The title of today’s post is a quote by German poet Heinrich Heine and I have chosen it to mark what is about the middle of Banned Books Week. In the spirit of keeping track of what we might have missed out on, I thought it worth sharing some of my favourites that have over the years, made the list.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.
The story of teenager Holden Caulfield’s struggle to come to terms with the confusing world around him remains both hugely popular and highly controversial. Under the swearing and angst-ridden prose that has offended so many there is a tone of genuine sincerity that has led many others to save a soft spot in their hearts for Holden Caulfield, however unreliable his narration might be.
The book carries a certain mystique, partly due to the reclusive nature of author J.D. Salinger, and the fact that it was linked to at least three historical assassinations. Mark David Chapman was holding it when he shot John Lennon, Robert John Bardo also had the book in his possession when he shot actress Rebecca Schaeffer, and rumours abound of it being lined to other high-profile shootings, such as Sirhan Sirhan’s assassination of Robert Kennedy. This has made some people see Catcher as a negative influence, but I would argue (vehemently and probably in a long and rambling blog post) that the book has overall had a far more positive influence in society than negative, and has been a valuable lifeline for many young people. Also, Holden is genuinely entertaining;
That’s the whole trouble. You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write “Fuck you” right under your nose. Try it sometime. I think, even, if I ever die, and they stick me in a cemetery, and I have a tombstone and all, it’ll say “Holden Caulfield” on it, and then what year I was born and what year I died, and then right under that it’ll say “Fuck you.” I’m positive, in fact.
And for anyone else who has a soft spot for Holden Caulfield, check out John Green’s video analysis here.
Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus , by Mary Shelley
Popular culture has done a great disservice to Mary Shelley’s 1818 Gothic classic about a young scientists’ misguided attempt to defeat death by creating a living creature out of used corpses. Unfortunately there is little resemblance between Frankenstein’s monster as he appears in Shelley’s novel, and the two-dimensional monster that is often reproduced on screen:
But for anyone who needs a tragic character to fall in love with, I recommend reading the original, for the monster turns out to be the wisest creature, and one that speaks with a beautiful voice:
I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence.
I first read this book for an English subject at uni, and was gratefully surprised for how much real depth there is to the story. Unfortunately the emphasis given to the explicit scenes within the book which have contributed to its censorship has meant that the actual substance of the book is overlooked. The book is often caricatured into a two-dimensional story about an explicit love affair, but it is deeply philosophical and also beautifully written, dealing with the themes central to existence, such as where to find meaning amongst the pressures of social expectations. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in absurdist writing, such as that of Albert Camus.
Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.
She followed the track and the hammerings grew near, in the silence of the windy wood, for trees make a silence even in their noise of wind’.
And of course, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.
Well what can I say that hasn’t been said about Harry Potter? Harry Potter is epic. Whoever bans it is a fool. And probably working for Voldemort.
Of course it is happening inside your head, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?
Feel free to share your favourite banned books below!