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What to Read Next: Banned Books
Issue #297: featuring "Fahrenheit 451" and other banned books
Happy Friday, readers!
Next week (Oct 1-7) is the official Banned Books Week, an annual event that highlights the value of free and open access to information. As book banning continues to surge — in conservative states, especially — this event only takes on more importance.
If you’re reading this newsletter, you know the vital nature of books and reading. And you also know that mere exposure to an idea is not a danger, but rather a world-broadening experience that increases our empathy, enhances our understanding of justice, and makes us all a bit more human towards each other.
What’s become glaringly obvious in the last handful of years, on a very public stage, is that not everyone believes those foundational ideas about reading.
I could expound on this for much longer, but the gist is rather simple: Read banned books — with your kids, with your book club, by yourself on the couch. (Here’s a list of classics that have been banned, many of them much more recently than you’d think.) The way to fight this type of censorship is to read more and remind those in power that books of all kinds, whether you agree with the content or not, are a form of free speech that should be protected at all costs.
Today, I’m highlighting a classic that hits on this topic in a direct way (and which has been banned itself), as well as a newer title that chronicles banned books throughout history.
Let’s get to it.
I finished Mr. Lincoln’s Army yesterday, which is the first volume in Bruce Catton’s Army of the Potomac trilogy. There were moments of brilliance, but also dry pages filled with tactical movements. Ultimately, the good far outweighed the slow. It’s on to book two: Glory Road.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
“‘Stuff your eyes with wonder,’ he said, ‘live as if you'd drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It's more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.’”
Published: 1953 | Pages: 167 | Genre: Fiction (Dystopian)
Of all the banned books, the one that’s perhaps the most potent on a meta-level — because it speaks to the very idea of censorship — is Ray Bradbury’s 1953 classic Fahrenheit 451.
On the surface, it’s a story about book burning. That’s the part that everyone knows, even if you’ve never read it (or read it so long ago that you’ve forgotten the plot). And though the story remains mostly surface-level — something I only noticed on this particular reading of it — the point is less about books themselves than the ideas contained within:
“Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the Universe together into one garment for us.”
For Bradbury, who scattered bits and pieces of his own thinking into each character, the point of books is to remind us of life. In the world of Fahrenheit 451, everyone lives through the wall-sized, interactive TV screens on their parlor walls. Books, as Montag discovers, compel us to go outside those walls and into the physical world. Into the presence of other humans for the sake of conversation and companionship.
Nothing could be more prescient — and urgent — for our modern society than what Bradbury is telling us.
Another point eminently worth sharing: In this imagined future, it’s not the government that started banning books. People stopped reading on their own before book burning became institutionalized. They were lulled by their screens into an uninteresting life fully removed from the beauty and complexities of the real world.
Though Fahrenheit 451 lacks character depth, it remains worth reading and absorbing for the ideas alone. There are few better reminders of what’s important in life and few celebrations of books that are more potent. Bradbury’s dystopian tale is an all-time classic for good reason.
Banned Books by DK Publishing
Published: 2022 | Pages: 192 | Genre: Non-Fiction (Anthology)
Our family has really enjoyed DK Publishing’s children’s anthologies, so I was delighted to find they had a collection for adults focused on banned books. Spanning centuries of books, each beautifully designed two-page spread highlights a different title that has a history of being censored:
In addition to the unique illustrations, we’re also treated to a small bit of history and context as to why the book has been banned through the years.
From classics (Frankenstein) to modern mega-hits (Harry Potter); from works you know (The Grapes of Wrath) to some you likely don’t (Black Voices from Prison); from sexual explorations (Fun Home) to tales of tyranny (The Gulag Archipelago) — this collection has a bit of everything.
Banned Books is an accessible, enjoyable look at why certain books throughout history have been considered dangerous. It’s well worth your perusal if you’re interested in literature and censorship.
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