This week, as you may know, is Banned Books Week, a week where we can celebrate those books that have been banned or challenged throughout the years. It is a chance for us to remember the hard fight against censorship, and the authors, publishers, and booksellers who champion freedom of expression. We at Orange Frazer have published books with a number of controversial figures over the years—Irmgard Powell (daughter of Hitler’s minister of health), Tim Harrison, Art Schlichter, Woody Hayes—and we recognize the importance and necessity of their stories. Whether it is overcoming a Nazi childhood, a controversial fight against the exotic animal trade, the disappointing and violent end to a legacy career, or the everyday struggle against gambling, these lessons are vital to readers, and whether or not appropriate in all situations or to all ages, they must at least remain accessible to all people. That is our duty as a publisher, to make stories accessible to all readers. In honor of Banned Books Week, I did a little office poll, and rounded up all of our collective “banned book” experiences. From the comical to the sincere, it is clear how these books have shaped our lives.
Sarah, Production Manager:
The one that stands out the most to me is Lord of the Flies. This gang of troubled boys terrified my 14 year-old mind so deeply that it branded my brain with a very valuable lesson—beware of hordes of bored teenaged boys.
Since then, I have walked on the other side of the street whenever I saw a gang of teenaged boys.
Brittany, Designer: I only read a little over half of Catch – 22, but I loved that book. I love anything WWII related. I would have died if the diary of Anne Frank were banned. And I actually read all the Hunger Games books and loved them. She has such an imagination.
John, Editor: When I was a bookish lad growing up in a small Carolina town, one of my enduring influences was the town librarian, a tiny woman of some indeterminate age who wore dresses of colorful prints and had large brown eyes that widened when she told me what I might read next, as though she had been amazed at the book’s revelations, even if it was merely a biography of Kit Carson. Best of all, she simply encouraged me to see what I might find for myself. One summer, she handed me a copy of The Grapes of Wrath. She cautioned me that one of the local churches had protested the book, and when I read it, I imagined that they had objected to Rose of Sharon breastfeeding the hungry man. When I asked Mrs. Bagwell, she said, "Yes, the church’s notion of austerity seems to extend even to starvation." Thus Mrs. Bagwell, and censorship, partnered in giving me my dreaming life.
Marcy, Publisher: Off the top of my head: although I never read A Clockwork Orange, I saw the movie when I was about to give birth to my first child, Margaret, in 1971. The story was so mind-blowing, I went into labor shortly thereafter and always thank this powerful story for its part in her delivery.
Kelsey: I never realized the impact a book could have on my cultural understanding until I studied abroad in Germany. I was visiting Dresden for a weekend with friends (we planned on clubbing for a night—we were very naïve) and walked out of the train station into the middle of some odd seventeen thousand rallying socialists protesting the “funeral march” of Dresden neo-Nazis. We had no idea at the time, but we had decided to visit Dresden on the anniversary of the American bombing of Dresden, a date appropriated by neo-Nazis every year as a sign of American transgression and violence. Needless to say, we booked it out of there, but later, as I was talking to my traveling group, I realized few of them knew much about the bombing of Dresden, hadn't learned about the impact it had had on the cultural center of downtown Dresden, or the number of civilians it had killed. Then I realized—I only knew all of this because I read Slaughterhouse-Five. I never learned it in a history class, or talked about it with a professor, I simply knew of it from classic literature I had read in school. When we left Dresden I wrote a letter to my grandfather, an American veteran of World War II, asking him what he knew about the bombing, and what followed was a written exchange that has forever changed my worldview, expanding the understanding I have of myself and my history. I had no idea that one action could have such a ripple effect, that every year this day comes around and tears open a decades-old wound in Germany, that its gross appropriation by the neo-Nazi party draws counter-protestors from three countries, and that every year this day passes in the U.S. and we are totally unaware. For us, it’s just another day. When I got home from Germany I learned that a school in Missouri had banned the book, on the grounds that it taught “false perceptions of American history.” If only they could have been with us in Dresden that night—I’ve never experienced anything more honest in my entire life.