This year, the world celebrates Banned Books Week from 1 to 7 October 2023. It is an annual event 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 controversial, banned, or challenged books that some are even relevant or still controversial, banned, or challenged 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.
It was also in 21 September 1972 that Martial Law was declared in the Philippines. That era was marked with censorship, accusations of subversion, curfew, military discipline, and unexplained disappearances.
I’ve heard of these banned books, newspapers, or magazines while I was growing up. In fact, they said once caught with these banned reading materials was tantamount to being accused of subversion.
Until now, there has been an increase in book censorship complaints around the world. The complaints range from the books’ controversial moral views to the book’s portrayal of sex.
Recent Book Bans
On the Banned Books Week website, it featured a blog post about the list of banned books provided by the American Library Association (ALA). Most of the books listed were challenged or banned mostly because of its LGBTQIA+ content, depiction of sexual abuse, drugs, profanity, and claimed to be sexually explicit. I haven’t read any of them yet.
A few years ago, a school in the United States has banned the Harry Potter books because the magic spells written on the book are true and can summon evil spirits. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published in 1999 and since then the book series has gained popularity among young and old readers alike. It became a best-selling children’s literature. The series also became a successful movie franchise and has a Broadway play spin-off.
I like the Harry Potter books, I owned five of them. But why ban them only recently? Sure, there were those who challenged the book series back in the late ’90s and early 2000’s because of its wizardry or witchcraft. But banning them then only fired up the curiosity and publicity of the series plus the defense of Harry Potter fans.
Banned Books I’ve Read
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 Spanish authorities including the Catholic church 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.
Just last year, a reimagined Noli and Fili in the form of a TV series entitled “Maria Clara at Ibarra” was shown on TV and is now available on Netflix.
Celso Al. Carunungan’s Satanas sa Lupa (“Satan on Earth”)
The book has a subtitle, “Nobelang Pangkasalukuyan” (“A 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 writers arrested, detained, and accused of subversion.
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 the Martial Law era. Fictional but it portrays the need for social equality and justice. A movie version came in the 2000s but I prefer the book to understand why it was banned.
Aside from Dekada ’70, Bautista also wrote Gapo and Bata, Bata, Paano Ka Ginawa? These three books were challenged to be banned from the public but were critically-acclaimed for its writing.
I knew I have these three books with me somewhere in my bookshelves but I couldn’t find them.
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.
I’ve read this book during the ’90s when I had the chance to borrow a copy from someone who was pro-Imelda Marcos.
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 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 or blasphemous. Other scholars have written books that refute some of the claims mentioned in the book, although the book is just a work of fiction.
Nikos Kazantzakis’ “The Last Temptation of Christ”
I was a student at the University of Santo Tomas when I heard that the film was banned by the Catholic Church in 1988. The film was based on the book of the same title 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 — which begins with the prostitute and the soldier and ends with the count and the prostitute.
D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover
The book was published in 1928 and was banned for its obscenity. It was written in the late ’20s when depicting sex on books was still a taboo. Considered a literary classic for its poetic depiction of eroticism.
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, the right to read also encompasses the right to choose. Having books that were banned or challenged doesn’t mean you’re a subversive or a filibuster. Reading books that bring out suppressed issues open the public’s minds. Let us all be open-minded and let not censorship and ignorance keep us in the dark.