It is the last week of September, and to most bookworms around the globe—especially in the United States—it is the time to go back, read, and celebrate the most challenged books of all time. Yes, folks: it is Banned Books Week!
The Caulfield Experience
The list of frequently challenged books was long, but I opted to reread The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. This is partly because (1) I sort of missed Holden Caulfield, and (2) if I want to blabber about it, I can easily drag my younger sister into a conversation. Oh, and the convos we had? They killed me. They really did.
There was a power outage due to the typhoon Pedring last Tuesday, but that did not deter me from rereading Catcher. Actually, there was something surreal and seductively enjoyable in reading by meager candlelight; I was up in my bunk, cocooned in warm blankets, helping myself to a mug of hot chocolate, and there on my palms was an angsty little tale of a teenage bellyacher. No TV, no internet (well, I checked some news tweets about the typhoon on my phone, but it soon ran out of battery and that was that). The sound of the wind and rain outside provided an eerie kind of ‘soundtrack’ for me. I think I love this kind of reading experience.
After that, I talked to my sister about Allie’s poetry-scribbled baseball mitts, the nuns that Holden liked, Stradlater’s narcissistic streak, Ackley’s dramatic ‘shower curtain’ entrances, and many more. For a while we joked around using the 50’s teen slang that Holden used throughout the book, and I was cracking up like there was no tomorrow. Good times for the bums. *sigh*
Anyway, about the Catcher being a banned book…I think I quite understand the grounds for that decision, but it is not enough to actually prohibit readers from seeing this oeuvre. Sure, it is all profanity galore, and Holden’s viewpoints on a lot of things may deviate from that of most of the people during the book’s first publication, but remember what they said? That the world is banning the books that is showing it its own immorality? I’ll tell you more of my opinion on this book when I post my review for it. :)
The Big Picture
Let’s lean away a little from the minute (and personal) details to see the whole picture. When readers celebrate the Banned Books Week, the usual catchword is “fight for your right to read.” But the first thing that popped in my head when I heard about it is, “Dang! Freedom of expression in literature suppressed!”
Perhaps this has something to do with me being exposed to issues concerning the rights of media practitioners regarding their freedom of expression (perks of being a graduate with a degree in journalism, I guess). No over-sensitivity here, it is merely the truth that reverberated in my head. It is a little sad to know that even now, anyone who has a power to voice his opinions through ink and words can be quieted by those who are more powerful than him. Sometimes I try to put myself in the shoes of the writers of the banned books. I think it is painful, like your mouth is being taped on, and your audience's ears being plugged forcefully. Like you just presented a gem to the public and suddenly there were these goons from behind you that would clamp a chloroform-soaked hanky on your nose because you were about to disclose something that you should not—based on their standards. For both readers and writers, it's a no-win situation.
A wish for a literary utopia—where no books will be prohibited in the future—is perhaps impossible to come true. Freedom is not absolute, and when you think about it, it is just wise for the higher ups to provide some kind of information filter to protect the people's welfare. But sometimes, those who have the stronger authority are not exercising their power properly. Case in point: The Hunger Games made it to the top 10 most challenged books of 2010, and for what reason? It is violent, unsuitable for age group….and sexually explicit. Sexually explicit, for crying out loud. It is either I missed the triple-x part of the book or they just did not read it.
What we readers can do is to support and be vigilant. The Banned Books Week is, in its own way, a week of healthy rebellion. We read and support those who were once robbed of their freedom to speak their stories, works that they poured their soul into. And then we revel in how good some of them actually are…