The positive part of book bans is often overlooked, as a significant part of the population only thinks about books when they hear that some have been banned. I even taught a World Literature survey class once where everything on the syllabus was available in the erotica section of a large bookstore in Montgomery. Every work had been banned at one time or context or another, and some are still banned by the holier than thou. Interest in the class increased greatly when I informed the students of these facts.
The list of my top five to be recommended for censorship was not easy to compile, but I started and ended with Southern writers, as the South has been around the block a few times on this issue.
5) The Thomas Jefferson Bible
If King James could have his own special version of the Bible, why couldn’t Mr. Jefferson? The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth was his second attempt at distilling the Bible down to its essence. That it is only 84 pages long says all you need to know. My personal bible would include both the stories about Judith and Holofernes (see the famous painting by Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Beheading Holofernes), and most importantly, the one where Jesus stretched too short wood to the proper length in Joseph’s workshop. No one would read that one either.
4) Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais
What’s not to love about two giants wreaking havoc all over France and Europe? The Church didn’t think this first bestseller of fiction was very funny, and Rabelais needed the protection of the Queen of Navarre to avoid execution, on the basis of his assertion that giants can be born through their mother’s ears. Of course the priest named Friar John of the Funnels, who was always drunk, didn’t strike them as humorous either. Always a favorite in my World Lit class, but don’t teach this in Floriduh.
3) Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself
Slavery and American history? Sounds all woke to me. That Douglass was criticized for writing that religious slave owners were the worst ones, says all you need to know about pre-civil war America. People, please go back to sleep, and don’t tell this to Florida man if you ever wake up.
2) The Sorrows of Young Werther, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
This masterpiece of Sturm and Drang (storm and stress) is all about love, and suicide at a young age. Banned by Italy and Denmark as a bad influence on the young, the city of Leipzig in the German part of the Holy Roman Empire also banned the style of clothes that the fictional Werther wore. Now that’s a real ban, German style.
1) To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Yikes! A young girl who wears boy’s clothes and goes by the name of Scout. Named by NPR as America’s favorite novel, it has racism, profanity, and gender confusion, all under an oak tree in south Alabama. Remember when Scout said to “pass the damn ham” at the family dinner table? Hardly a flattering depiction of Southern girl-hood. Also, don’t forget that scary Boo Radley. I am the proud owner of the first printing of this book, which is in the picture above.
After all that thinking, which may well be illegal soon enough, I am going to relax and read a comforting banned book.