Banned Books 101: Taken off The Presses


Aiden Gamble

Ray Bradbury is rolling in his grave.

It’s 1995 and Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho has come off the presses, letting the sociopathic Patrick Bateman begin his reign of murder through the New York City backstreets and preaching about society’s innate ability to turn sanity into the warped mind of a sociopath.  Disturbing? Completely. Obscene, vulgar and obtuse? Yes, yes and yes. But still, with all of it’s flaws, Ray Bradbury barrel rolls in his grave as each print of the novel is pulled from library shelves. His message in Fahrenheit 451 has gone through generations and yet, no one is truly listening to his concerns. Everywhere a book is published, another book is banned, removed off of shelved and their message lost to students and youth.

“I begin my class saying that everything on our list has been banned at one point or another,” Lee said. “I believe that that means we’ve got good [literature] on our list  which usually makes students think outside their realities.”

Though books are banned or challenged in the libraries, librarian Doris Greenstreet said that challenging books is a long and formal process. Challenged books have to be read by the district before they can even begin to consider swapping the novel in question to a more appropriate shelves within the district.

“I feel like nearly everything we teach could be banned in a sense,” English III AP teacher Canita Lee said. “Fine literature is made in a way that it points out all the flaws in society and that is a main issue when it comes to banning”

Differing from college level English, high school classes find themselves in a critical position in a student’s budding literary enthusiasm. In their growth, they find themselves exposed to a whole world that may not exactly portray the nation they’re used to seeing.

“Grapes of Wrath, was a novel that concerned me, and still does, when I taught it, ” Lee said. “It doesn’t portray America in the best of light, since it was written during the Depression.”

Cultures and society  are often portrayed in their rawest states in literature. From the issues of intracommunal black struggles in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God to the wariness of innovation in Huxley’s Brave New World, any complaint about society or it’s values can be expressed through words, letters and punctuation. Yet, more often than not, readers feel uncomfortable with those ideals.

“Being uncomfortable equals that you’re seeing the truth, “ Lee said. “And that means you may be seeing aspects of humanity that are negative or undesirable. Reading about it doesn’t make it magically pop into existence, but that you’re actually seeing it and you don’t like what you’re seeing.”

Teacher Janet Stackhouse follows this belief, yet applies it more towards her students and their changing values.

“As human beings, when we read about certain things, we will be affected emotionally,”  Stackhouse said. “ I hope that my students react with empathy when they read. So, if they read about certain injustices, I do want them to feel empathy and indignation about that injustice.”

Emotions rule the world of literature; it is what gives things their sustenance and and ability to impact readers to a level far deeper than ‘oh, he died’.  But how this impact affects students or parents is the scale that books are judged on.

“Reading gives students a different aspect, “Lee said. “Teaching at Bryan, I could assign different books there than I could here.”

Between national, state and local borders, values differ; the opinions of certain books change with their populations. What may be allowed in Oregon, may not be allowed in Alabama Lee suggests.

“At Bryan, I was surrounded by a predominantly minority and poverty based student body, “Lee said. “So, there I could teach books like Beloved and House on Mango Street. But because this is Tomball, I would think twice about teaching those novels here.”

Having to reconsider books they  teach may lead to many students missing out on novels that could possibly change their perspective on life, culture and society as they know it.

“I do agree because books are based on history and the author’s experiences, “ junior Daniel Kincer said. “ Novels are a way for people to understand history’s mistakes and not repeat the past. But if we say that people can’t read the novels that explain our mistakes, then how are we supposed to stop them from happening?”

What is the point of reading if nothing is gained from it? The whole purpose of reading is to gain awareness about the flaws of society as well as the good. If society continues to dance around the subjects that cause controversy in the community, how is anyone supposed to grow from the written word?

“ I didn’t want to ask for To Kill a Mockingbird, because I thought it might be too close to home with the prejudice in our town, “  English II teacher Karen Greco said. “But despite that, I still believe that eventually people gravitate towards things that will fill their spirits regardless of what others say.”