Please Ban My Books

This week is Banned Books Week, a free-speech campaign founded by librarians and publishers to call attention to the ongoing problem of censorship. Although we’ve come a long way since the days when Anthony Comstock got James Joyce’s Ulysses outlawed and prosecuted Margaret Sanger for mailing pamphlets on birth control, librarians and schoolteachers still face legal and political pressure to remove books that annoy cranky, censorious malcontents. And in some corners of the world, things are considerably worse, as Amnesty International reminds us with its international list of authors who’ve been imprisoned, tortured or murdered for their writings.

Now, I wish I could say that being included on a banned-books list is a sure sign that a book is a literary classic, or at least a fiery and exciting tome of heresy, but that’s not strictly true. After all, the Catholic church’s Index of Forbidden Books includes both works whose fame is imperishable – like Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables – as well as those that are less so – like Antonius Fabricius-Bleynianus’ sadly forgotten 1621 bestseller, In theoriam et praxim beneficiorum ecclesiasticorum methodica et familiaris introductio.

But I will say that the inclusion of any book on a list of books that have banned, proscribed or otherwise challenged makes me more likely to read it than I otherwise would have been. In part, it’s just to spite the censors: I want to make censorship a less successful and therefore less common tactic, and the best way to do that is to put would-be censors on notice that their efforts will backfire and make the books that they try to stamp out more popular and more widely read. But it’s also simple stubborn curiosity: If someone doesn’t want me to read a certain book, I want to find out why! I want to see for myself whatever knowledge was deemed too shattering for my fallible human mind to safely contain. (I realize this personality trait would ensure a short life for me in the Cthulhu Mythos universe.)

And while not every book in the censors’ crosshairs is an edge-of-your-seat thriller, you could do worse than to use that as your starting point. Just look at the honorees on the ALA’s list of most-challenged books of the last decade, or this similar list from the U.K.: the Harry Potter series, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale… you could while away many a happy afternoon reading just the books on these lists!

As unworthy as I know myself to be, I aspire to join this distinguished community. And that’s why I’d like to echo Chuck Wendig‘s call to all the would-be bowdlerizers and expurgators out there: Please ban my books! They are irreverent and blasphemous; they corrupt public morals and threaten the social order; and they should on no account be read by children.

I encourage the wannabe censors to have a press conference, with bullhorns and flashbulbs, where they work themselves into a sweaty, ranting frenzy about the danger my books represent and how vital it is that they be kept out of the hands of the young and impressionable. Ideally, they’d also read some of the most sacrilegious and titillating passages out loud – to make sure everyone present knows just how dangerous they are. If they wanted to buy, say, a thousand of them and burn them in public – like that unpleasant fellow down in Florida who was arrested with a truckload of kerosene-soaked Qur’ans – so much the better.

No matter what makes your puritanical instincts tingle, I’ve got something for you. If you’re disturbed by tightly reasoned, dangerously persuasive philosophical tracts arguing against the existence of God, well, look no further than Daylight Atheism (the book, not the blog you’re currently reading).

Or perhaps your censor’s tastes run more to fiction. And why not? Like a sharp blade swathed in velvet, everyone knows that heresy is that much more seductive when the moral is concealed in a rousing good story that will lure in the unwary. If so, you’ll surely want to outlaw my first novel, Dark Heart, which is set in a fantasy realm where mortals overthrew the elder gods, whose jealous, brawling and corrupt natures proved them unworthy to reign over the world they created.

If you ban my books, I promise to play my part by denouncing you as a priggish, blue-nosed coward who’s afraid of the truth and thinks he has the right to prevent others from saying anything he doesn’t like. Since most would-be censors paradoxically thrive on claims of martyrdom, I’m sure this is what you want as well, and thus I’m confident that we can come to a mutually beneficial agreement. Please, thank you, and good day.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • L.Long

    I love Xtian censorship, when they do so to a movie or book it is like an automatic ‘this is worth reading/watching’. Saves me a lot of time trying to find something.

  • FuzzyDuck81

    I must say i agree with the idea of banning Adam’s book, as i finished it last night & it left me wanting more, if i’d never had access to it in the first place i wouldn’t have this issue :)

  • Sabio Lantz

    hilarious title for this post — may your book, your novel and your blog be banned, if it increases readership. Keep up the good work.

  • Elizabeth

    If someone doesn’t want me to read a certain book, I want to find out why!

    Back in 2005, I read “A Return To Modesty” by Wendy Shalit because I wanted to see what this “conservative woman feminist” thing was all about. Her book referenced several other books she condemned so I had to go out and read them.

    One of them was A.M. Holmes’ “The End of Alice.” It’s kind of like Lolita only more graphic, violent and nihilist. I probably should have left that one on the shelf as that book was/will be with me for a long time, and not in a good way.

    People sometimes call this the Streisand effect. But I think it can also be called “The Human Centipede Effect.” When all you know of a work is that other people are shocked and repulsed by it, many people will throw caution to the wind and rush out to be shocked and repulsed too.

    Not that I am in favor of censorship at all. There are some things you can’t take out of your head once you put them in there. And while the more ignorant among us might cry for book burning – thinking before (and during and after) you read is the better course of action.

  • Dmathewson

    The only book that I have read that I thought should be banned (I didn’t make it all the way through) was James Dobson’s book on child discipline. I didn’t know who he was when I bought it and the front flap sounded like it might be helpful for my out of control 3 year old son. Once I got into it, I was horrified that he was describing in great detail how to choose a willow branch. I kept thinking “is he really going to describe how to beat a child with it?” He did, in great detail. I quit reading the book and put it on a shelf where it collected dust for 20 years. When we were packing to move I really couldn’t give it away for fear someone would actually use the advice in it. It went to the landfill, where hopefully it is rotting, still unused.

  • Adam Lee

    Thank you, friend! There will be a sequel soon, promise. In the meantime, if you liked it, I’d be much obliged if you’d consider writing a review on Amazon. :)

  • Azkyroth

    Should have gone to the recycling bin. At least some tiny bit of good would finally come from it. ;/

  • Joe Barron

    Comstock died in 1915. He couldn’t have banned Ulysses, which was published in 1922.

  • Regina

    Oh how fun! I want to read Dark Heart =) Sometimes I think fiction is the best way to get people to look at things from a different point of view. The challenge to their senses is less direct. One of the reasons why I enjoyed Cider House Rules.