The Banned Books that Changed My Life

I’m going to get topical today!   This week (September 25-October 1, 2016) is Banned Books week!  It’s a week that celebrates the books that people across the United States have asked to be censored.  I was trying to think of a way to incorporate Banned Books week into my blog when I decided to take a gander at the American Library Association’s website, where all the banned book lists are archived.  That’s when I realized how pivotal the books on the list really are.  One of the other Pen Name Publishing authors said this week that having one of your books banned is a mark of certain success, which I took to mean it means people are reading it and talking about it.  But it also means that the book tackles subject matter that makes people uncomfortable, and I’m all about that life.  😉

So, without further ado, here are seven commonly banned books that changed my life:

1.     The Kite Runner

I’ll admit that it’s been a long time since I’ve read this book—I read it in high school, and I know that because I specifically remember loving it so much that I pre-ordered A Thousand Splendid Suns and read it in a marathon week while I was a freshman in college.  The Kite Runner was probably the first book I read that took place outside of the US or Europe.  In middle and high school, you’re taught to appreciate this older literature that basically is only set in western Europe or maybe New England, but they never taught us about diversity.  I read so many Shakespeare plays, and I had to read Melville and Richard Wright and Elie Wiesel.  All of those writers are important for students to read, but they all tell a very westernized story.  The Kite Runner was so different from everything I’ve ever read in the best way.  I remember wishing it was that kind of book that we were taught in schools, because no offense to my high school teachers, but I absolutely can’t stand Herman Melville.  #sorrynotsorryIt opened my eyes to a world I knew nothing about, and that’s the world I’ve been chasing ever since.

2.     The Perks of Being a Wallflower

This book hit me right in the feels.  I was late to the party on this one—I was less than a month into my first full-time job (with benefits!) when the movie adaptation came out in theaters.  I had no friends in the area, and it was about a month after I met my now husband, but we had been on maybe one or two dates.  So I went to see the movie by myself.  And I sobbed.  The first thing I did when I got home was I found myself a copy of the book and devoured it.  I was long out of high school, but I could still understand and relate to Charlie in this book.  The loneliness.  The questions.  The depression.  And then, by what seems like sheer luck, finding a group of people you can belong with.  I feel that on a level I can’t even explain.  It’s my own version of imposter syndrome.  Professionally, I feel like I earn everything I get.  But personally?  I’m still always half-expecting my friends to leave, my husband to change his mind, my life to be thrown back into the torrents of middle school.  This book made me understand I wasn’t alone.  People need this book, and I can’t help but wonder if I had read it at a younger age, I would be a little bit different now.

3.     Looking for Alaska

I read Looking for Alaska the same year I read Perks.  That year was a turning point in my life, really—it was the year I met my husband, it was the year I realized science wasn’t going to be my career after all.  It was the year I got over the most pivotal crush I’ve ever had in my life (that was helped along by meeting my husband, but it started with this book).  Here’s the thing about Looking for Alaska—I’ve been pulled into the worlds of cool guys, misunderstood guys.  I spent two years of my college life dating one of them.  And I kept chasing them when I found them, because they were mysteries to me, and I’ve always had the kind of brain that wanted to solve the mystery.  But the mystery I was grappling with at the time I read this was why someone didn’t love me back.  Something about this book made me realize the simple truth—he couldn’t.  He couldn’t love me back.  So I let him go, and I let myself fall for someone new, and now here I am.[1]  I have gone through phases where I’ve loved and hated John Green, but I have to give him this—this book changed me.  It helped me find the life I currently have.

4.     His Dark Materials trilogy

As you can probably tell just from reading this post, I’ve had several pivotal moments in my life that were shaped by books.  This one happened between my freshman and sophomore years of college.  I was rebelling in my own weird way, mostly against Christianity and the Catholic Church.[2]  I read somewhere online that His Dark Materials was the epitome of anti-Christian propaganda.  So, naturally, I bought the first set of the trilogy I could find.  It did not live up to its advertisement, I have to say.  It was something completely different for me.  Aside from Harry Potter (which I’ll get to in a bit) this was the first other-worldly series I had ever read.  I didn’t think I was into fantasy/magical realism/however you’d categorize this.  But I so was.  I got lost in the world and realized there was so much more out there aside from just contemporary fiction.  Like the Kite Runner before it, these books opened me up to a world of literature that I didn’t even know existed.  And I’m better now for it.

5.     My Sister’s Keeper

Oh God, my heart.  I read this one early in high school after finding it on a shelf at Target and making a spontaneous purchase.  I would guess that I read a good chunk of it—maybe half?—while sitting in a gymnasium complex watching my sister play volleyball at a tournament all day.  It was something about that setting that sticks in my mind—I was reading about the dynamics of siblings and a family while sitting with my family watching my sibling.  This book really made me realize now much I loved my little sister and the lengths I would go to protect and save her.  It’s the opposite of what the tone of most of the book is, I’ll admit.  But she is my heart.  She always has been.  Reading this truly destroyed me.  It was probably the first book to make me feel that way, but certainly not the last.

6.     The Hunger Games trilogy

These last two are probably going to be the shortest, because they need so little explanation.  This trilogy was the first that made me understand the importance of our democracy, our freedom.  It made me see that a single person can make a difference, that he or she can start a fire, if you will.  But it also opened my eyes to what is already wrong in our country—the poverty, the lack of upward mobility for the lower class, the struggle to change.  The greed.  I was so mad the first time I read this trilogy, and then I was wrecked the second time I read it, when I let it sink in and wrap fully around my brain.  It’s because of these books that I’ll never be silent when fighting for something I believe in.  Silence—as in, the lack of participation, the apathy of our country—that’s what’s going to sink us, in the long run.

7.     The Harry Potter series

And here we are, in the belly of the beast, at the beginning and the end.  These books did so much for me.  I’ve read them each at least 3 times—once aloud to my husband before we would go to sleep at night.  But the crux of it all is the fight of good versus evil.  The drive to never give up.  Self-sacrifice for the greater good.  Friendships that you’d die for.

The Harry Potter series taught me everything I needed to know about life in order to be a good person, a strong person, my own person.  I would be nothing without these books.  And I’ll continue to reread them, over and over, until I’m an old person who can’t even hold them up anymore.  My children will grow up on them.  My family will grow old with them.  And if someone were to ever ask me, when I’m old, “after all this time,” the only appropriate response would be—“always.”

Well, there you have it.  This week came about to celebrate the power of the books that have been censored or banned.  If you made it through this whole post, you can easily see that they’ve made a profound impact on my life.  Don’t let anyone limit what you consume when it comes to words.  Read everything.  Read it all.  Decide for yourself what is good for you and what isn’t.  It’s the fact that you can make that decision that makes our country such a great one.

Keep reading.  Always.


[1] Here being on the couch of out apartment sitting next to a 45-pound English setter who is trying to lick my face.  Life is good.

[2] That is a topic that I am NOT going to dive into deeper. I’m saying that right now.

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