Reading the Bans: Banned Books Week

28 Sep

It’s Banned Books Week!

This post has nothing obvious to do with games, but it is in the spirit of that whole ethics-in… thing–censorship! I’m including (after the cut below) a list of the banned or challenged books on the list of “Top 100 novels of the 20th Century” (in English), and bolding the ones I’ve personally read.

And here’s why this is important. Almost half of the most important (arguably) 100 books from the 20th century were political enough that someone wanted them banned, or at least restricted. If we go back further, there would be dozens more, up to and including Shakespeare’s works (some of which–like The Tragedy of Gowrie–were banned successfully).

Censorship is a real thing and a real problem, but the way many of us in the U.S. have come to understand censorship is inaccurate. Censorship renders someone unable to speak or write, silences them, takes away their voice. Criticism–as opposed to censorship–might challenge or call out someone’s opinion, but it does not prohibit them from speaking. Criticism is not censorship. Forbidding someone from reading, from writing, and, yes, from playing is censorship. Telling someone they ought to be more conscious of the problems in something they are reading or playing is not censorship.

And here’s the other proverbial shoe: political speech (whether verbal, written, or artistic) always causes criticism and often creates a call for censorship. Whether the thing that’s being criticized is a book, a film, a television show, or–yes–a game, if it’s being criticized or censored, it is political, even if it “seems” like it’s “just entertainment” that “doesn’t mean anything.” Even if the creator(s) didn’t intend to send a specific message (although, let’s be honest, they very probably did), if something is being criticized and/or censored, they sent one anyway.

And that is a good thing. It is far, far better for us to be sending political messages–even ones we might not all agree with–than it is to live under a rock and pretend that nothing we see or do on a daily basis has anything to do with politics, social constructs, or ideologies. Because it does. I promise.

So go read something banned. Or play something political. Or, better yet, both.

1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
3. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
4. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
5. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
6. Ulysses, by James Joyce
7. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
8. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
9. 1984, by George Orwell
11. Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov
12. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
15. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
16. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
17. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
18. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
19. As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
20. A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway
23. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
24. Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
25. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
26. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
27. Native Son, by Richard Wright
28. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
29. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
30. For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway
33. The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
36. Go Tell it on the Mountain, by James Baldwin
38. All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren
40. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
45. The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair
48. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence
49. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
50. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
53. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
55. The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie *on my shelf to read*
57. Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron
64. Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence
66. Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
67. A Separate Peace, by John Knowles
73. Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs
74. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
75. Women in Love, by D.H. Lawrence
80. The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer
84. Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller
88. An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser
97. Rabbit, Run, by John Updike