Yesterday was World Press Freedom Day so my mind has been given lately to contemplating what it is that makes words and stories so powerful. Why do mobs and governments want to ban the public thoughts of everybody from Socrates to Harry Potter? In hopes of groping toward an answer, I’ve made this week’s Good Reads a roundup of some current suspects on various censorship lists.
“Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others.”
Those in power the world over don’t like that slogan from George Orwell’s 1945 fable Animal Farm. Christopher Hitchens, a British journalist known for stirring the pot himself, tells the story of Orwell’s classic deconstruction of Communism. Orwell’s little masterpiece met the indifference of publishers in the West at the time he wrote it and then suffered banning and burning in many countries. Even today it has yet to be published in China, Burma, North Korea, Iran, and much of the Middle East.
The Prime of Ms. Judy Blume
Judy Blume has always had a knack for writing novels that appeal to teenagers. Her 25 books have sold 75 million worldwide and been translated into 31 languages. But because they also take on subjects like sex, religion, divorce, and racism from a teen’s point of view, they’ve frequently been near the top of banned books lists. In this essay sex educator Susi Wilson reads five of Ms. Blume’s works and identifies the sources of their appeal.
New Jersey Newsroom
Press Freedom Falls Again
The Washington-based NGO Freedom House provides the world a great service by attempting systematically to keep track of press freedom around the world. In recent years the Internet and other forms of new media had loosened restrictions in some countries, but there’s now a reaction. Governments like China, Russia, Egypt, and Venezuela are cracking down.
Christian Science Monitor
Where’s the Outrage?
America is the land of free speech, right? British commentator Alex Sillius thought so, but now he’s disappointed in the hushed public responses to the latest drawing-Mohammed controversies involving the pop TV show “South Park” and a Seattle cartoonist.
Mr. Mikesell’s Clever Assignment
One of the glories of the blogosphere is how all sorts of odd stuff gets washed up on the beach. We’re not quite sure who Mr. Mikesell is, but internal evidence from his blog indicates he’s a savvy high school English teacher. Scroll down and check out the assignment to his class on “(Pre-AP) Banned Book Project.” It’s heartening to see how Mr. M turns the banning of books into a great opportunity for learning.
Tintin in the Congo
Books have been banned for many reasons. Perhaps the most defensible is historical racism. A Congolese man living in Belgium has sought a ban of the Belgian cartoonist Herge’s 1930 opus, Tintin in the Congo, because of its racist content. As the case makes it way through Belgian courts, a predictable result has occurred: worldwide publicity has brought a sales surge for backlist copies and the book has risen to #5 on Amazon.
And America’s #1 Banned Book of the Decade Is?
Yes, the Harry Potter series of fantasy novels by J.K. Rowling. The golden oldie Faherenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, a novel whose plot turns on book burning, holds steady at #69. Emily, the pre-school teacher who blogs at the Alcove, is a stat-lover worthy of baseball’s Bill James. Here she compares the top 100 banned books of the current decade against those banned in the 1990s to see what insights pop out.