Opinion: In defense of books: Why banned books are worth reading


Lauren Sieberg

A selection of frequently banned or challenged books can be found on the shelves of Seabury Hall’s Castle Library.

Lauren Sieberg, Staff Writer

As humans, we are often intrigued by what we are told we shouldn’t do, and for people like me, reading books labeled as “controversial” is among those forbidden things. Individual citizens, principals, and entire governments scorn or even ban these books for numerous reasons, citing everything from extreme subject matter to weighty overarching themes to unwanted character traits.

Thankfully, as a Seabury Hall student, I’m lucky enough to be in a community that won’t try to censor what I read; in fact, I can happily say that it’s the exact opposite. At Seabury, the chances of a student being required to read a challenged book are high, as several of these texts are, have been, or will be taught here.

From the American Library Association’s lists of the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books and 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books from the last two decades, 13 of these incredible books are taught at Seabury. These range from Ray Bradbury’s futuristic and eerily accurate “Fahrenheit 451” to the explicit “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.” Eleven additional books that appear on other controversial book lists are also included in our curriculum.

However, just because some of these books are required doesn’t mean that people will actively read or support them in and out of the classroom. Some people even go as far as to avoid these types of texts entirely, mostly out of a rather irrational fear of the wild themes and ideas woven within the delicate pages.

Personally, I feel that this isn’t the right approach to take with these beautiful pieces of literature. Instead of avoiding them because of the labels they’ve obtained over the years, people should look past the baggage that may come with these books and read them for their captivating content, special characters, and beautiful language.

Even if these books may initially seem rather daunting due to their extreme subject matter, they help readers become more aware of the real world by covering topics like violence, death, social class systems, corrupt governments, suicide, and intense poverty.

In “The Kite Runner,” Khaled Hosseini includes a rape scene that drives the protagonist Amir’s journey towards redemption. Although some people may want to “protect” themselves by avoiding books that cover these subjects, it only makes those topics harder to explain and get accustomed to later on. While it might be a bit of a push to get through such emotional topics, a book can act as a guide for opening readers up to the reality of this world without needing to experience those situations directly.

However, you can rest assured that these books don’t just include scene after scene of dangerous and wild topics; most challenged texts also have touching and emotional moments that are perfectly appropriate.

For example, S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders” includes a sentimental and highly memorable scene between the protagonist Ponyboy and his friend Johnny as they watch the sunset together. Keeping an open mind and looking forward to scenes like these really helps when you read through a book that’s filled with less than pleasant topics, as it always leaves you with some sort of crystallizing moment to look forward to.

Controversial books also do a wonderful job of hurling readers into unfamiliar territory, especially with things the reader has never seen or experienced and probably never will. Nobody wants to experience things like slavery, and no person alive today can fully grasp what that was like. Luckily, Toni Morrison’s poetic novel “Beloved” helps readers look through the eyes of a handful of ex-slaves, guiding them through what it would be like to come into contact with slavery, death, and violence first-hand. Although “Beloved” is rather explicit as it exposes the horrors of slavery and the effects they have on a human being, it still provides the audience with a fascinating story containing numerous unique characters.

On a similar note, tons of controversial novels include characters with viewpoints and morals that may strongly differ from the reader’s, allowing for a genuinely interesting read. Reading a book with protagonist that is exactly like you can sometimes feel boring and way too ordinary. However, in the prominent tale of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” the author Mark Twain deviates completely from the stuffy, principled main character that society often considers the ideal role model. Instead, his protagonist—a little boy named Huck—doesn’t have a perfect moral compass. Despite his occasional good intentions, he lies, steals, plays tricks, and cheats on numerous occasions throughout the book. Even though he isn’t exactly a fabulous icon whose traits you’d want to mirror, characters like Huckleberry provide readers with an uncommon point of view that keeps them engaged and pondering his next move.

Another plus comes from looking at these books from a long-term perspective; numerous controversial texts have ended up as celebrated classics, some because they really changed the world. For example, Upton Sinclair’s raw descriptions of the meatpacking industry during the early 1900s in “The Jungle” brought about the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act. This text was and still is challenged due to the rather disgusting literary illustrations, but it is honored today because of the huge role it played in the history of America. Reading a book that’s so highly respected in our society can also give readers a fair understanding of the community they live in.

Even if it’s difficult to actively pursue something so socially forbidden, it is still completely worth the enriching experience. I encourage everyone to go to the library and check out a controversial book. There’s no need to worry about being unable to find one—our Castle Library carries nearly one hundred challenged texts with all sorts of genres, topics, and eras. So, go find a controversial book you’re interested in and embrace the unique characters, intense themes and subject matter, unfamiliar territory, and everything in between.

Controversial Texts Studied at Seabury Hall
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl*
Bless Me, Ultima
Catcher in the Rye
Fahrenheit 451
Flowers for Algernon
Heart of Darkness*
Lord of the Flies
Of Mice and Men
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
Romeo and Juliet*
Snow Falling on Cedars
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Alchemist*
The Bible*
The Call of the Wild*
The Crucible*
The Jungle*
The Kite Runner
The Outsiders
The Scarlet Letter*
Things Fall Apart*
To Kill A Mockingbird

*Starred novels do not appear in the American Library Association’s lists, but are classified as “controversial” by other sources.