I just realized that Banned Books Week is almost over and I haven’t celebrated it with a banned classic yet. I’ve been so absorbed in Gann’s No Such Thing as Silence that I almost missed the celebration altogether. Thankfully, I checked the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library (KVML) website yesterday to see what they were up to, or I would have missed out completely.
For those who may be unfamiliar with Banned Books Week but want to know more, the KVML’s website and the American Library Association’s website are great places to start. My interest with the movement is not so much in saving the Captain Underpants books of the world (no matter how funny they are), but rather with celebrating the once—banned classics which have become a part of the literary canon. I don’t always agree with what the authors have to say and some go a bit further than I’m willing to follow, but I fully support an author’s right to express his/her view of existence, so long as the point is made intelligently and the piece itself has been well crafted.
Some of my favorite books can be found on the ALA list of “Banned Classics.” For instance, there’s Joyce’s, Ulysses, which (among so many other things) showed me just how unfocused and multi—threaded the thoughts in my mind truly are. There’s also Updike’s, Rabbit, Run, which opens with a wonderful illustration of a married young man confronting the enormity of his vocation (of course Harry doesn’t respond as we’d hope he would, but then would the story still be worth reading if he did?). There’s also the “Banned Classic” I most recently read, Slaughterhouse—Five, by Kurt Vonnegut — a writer that both Graham Green and Walker Percy held in high esteem.
Catholic authors have also fallen victim to censorship. The ALA list contains both Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (this one baffles me), and Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. I can see why Brideshead would upset some, but that’s only when it’s been given a superficial and/or incomplete reading. A deep reading reveals a work so totally infused with the workings of God and Grace toward the salvation of the (very flawed) major characters, that you would be hard pressed to find another comparable piece of fiction. The extremely powerful deathbed scene in particular is one of my favorite moments in all of literature.
So which “Banned Classic” am I going to choose? Every time I scan the various lists, I seem to find one that I hadn’t noticed before. This year’s surprise came from the KVML website where I found John Gardner’s, Grendel. Who could have banned this book? Haven’t they seen the picture on the cover of the Vintage edition? Grendel looks like a harmless kitten, mewing softly for a saucer of milk. A Google search lead to a page that claimed the book was banned for the usual reasons, such as complaints that it’s a bit to graphic, and it’s told from the viewpoint of a viscous monster whose thoughts/feelings contradict the standards of traditional morality. With the last item, I would assume that (given an appropriate reading) we will find ourselves on safe ground, as Gardner was responsible for polarizing so many people with his insistence On Moral Fiction (a work Tuscany Press approves of, but the great Frank O’Connor did not). At any rate, my interest is piqued, and I’ve found my choice.