Banned Books and the Freedom to Read Week

February 25 to March 3 is Freedom to Read Week in Canada. According to the website ,

Freedom to Read Week is an annual event that encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom.”

The first books I read upon leaving India were, of course, titles banned back there. I started with “Nine Hours to Rama” by Stanley Wolpert, and went on to “Mother India” by Katherine Mayo.

A banned book, by definition, ought to have a unique, original idea (offensive or subversive or otherwise) that led to its subsequent banishment. I’m unable to fathom why the Indian government banned these boring and banal books; there’s nothing remotely thought-provoking about them. I have seldom felt so let-down; it’s like biting into a chili pepper and finding out it’s actually a string bean. Just un-ban them already!

Anyway, the Freedom to Read website includes a list of “challenged books” in Canada–books  that organizations or individuals sought to remove from general public access (in schools or libraries), over the past 21 years.  The list includes some standard ire-rousers–Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Andrea Dworkin’s Pornography, and, um, Madonna’s Sex, but there are also some surprises. Such as Marguerite Duras’s Man Sitting in a Corridor:

1993—A Canada Customs agent prohibited entry after leafing through the novel. The shipment was destined for use in a graduate course at Trent University. Cause of objection—The book was ruled obscene because of its portrayal of “sex with violence.” UpdateThe ruling was appealed and the shipment was released.

And David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars. And To Kill a Mockingbird.

The website encourages Canadians to read challenged books and mags that week; I plan to re-read my Harry Potters, which have apparently been challenged for espousing witchcraft.

10 thoughts on “Banned Books and the Freedom to Read Week

  1. The Indian Government is just insane. That’s why they ban things at the drop of a hat. It doesn’t matter what it is – books, movies, ads, whatever.

    They are SO super-sensitive and want to avoid upsetting *anyone* that they ride roughshod over free speech. I think India is a terrible country to be an artist of any kind. You are subject to the whims of bureaucrats who are more concerned with not ruffling feathers than allowing artists to push the boundaries.
    Aaargh. Yes, a pet peeve of mine…

  2. The Pelham Public Library in Fonthill, Ontario, Canada is issuing a challenge to readers from around the world to read banned books. Set a goal, read, write a review or about why you think the book was banned, then let us know if you reached your goal. The program runs from February until June. Details are at:

    We also have links to many other banned or challenged lists, mostly from the US and Canada. If you have a list of books that are banned in India, I will publish it on the blog. There is a list of books banned in Malaysia and a little about some books banned in China (I don’t know where to find a complete list in English). I would love to add other countries.

  3. Shripriya: I totally agree. The GoI’s latest was banning The Vagina Monologues in Chennai.

    Sulz: I checked out the list of banned books in Malaysia on your site–that’s a pretty large roundup. It’s saddening to see censorship in any form, but banning books seems especially WRONG…

    Elaine: I hope you get many many participants for the challenge!

    A partial list of books banned in India may be found at:
    Two famous banned books not mentioned on that list include Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses and Taslima Nasreen’s Dwikhandito. If I manage to locate a more comprehensive list, I’ll send it your way.

    Btw,I deleted the extra period in the link, so both posts should direct people to your site.

  4. India cannot progress with the government’s outdated attitudes. Unless there is freedom to think and speak, unless there is liberty, India cannot progress. Add to this the sheeer hypocracy of the Indian government ! One cannot even state about the events happening but pretend they are not happening and that everything is rosy ! Banning books is like

  5. Pingback: Censorship | Almost As Good As Chocolate

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