Dangerous Books

Lansing Library, via Flickr

Why are books forbidden in different countries around the world? Ryan Geertsma and Marina Santee look at why books get banned.

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Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Ryan Geertsma.

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And I’m Marina Santee. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easy for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

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In June of 2011, Megan Cox Gurdon wrote a story for the Wall Street Journal news organization. Gurdon believes that young adult, English literature is getting darker. She believes that it is often too serious or intense for young adults. In the story she wrote,

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“An unknowing young reader - or one who seeks out evil - will find himself surrounded by images not of joy or beauty. Instead, he finds damage, violence and loss of the worst kinds.”

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Writer Libby Bray does not agree. After reading Gurdon’s story, she wrote this on the Internet service Twitter,

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“Books are dangerous. Yes, dangerous. They test our ideas and our blindness. They open us to new ideas, new ways of seeing. They make us hurt in all the right ways. They can push down barriers...And when a person feels alone ... books can heal and connect. That is what good books do. That is what difficult books do. And we need them in the world.”

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Can a book about hurtful things still be good? Is it ever good to ban a book? What about when the reader is young? Today’s Spotlight is on the complex issue of book banning.

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Book banning has a long history. Many cultures over time have banned books for many reasons. One of the earliest known examples is the banning of Homer’s famous book The Odyssey. In the year 387 BCE, the ancient Greek thinker Plato wrote that The Odyssey should be kept away from young adults. Plato thought it contained examples of bad behaviour that children might follow.

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At other times, religious leaders have banned books for expressing ideas that are against religion. For example, in the year 1520, the Catholic Church banned the writings of the religious leader Martin Luther. The Pope did not agree with Luther’s ideas, and he banned both Luther and his writing from the church.

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Other times, governments have banned books that communicate a political message they do not agree with. In the 1970s, Eduardo Galeano wrote a book about the history of South America. It is called The Open Veins of Latin America. In 1973, the military took control of the government in Galeano’s home country, Uruguay. After this, the government banned his book. And Galeano was forced to leave the country.

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Galeano and many writers in Uruguay were threatened with death if they did not write what the government liked. He believes that being able to talk about the government is important for making people think. Galeano told the magazine In These Times:

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“We had to choose between silence and shame. We could stay alive if we lied, or we could be quiet...We decided to be completely quiet and show that we were not free...Many writers died or disappeared or went to prison or went into exile... We showed that it was possible to have a different idea of culture.”

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Galeno thought all people should have the freedom to speak truth. He also thought people should have the freedom to question authority.

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However, sometimes it is not political or religious leaders that want to ban books. Sometimes, it is just parents, teachers or local officials. And they want to ban books because they think particular books are dangerous for children. In 1818, Thomas Bowdler printed a ‘family version’ of Willam Shakespeare’s most famous plays. Bowdler removed parts of the plays that he thought were too shocking for families with young children to read. Much like Plato, in ancient times, Bowdler wanted to protect children and young adults. And today, many parents, teachers and local officials still struggle with the issue of book banning.

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In the past 75 years, more and more English writers have begun to write literature particularly for young adults. These stories are not children’s stories. Instead, they are long and complex stories written for young adults - between the ages of 10 and 18 years old. The characters in young adult literature are often young adults. And the books are often about things that affect the lives of the 10 to 18 year olds. Many times, the stories are set in schools or homes - similar to the real life of the reader.

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Like in literature for adults, young adult books often discuss hard things. The stories can include drugs, sex, and violence, or bad language and bad behaviour. Some parents do not like their children reading about these hard issues.  So, often, parents, teachers and government officials decide what is good for children to read.

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Megan Cox Gurdon, the writer from the beginning of this program, believes that banning some books from young adults may be a good idea. She worries particularly when young adults read literature about self-harming behaviour - like drinking too much alcohol or cutting yourself to deal with strong emotions. She worries that if young adults read too much about these behaviours, they may start to think the behaviours are normal.

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However, many writers do not like the idea of banning books. Writers write books so that people will read them! Often, writers of young adult literature write about hard issues because young adults experience these hard issues. They hope that their books will help young adults struggling with hard issues. They hope their books will help young readers feel like they are not alone. However, when young adult books are banned, young adults do not get to read the writer’s words. This also means that a young adult cannot learn from that book.

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Maureen Johnson writes young adult literature. In 2007, one of her books was banned in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, the United States. Johnson has very strong opinions on book banning. She believes that it is important for young adults to read books about difficult issues. She thinks that this is one way for people to learn about the world around them. Johnson wrote about book banning on her website:

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“We need education... The world is getting more connected and wonderful. And banning books is just not going to work...Fear of everything is not a good way to live. Instead of banning books, we should be working together toward new ways of saving the planet.”

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What do you think about banning books? Is it ever good to ban books? Who do you think should decide what young adults read? You can email us your thoughts at radio@radioenglish.net. Or you can leave a comment on the script page of the program on our website.

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The writer and producer of this program was Dianna Anderson. The voices you heard were from United States and United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it at the same time on our website at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘Dangerous Books’. The website also has many other Spotlight programs, our word list, more information, and comments from other listeners. You can also find Spotlight on Facebook and Twitter - just search for spotlightradio.

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We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

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Have you ever read a book someone told you not to read? Do you think some books should be banned?


Avatar Spotlight
said on February 07, 2012

Dangerous books must be banned. They are quite dangerous for children and not only. Some times ago I bought a book named “The pleasure of sex” or “enjoying the sex”. I am not sure about the title’s book because it is in Albanian language. This book explain how to enjoy a sexual relationship, how to emprove it. It contains different pictures as illustrations related to sex. I found this book inapropriate for children, so I put it on higher shelves where children can’t touch it. So i think that baning book is necessary. I think that a goverment should ban a book which contains racial expressions or hartred against a population or another country.

Avatar Spotlight
said on February 13, 2012

First of all, the parents should know what their children read.They must explain them and learn how to save themselves and defend against evil like are drugs,bad behaviour, cruelty. The parents always have to show to young adults the difference between evil and good.

Avatar Spotlight
said on March 13, 2013

I really sad and disappointed about this story,because I knew our knowledge being build on these books we studied in school.Dangerous books with these not good,negative content ,it will affect to young adult.And we need ban those books…

Avatar Spotlight
said on November 08, 2013

I think the most important thing is : The reader must have a firm standpoint when reading books! Thank Spotlight! ^ ^

PUI's avatar
said on November 29, 2013

it good information

Green Kale's avatar
Green Kale
said on April 21, 2014

We have the right to think when the books is censored. Books open a bright future for us but also extinguish it. So, you are the one who make the decision to open or close your knowledge .

Avatar Spotlight
said on April 22, 2014

Hello everyone. I agree with Skender. Dangerous book must be banned. I know that book is one of things built knowledge . However, some books content something not good, sex, vionlent… What do you thing about your childrens read that book. So we need ban those book

Avatar Spotlight
said on April 24, 2014

In the life we are cared for, taught and educated. We try much to become good persons of family and community. Beautiful good things bring us and the life beautiful good things. Beautiful good things build for the life. Not good things harm us. Not good things harm the life. Not good things destroy the life. We keep away from not good things. We are in choosing between beautiful good things and not good things. We love beautiful good things. We are in choosing between the good and the evil.

Avatar Spotlight
said on June 13, 2014

The book is very important for people. It contain more and more information from the past to the present, to the future. It let people to the good life. And if don’t have good books, how does people live? In the world, there’s much injustice and rigor. The good book will be your soul’s friend. So we can’t life if don’t have book. I think one of us have to select good books. When we want to buy a book for our children, for young adults, we ought to read once, select sentitive information, not buy much but don’t select careful. So we can have useful books

Avatar Spotlight
said on October 20, 2019

I think what censorship unaccepted. A ban generetes interest.

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on October 22, 2019

From .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To spotlight program
Subject to answer the questions below
Location São Paulo city SP Brazil
Tuesday 22, October 2019

Dear Dianna Anderson, Ryan Geertsma, and Marina Santee

I want to thank you for producing and writing more one great article for us brazilian people and others around the World.
Questions 1 - Have you ever read a book someone told you not to read?
Answer 1 - No, I have not read. I always obey that person who recommended to read or not to read this or that book.
Question 2 -  Do you think some books should be banned?
Yes, I do. We should read good books to bring us good thoughts, education, good teaching, and to keep our mind open.
Your regards,
God bless you
Severino Ramos

Avatar Spotlight
said on October 25, 2019

I ever read the books I wanted read, and since I was nine years old I read a lot, but I ever read in discordance with what the author was saying. I don’t know how or why this habit embraces me since my youth age. When I was ten, I had read the entire works of José de Alencar, one of the major Brazilian writers. At my sixteens, I had read The Capital and The wealth of nations, for pure curiosity. Evidently, I understood very little what these authors, Carl Marx and Adam Smith, said in their books, but I did not agree with any of them.
I read The Open Veins of Latin America, in 1975, and I saw that Galeano was a liar and his desire was only to make advertisement for the communist ideology. We know very well the behavior of European colonialism, but we know also that it was other times and other cultures.

Avatar Spotlight
said on October 25, 2019

I do not think any book must be banned, but I think every pattern and teacher must-have conditions to explain honestly what the book represents and coach their children and students how reading the books they want.