As some of you might already be aware, this week (21st – 27th September 2014) is Banned Books Week. Held annually (usually in the last week of September), this event celebrates our freedom to read and to express ideas, even those books which are considered by some to be unorthodox, offensive and/or unpopular.
To mark this occasion, I thought it would be appropriate to spend some time this week taking a look at a few of the most important, influential, beautiful, and controversial books that, at some point in history, have been banned. My intent here is not necessarily to endorse these books (although, there are some on this list that I believe everyone should read at some point in their lives), but to simply celebrate the fact that we now live in a world where books no longer need to be burned. After all, as Mary Jo Godwin once said, “a truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone”.
So, on to my third consideration of the week so far…
Book #3: Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
The Catcher in the Rye was controversial when it was originally published in 1951. Salinger’s intended audience was adults but, interestingly, it has since become popular with adolescent readers for its themes of teenage angst and alienation. This has happened despite – or, perhaps, as a direct result of – the vehement censorship of the book in US schools in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. The challenges generally begin with Holden’s frequent use of vulgar language, with other reasons including sexual references, blasphemy, undermining of family values and moral codes, Holden’s being a poor role model, encouragement of rebellion, and promotion of drinking, smoking, lying, and promiscuity. Often, the challengers have been unfamiliar with the plot itself (as is all-too-often the case when it comes to those wanting books to be banned!).
It’s not really all that surprising, though, that Americans are worried about the book’s potential influence – one of the most famous killers in history, Mark David Chapman (who was responsible for the assassination of John Lennon), famously admired the character so much that he wanted to change his name to Holden Caulfield, and wanted the book to be considered as his statement in court. Chapman is not the only criminal to have been linked with this text – several others, including John Hinckley Jnr. and Robert John Bardo, were found to be in possession of the novel, which has earned Salinger’s work an incredible yet unenviable reputation.
So, will reading it turn you into a psychopathic murderer? No, of course it won’t. What it will do is remind you of all the pain and confusion of adolescence – in that regard, the book is like a smack in the face… and yet, there is beauty to behold here. The language is conversational and at the same time manages to be poetic; the dialogue drips with the unfocused rage and sarcasm of youth. Whilst readers may find it difficult to like him all that much, their heart will bleed for him all the same -we all, to some extent, know what it is like to be Holden, because there are some things you cannot forget.
If you’ve never read it, you should give it a try – if for no other reason than to tick it off the list. Salinger is a master, and the book won’t leave you disappointed!
Want more information on Banned Books Week 2014?