This week, starting 24 September, the world celebrates Banned Books Week. It is an annual event every last week of September that celebrates the freedom to read. It brings the whole book community, librarians, booksellers, publishers, teachers, writers, and readers together in shared support of this freedom.
There are books that are unorthodox, controversial, or even ahead of its time. History has shown us how books have influenced leaders and intellectuals. Every era in history and every government have its own set of banned books that some are even relevant or still banned today. Reviewing the course of history, banned books follow the pattern of censorship. And if we look deeper, it stems from fear — fear of educating and empowering the readers to choose or decide.
I’ve heard of these banned books while I was growing up. Until now, there is an increase in book censorship complaints. The complaints range from the books’ controversial moral views to the book’s portrayal of sex.
I myself have read some of the known banned books. Most of them were banned during their heydays and are now accepted and circulating. Here is a list of banned books I’ve read:
- Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. Jose Rizal was 29 when he published Noli Me Tangere, a novel written in Spanish that depicts the social life of Filipinos during that time. El Filibusterismo, a much darker novel, is more aggressive it its depiction of the call for change. Both novels have symbolized the oppression, the double standards of society, the inequalities, and the desire for changes. These books were banned by the Spaniards because it was, for them, were blasphemous and seditious. Nowadays, these books are read in high school as part of the curriculum. Once you read and analyze the books, it still show the symbolism Rizal used in portraying the cancer of our society which is still prevalent today.
- Celso Al. Carunungan’s Satanas sa Lupa (“Satan on Earth”) . The book has a subtitle, “Nobelang Pangkasalukuyan” (“Present-day Novel”) and was published in 1970. Written in Filipino, the story depicts the character change of a good citizen turned corrupt congressman and his family’s lives. This novel was banned because it portrayed a First Lady who desired to run for Vice-President. In the early ’70s, it was rumored that Imelda Marcos plans to run as Vice-President of the Philippines. When Martial Law was declared, Carunungan was one of those arrested and detained writers. After the 1986 EDSA Revolution, the remaining copies of the book were released to the market. I was able to get hold of one because it became a required reading in our Philippine Literature class. Then someone borrowed it and never returned.
- Lualhati Bautista’s Dekada ’70. A short novel if you’re going to base it from its size but it is a good story of a family in the midst of Martial Law. Fictional but it portrays the need for social equality and justice.
- Carmen Navarro Pedrosa’s The Untold Story of Imelda Marcos. Published in 1969, it was subsequently banned during Martial Law for obvious reasons. The ban was an outright censorship because no one would like to be exposed of his/her dark secrets.
- David A. Yallop’s In God’s Name: An Investigation into the Murder of Pope John Paul I. If my memory serves me right, this book was banned by the Catholic Church here in the Philippines. Published in 1984, it is about the death of Pope John Paul I which details death by poison, some involvement of an Italian mafia, and Opus Dei. But a few months after the death of Jaime Cardinal Sin, the late Archbishop of Manila, I saw a copy of this book, at the bottom most shelf, in a well-known bookstore in Makati. I bought the book because I knew it was a rare find. Unfortunately, the book was borrowed and never returned.
- Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Published in 2003, this book was banned in some countries after Catholic leaders considered it offensive. Other scholars have written books that refute some of the claims mentioned in the book, although the book is just a work of fiction.
- And speaking of being banned by the Catholic Church… I was a student at the University of Santo Tomas when I heard that the film “The Last Temptation of Christ” was banned by the Catholic Church in 1988. The film was based on the book of the same title written by Nikos Kazantzakis, first published in 1955. I may not be able to read the novel but I have a copy of the film. It was banned because of its portrayal of Jesus Christ — being married to Mary Magdalene, then to Mary, sister of Lazarus, and having children with the latter — which the church considered blasphemous.
- Arthur Schnitzler’s Dance of Love. This is the original translation of the German play which was banned in the United States for 50 years. The play portrays the psychology of sex and depicts different relationships.
- D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The book was published in 1928 and was banned for its obscenity.
- George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Published in 1949 but banned in the Soviet Union in 1950 because Stalin thought that the satire was based on his leadership. The concept of Big Brother and government control is somehow relevant these days that this book is worth reading again.
As a writer, and as a parent, the right to read also encompasses the right to choose. As a parent, I know what books I would recommend my child to read which is appropriate for her age. But once she reaches the legal age, she can read whatever book she likes because that will be her choice.