A Discussion Around Banned Books
We had an interesting discussion in my book group recently that I wanted to share.
I run the book club for Remotive, a networking space for remote workers (including folks seeking remote work). It’s not your average book club. We don’t pick a book to read together. Instead we meet once a month to discuss whatever we’re each reading individually and swap reading recommendations.
The group includes folks from all over the world. In a typical meeting, there are attendees from the United States, Germany, France, Canada and Argentina. I really enjoy meeting with this group of diverse people! Even though we all share a love of reading, we come from different cultures, work in different fields, and range a wide variety of ages. Additionally, our book choices range every genre you could possibly imagine. I’ve discovered new books and also learned about books other readers in my life would enjoy.
The last time we met the topic of banned books came up. I’m somewhat familiar with the battle around banned books in the United States (admittedly, that’s mostly from watching “Field of Dreams”!). But I was fascinated to hear about the experiences people in other countries shared, including books that are illegal to read or produce in their countries. After the meeting, I posted a question in our Slack channel and thought I’d share the discussion here.
Question: Do people/organizations in your country ban any books that you’re aware of? Have you read any of those banned books?
Then I shared this list of banned books and followed up with:
I’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird, The Color Purple, Of Mice and Men, Animal Farm, Slaughterhouse Five, The Awakening, and probably a few more!
Members names and images have been removed for privacy.
Member in Argentina:
I’ve read quite a few of those! We used to have censorship during our latest dictatorship. I went to a catholic school growing up and there were a lot of books that we couldn’t read. I think I read all of them anyways Can’t think of a specific example now.
Member in the United States:
I’ve read all of Kelly’s list. Just reread Animal Farm which brought to mind a quote: “In every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to deceive and overawe the People.” — Eugene V Deb
Member in Germany:
Half of that list is regular school literature in Germany
Some French classes even read “Histoire d’O” by Pauline Réage or “Liaisons Dangereuses” by Choderlos de Laclos. I think “explicit sexuality” censors would go balistic about those 🥳
And both are not half as much fun as one would suspect.
Member in Argentina:
Totally! I was going to say that ‘Animal Farm‘ and others are usual high school reads in Argentina
Member in Germany:
“In cold blood” was the first novel by Truman Capote I read and it was SO impressive. But I really can understand when parents challenge this because of the degree of detail with which this story is told.
I haven’t read that one, [name redacted]. (In Cold Blood) Maybe I should!?
Another Member living in the U.S. (but originally from the Ukraine):
Hmmmm, for some reason my Google Chrome decided to ban the link with the frequently challenged books or any other link from that website… Found another list in Wikipedia, not sure if it’s the same.
I read quite a few books from the list. I remember I really liked An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser when in school.
There were a lot of banned books in Soviet times – foreign authors who were “dangerous” for communism (1984, Animal Farm of course, but even Robinson Crusoe for example – because it shows an individual rather than a working class as a whole); Soviet authors who were “rebels” (probably the most famous being The Gulag Archipelago about Soviet labor camps ).Those examples make me think that very often books are banned or information is censored not for the sake and well-being of people, but for political or economical reasons. That’s why it’s such an important topic to discuss.
Member from Germany:
@kellyschuknecht “In cold blood” is the novel-style report on a real crime story. Told partially from the perspective or thoughts of one of the criminals. What frightened me, was the experience that some … social or psychological mechanisms … can lead people to do things they probably never would have done from their own impulse. And the book tells this without excusing any of those actions which makes it even more revolting.
Member from France:
I am about to buy this one [The Gulag Archipelago] (a new French edition came in January). I am reading the “day in the life of Ivan Denisovitch” for the second time. It was published during Krouchtchev’s times with restored censored text in the edition I am reading (mostly when the author is openly criticizing the authorities)
Member from Argentina:
I have Archipiélago Gulag (its Spanish title). Always makes me sad when I see it in my bookshelf…
Member from Canada:
Quite frankly, I’m not aware of any, off the bat. I will look it up and make mention of it at the next meeting.
Member from unknown location (possibly the Canada):
I’ve read a few, some were Canadian high school reading lists 15 yrs ago.
@[name redacted] thank you for that Eugene V Deb quote, I’ve been down the rabbit hole looking at some of his other quotes.