Monday, September 23, 2013

Exploring the Restricted Section: Banned Books Week

As much as we'd love Mount Holyoke to be an exact replica of Hogwarts, it's quite wonderful that our library has no Restricted Section. (Well, I suppose you aren't allowed in to the Cutter Collection without permission, but that's only because the books there are really old and fragile). 

But as you might have learned (be it from your parents or from Voldemort), the world can be a bad bad place. Imagine getting thrown into the dungeons for singing the anti-alma mater?! Well, even if dungeons weren't necessarily involved, the censorship of literature has been a problem since time immemorial. Not only is content censored, books are taken off public shelves altogether.  Chances are, at least one of your favorite children's books has been banned at some point, somewhere-- Shel Silverstein's A Light in the Attic, Roald Dahl's The BFG, and the once most-banned book in America, J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter.

To protest the unfair crackdown on great works of literature, a campaign called Banned Books Week was launched in 1982. It is an "annual celebration of the freedom to read"  and brings attention to the numerous books that are banned, or legally challenged, each year. This year, Banned Books Week runs from September 22-28, 2013

We at LITS are going to take part in the protest/celebration this week by posting about some of our favorite banned books. Every day, a different LITS worker will share a banned book they have enjoyed, in the hope that you will enjoy it, too.  Do share your own favorites with us; we have the freedom to read! Here's my pick for the week...

 Howl by Allen Ginsberg   

              " angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in                    the machinery of night" 

 "we wake up electrified out of the coma by our own souls’ airplanes"

Perhaps one of the most famously banned poems, Ginsberg's "Howl" was a path-breaking work and was an eye-opening piece for me, as a lover of poetry.  A three-part poem, first published in 1956 as part of Howl and Other Poems, it talks of the social and political oppression of 1940-50s America, and of the degenerate nature of capitalism.  Unreserved in its descriptions and accusations, "Howl"'s   haunting rhythm drew me to the poem-- it escalates, throwing its images at you like unending rain, leaving you frazzled, with perhaps a little too much to think about.

The poem, now acknowledged as a landmark of the Beat Generation of poetry, was tried for obscenity in 1957 because of its open references to drugs, homosexuality, and alternative sexual practices. 

    "...cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets
      and listening to the Terror through the wall,
     who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo with a belt of marijuana 
     for New York"

During the course of the trial, hundreds of copies were seized from the publishers, and booksellers trying to peddle the books were arrested. The trial eventually ended in Ginsberg's favor and "Howl," as many like to say, came to define a generation. Today, it has been translated into over 22 languages. 

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical

A note to Harry Potter fans, whom I mislead with the title of this post: I am sorry I did not address why our beloved series has ended up in far too many Restricted Sections. You can check out the Banned Books website to read more about the banning of Harry Potter. But do read "Howl," and remember that it too shares something in common with Harry Potter-- Daniel Radcliffe plays Allen Ginsberg in the upcoming film, Kill Your Darlings

Image Credits
Banned Books: Freedom to Read Foundation
Howl: Maddie Keating (Flickr)

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