.”
I think that’s pretty much the case for all the banned books.
Waldo was banned because a child pointed the image of the topless sunbather to his/her parent. Someone in Michigan I believe. I tried to find the images myself, but couldn’t. I wish I had saved the links to the ones I had seen. It’s possible that they were simply Photoshopped and not really from the book. However, the topless sunbather is.
Wheres Waldo and Asking About Sex and Growing Up.