By: Lisa Hoover
I am an avid reader, so I was really excited to sit down recently and watch PBS’s launch of the “Great American Read” series. (You can watch the launch on PBS’s website.) The eight-part series will explore America’s 100 “best-loved” novels, as chosen by a national survey of the public. The books chosen “span five centuries,” represent authors from 15 different countries, and range from children’s classics to modern best-sellers, according to a PBS press release.
The books on the list are eclectic, with everything from best selling fiction like James Patterson to classics like Mark Twain and Lewis Carroll, to science fiction and fantasy like George RR Martin, JRR Tolkein, and CS Lewis. It includes series (such as EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey and Isaac Asmimov’s Foundation), and stand-alone novels like Gone with the Wind, Frankenstein, and The Giver.
It has authors as diverse as Steven King, Kurt Vonnegut, Oscar Wilde, Jane Austen and Nicholas Sparks. In short, it’s got something for everyone. (For a complete list, visit PBS’s website.) The best part? You can vote for your favorite(s), with the winner announced in the grand finale this fall.
As much as I was already enjoying myself, I was extra attentive (and excited!) when the launch gave a nod to banned books, starting about one hour and fourteen minutes in with a discussion of bans of “ethnic studies” programs and the novel Bless Me Ultima.
Other authors on the list who have been banned include Stephen King, JK Rowling, Ernest Hemingway and 20 others “in a unique literary club” of banned books, host Meredith Vieira says. The banned books on the list include The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Fifty Shades of Grey, The Sun Also Rises, The Giver, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Catch-22, according to Vieira.
A quick look at the ALA’s list of banned classics shows us that listed books The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, The Color Purple, Beloved, 1984, Their Eyes were Watching God, Invisible Man, Gone with the Wind, Call of the Wild, Lord of the Rings, and A Separate Peace have all also faced bans.
The Giver was 11th in a list of books most often challenged in the 1990s. Vieira quotes Lois Lowry as responding to the challenges by saying “the world portrayed in ‘The Giver’ is a world where choice has been taken away. Let’s work to keep it from truly happening.”
Hemingway was banned in the 1920s. Catch-22 spent four years on banned books lists, and it took a district court ruling to get it back on the shelves, Vieira says.
Margaret Atwood, the author of banned book The Handmaid’s Tale, was interviewed about her book, which features a future version of America in which women have no rights, including the right to read books or even keep their given names. She explains that she made it a point not to include anything “that people have not done to other people at some time in some place.”
“If they have done it once, they are quite capable of doing it again,” she said.
PBS plans to offer one-hour “theme” episodes to explore concepts common to some of the books on the list between now and the fall finale. I hope that banned books will be one of those themes, as it is such an important issue in our society. The fact that there are so many books on a list of America’s “best-loved” books that have been banned is, to me, a powerful message.
I think this dichotomy speaks to the spirit of freedom in America. You can ban these books, but you won’t stop us from reading them and loving them, it says. It says that bans will not stop the messages in these books from touching the lives of readers. It says that bans will not stop readers from exploring challenging topics and recognizing parallels with their own experience. Bans will not stop readers from deciding for themselves – or making their own choices, as Lowry might say. We readers are an independent bunch.
The Great American Read’s focus on a love of reading is especially timely, and the message it holds about banned books especially encouraging, given a March discussion of reading in America by the Pew Research Center. Nearly a quarter of Americans reported that they had not read a book in the last year. (Perrin, 2018)
My hope is that the Great American Reads series and accompanying library programming across the country may draw in some of those Americans who did not read a book last year. Perhaps they will even read one of the banned books on the list and gain an appreciation for the importance and power of their right to read.
Maybe one of those banned books will even prove to be America’s favorite read of all.
Either way, I am thrilled to see so many banned and challenged books on a list of America’s favorite reads. My fellow readers, keep reading books that challenge the status quo and make you consider other perspectives.
And excuse me while I go read and vote for some banned Great American Reads.
American Library Association (2013). Banned & challenged classics. American Library Association. Retrieved May 25, 2018 at http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/classics
PBS. (2018) The Great American Read. PBS.org. Retrieved May 25, 2018 at http://www.pbs.org/the-great-american-read/home/
PBS. (2018) The Great American Read, a New Multi-Platform PBS Series, Reveals List of America’s 100 Favorite Novels. Retrieved May 25, 2018 at http://www.pbs.org/about/blogs/news/the-great-american-read-reveals-americas-100-favorite-novels/
Perrin, A. (2018) Who doesn’t read books in America. Pew Research Center. Retrieved May 25, 2018 at http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/03/23/who-doesnt-read-books-in-america/
Lisa Hoover is a public services librarian at Clarkson University and an adjunct professor in criminal justice at SUNY Canton. In addition to her MLS, Lisa holds a JD and an MA in political science. She began her career as an editor and then manager for a local news organization, adjunct teaching in her “spare time.” She teaches courses in criminal procedure, criminal law and constitutional law. She is passionate about First Amendment issues. She recently began her career as a librarian, starting at Clarkson University in June 2017 teaching information literacy sessions and offering reference services. Lisa and her husband Lee live in Norwood, New York with their cats Hercules and Pandora and pug-mix Alexstrasza (Alex). Find her on Twitter @LisaHoover01.