September 28th- October 3rd is Banned Books Week, celebrating the books that tackle subject matter some would like to censor. As a country that loves its freedom of speech there are those here (not to mention around the world) who still call for the banning of books. I don’t love all banned books, but I do love being an author with the ability to convey my thoughts and perceptions of the world through story.
One of my favorite books of all time is a banned book called A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
Published in 1985, Atwood’s weaves a tale of a dystopian future, where a war was fought and a religious extremist group takes over the United States. Women are denied basic rights in a society based on the bastardization of a biblical account. Women in this society have one of four roles and wear the colors of their roles: wives wear blue (high ranking husband) or red and green stripes (low-ranking husband), Marthas (housekeepers) wear green, Aunts (older, infertile and unmarried indoctrinators of the system) wear brown , and handmaids (forced concubines) wear read. The handmaids don’t have names only “Of + their Commander’s name). Thus, the main character, who is a handmaiden with a Commander named Fred is cleverly named “Offred”. A portent she will rebel. Only the wealthy, high ranking men in the “Sons of Jacob” government get a handmaiden. There is also a secret cache of sex workers called “Jezebels” in this society, also only available to the rich and powerful.
Life is brutal for everyone except the extremely powerful and it shows how very easily a society can go from a democracy to a theocratic fascist state. One of my favorite quotes from the book is: “Nothing changes instantaneously: in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.”
It was the first book I’d ever read in told in the first person. As a writer, I saw how impactful emotionally writing from that perspective could be and it’s been my favorite perspective in my own work.
The Handmaid’s Tale was also my first breach into the idea that we have a tentative hold on our rights and that we need to stay vigilant to keep them. Though the book is dark, there’s a thread of hope throughout. I highly suggest it.
You can find the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom list of the top 100 books banned from 2010- 2019 here: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/decade2019
What are some banned books that you’ve enjoyed and learned from?
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