It’s September – Banned Book Month.
I have many thoughts on banned books that I won’t go into right now (and that I discuss more thoroughly in my post for Book Bites) but I will start by saying that it goes without saying that many of my favourite books, from childhood, for teens, for adults, have been banned at some point or another. I’m not totally sure what this suggests, but I’d like to make tribute to three here because of the way they shaped me as a reader:
A Light in The Attic by Shel Silverstein
This was one of the most banned books of the 1990s but my parents gave this to me for my 12th birthday (in 1986) with the note “may you always have a bright light in your attic.” I devoured the book. For me, Shel Silverstein (like Roald Dahl) awakened in me that delicious sense of whimsy and the absurd. His poems somehow dug in deep to that childlike place that doesn’t want the world to make sense, wants the wild world to continue to grow wilder around you. His poems were silly, sad, emotional, random, and funny. He played with language the way Dr. Seuss did, always bending my ear a different direction. Reading Silverstein was always a little like being tickled: wonderful abandon that could border on discomfort. I love him for it.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
When this novel was published over ten years ago, it instantly hit a chord with readers. This clear-eyed story of a young girl reeling from a rape continues to be a book that teenagers flock to and also one that ends up on many a banned book list. I remember the way the prose stayed with me, made me all shivery. I was already teaching high school and remember thinking it would be an incredible book to bring into the curriculum. It was one of the best YA titles I’d seen in awhile and the voice was so sharp, a knife blade. I remember my department head at the time just shaking his head, looking tired. “Good luck,” he told me. It didn’t make it in, but it became a beacon for me in being honest in my own writing as well as a book I knew I could suggest to my students year after year.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
One of the biggest compliments I have ever received as a writer was when a critic called the main character of my first novel, Songs for a Teenage Nomad, a “female kind of Holden Caulfield.” When I read that, I remember thinking – that’s it, I’m done, it can’t get any better than that. For me, Catcher was a game changer. I read that novel and completely saw the way a single voice and character can guide a whole novel. It often makes the top ten most challenged list for any given year as an “unsuitable” book for teens (even if it’s about a sixteen year just trying to figure out why the world is such a mess around him). It’s at the top of my list for banned books that changed me.
Are there any banned books that shaped you as a reader?