Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Reading Challenge Week 18 - A previously banned book

This week's Reading Challenge was to find a previously banned book to read. Many books have been banned for many reasons and by many groups over the course of history - and it's always controversial.

Whether the book is kept out of a school library because some parents complained about it to the Board (as happens to many books that contain strong language, characters from minority groups or books depicting different religions), or it's kept out of bookshops in a particular country because the government believes it will cite dissent, there will always be some people who say "Yes! And rightly so!", while others will be willing to march the streets in protest.

Now, we've actually already reviewed quite a number of books that have been banned in the past, but let's add a couple more to the list:


Samantha Baxter read On the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin.

My undergraduate degree was a Bachelor of Arts with a major in archaeology, one of my key interests was human evolution. To that end I chose to read Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species for my banned book.

This work was incredibly controversial when it was first published. While the idea that organisms changed over time and that new species were created from old was not new, Darwin’s (and Wallace, who came up with the theory at the same time) description of the method by which it occurred, Natural Selection, was one of the more plausible and well argued. Twenty years separated the idea of natural selection occurring to Darwin and the publication of his first work on it in 1859.

The book was banned from the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, where Darwin had been a student. The Origin of Species was banned in Yugoslavia in 1935 and in Greece in 1937. Scientists of the time could not find a way to reconcile their religious and ideological beliefs with Darwin’s theories and thus rejected them. However the theory of natural selection has stood the test of time, becoming one of the key concepts in theories of evolution.

The book, though dated, is quite readable if you have an interest in evolution and it greatly details how Darwin came to his conclusions from observing domestic selection and selection in nature during his voyage on the HMS Beagle.

We have a number of editions of The Origin of Species in the library - as well as some online versions.

I am reading an edition that includes both this title and Darwin’s subsequent work, The Descent of Man.


Sharon Bryan read Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley.

I first read this book during a period of time I like to call "The Post-Apocalyptic Christmas". I spent my Christmas holidays reading books about dystopian futures. Brave New World, Farenheit 451 I Am Legend...

I have to say it was not the most cheerful Christmas activity I could have come up with. I should also point out that we are all doomed. One of the things that amazed me the most about the books I was reading was that they were classic dystopian tales - everyone who has ever read them knows that this isn't where we want to end up - and yet so many things that had been mentioned in the books had actually come to pass.

Somehow, somewhere along the lines, people read these books and said "That sounds like a great idea! Let's do that!"

So, Brave New World (820 HUX 1C BRA/VIN), which was first published in 1932, is set in a future where people don't have babies anymore, because they're icky. Instead, children are produced in test-tubes, grown in labs and fostered out to people who like kids. It's a very weird and sterile environment where consumerism is so important even your clothes are designed to fail. They rot after a certain period of time, so you have to replace them. Say, have you ever noticed that clothes these days don't last as long as they did in the past...?

Oh, and did I mention that everyone keeps themselves medicated using a drug called soma (not completely dissimilar to Prozac), and they distract themselves with parties and social events, so they're all "happy" all the time, and no one minds that they're basically rats on a consumerism treadmill?

There are still "native reserves", where people can live "traditional lives" which involve giving birth and wearing clothes for several months running. The story of the book, such as it is, involves young man who was accidentally conceived and raised on a reserve, who comes to the modern society his father lives in, and discovers that it's all quite horrible and depressing, really.

It has been banned in Ireland (language and irreligious themes) and India (sexual content), and challenged in many schools.


Brenda Carter read Green Eggs and Ham (810 SEU) by Dr. Seuss.

In the dark? Here, in the dark? Could you, would you, in the dark?
It even sounds shady – Green Eggs and Ham (810 SEU) by Dr. Seuss was kept in the dark in China from 1965 and the ban wasn’t lifted until 1991. Apparently it embodied the early Marxist ideals of the working class in their constant struggle to effect social change. 

Although some of Seuss’s  stories have overtly political or environmental themes (The Lorax, Yertle the Turtle), the author did not consider this to be one of them.  The term and message of Green Eggs and Ham have since been adopted and interpreted by writers in almost every discipline, from Creativity and the Arts, to Cells and Gene Therapy, Law, and Mathematical and Computer Modelling to name just a few. Try a quick search in OneSearch!

Through skillful use of repetition, Seuss tells his tale with a vocabulary of less than 50 words.  I’m not sure which of the two characters is most annoying – the persistently cheerful  Sam-I-am or his belligerent acquaintance. Nevertheless, this is one of my favourite read-alouds and is a perennial favourite for all ages.

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