Where would Gandhi stand on banning a book? (Photo: Random House)
Maybe you heard about the controversial new biography of Mahatma Gandhi that portrays the hero of India's independence movement as bisexual, with a penchant for cruelty toward his female relatives?
Well the book's causing quite the stir in the blogosphere. Especially since the author, Pulitzer Prize winner Joseph Lelyveld, has now told the Times of India that he never alleges that Gandhi is bisexual or racist—another charge raised in early reviews—in his book.
Nevertheless, many Indians are outraged, and the book has been banned by a few Indian states. Never mind that the book hasn't even been released on the Subcontinent yet, and few lawmakers have read it. Some are calling for a nationwide ban.
TakePart HQ has yet to obtain a copy of Lelyveld's book; so judgment is withheld on its historical accuracy. But it should be pointed out that the author has a pretty well-respected track record.
But TakePart is a big fan of the freedom to read what you want, when you want it. According to the American Library Association, book bans are alive and well in this country, with reader police challenging everything from To Kill a Mockingbird to the Dictionary (seriously) last year.
The bans place Lelyveld's book in a club that includes some pretty great reads. Check out these other books that have landed on forbidden lists around the world, and then grab a copy at your local library (if they are allowed to stock it). Consider it your own private protest against restrictions on free speech.
Animal Farm by George Orwell
The United States never explicitly banned George Orwell's talking-pig classic, but the World War II Allies thought its criticism of the U.S.S.R. was too controversial for wartime (the Russians were on our side, after all). Kenya banned a theatrical performance of Animal Farm in 1991 (for being too critical of corrupt leaders), and the United Arab Emirates banned the book in 2002 for being un-Islamic.
Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
According to the American Library Association (ALA), this teenage favorite is one of the most challenged books of all time. "Since its publication, this title has been a favorite target of censors," the ALA writes. More than half a century after it first appeared in 1951, the book still landed on the ALA's top 10 list of most frequently challenged books last year. For the record, critics have at times accused it of being "anti-White," blasphemous, undermining of family values, and sexually deviant.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
TakePart HQ has extreme respect for Hosseini's moving story of young friendship amid the decay of modern Afghanistan (and not just because our parent company produced the feature film). The book club favorite was apparently too hot for parents and school boards in 2008; it ended up on the ALA's most challenged list that year. Apparently, The Kite Runner's "offensive" language and sexual situations are too much for some readers.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Sure, no one should condone pedophilia (the novel is about a grown man who takes up with a 12-year-old girl). But Nabokov's 1955 novel has been recognized by everyone from Time magazine to the Modern Language Association as one of the best of the 20th Century. Time calls it a "tragic, twisted epic." At one point, the book was banned by most of the respectable Western world, including the U.K, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and France.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Its Pulitzer Prize doesn't shield this classic of the 20th Century from landing on the ALA's most-challenged list year after year. Many object to its use of the word "nigger," or its depiction of poor whites and blacks in a small Alabama town. Nevertheless, the story of a little girl named Scout has captivated generations of young readers, and the New Yorker has called the book "skilled, unpretentious, and totally ingenious."