Are (former) prohibited books more interesting to read?

2 May 2019

-By Milan Weber

Throughout the years, many controversial books have been prohibited by either a government or a religious institution. Reason for that is that they threatened political or religious situations or morals. Which books have you ever read which were once prohibited? Was it a more interesting read because it was banned once?

In my opinion, banned books are almost by definition more interesting to read. They reveal features institutions try to hide. Animal Farm by George Orwell, for example, describes how a communist regime works. The Soviet-Union had a good reason to ban this book because it exposed the negative side of their regime. The fact that a book is  or was forbidden to read must give you the feeling that it carries something interesting, a truth that is hidden from you. 

Our own’ Desiderius Erasmus wrote his famous In Praise of Folly in 1509. Erasmus used humour to cover up his critique on the Catholic church. It worked, for at first, even Roman Catholics appreciated the book, including Pope Leo X. After a while, however, the book caused tensions between Reformers and Catholics, so the book ended up on the Roman Index. Does it make it more interesting to know that this book was banned for Catholics? The Index Librorum Prohibitorum was long, it contained predominantly scientific books the church wanted to hide from its believers. The prohibition of In Praise of Folly is a good example of religious repression. But not only on state and religious level books were banned.  

J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye was banned by many high schools in the United States for its rebellious character. The reception of this book varied. Some wanted to save youngster from reading it, whereas others praised it and its actually listed on the ‘100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.’ Mark Chapman, John Lennon’s murderer, carried a copy of this book during the murder and read it while waiting to be arrested. The story about a youngster who felt abandoned inspired him to kill the famous Beatles member but he was not the only one. The Catcher in the Rye was found in John Hinckley’s hotel room after he attempted to kill Ronald Reagan as well. In Praise of Folly became popular on its own. The Catcher in the Rye, however, definitely profited from the many controversies behind it. Have you read this one already? The fact that many high schools banned this book to read proves that it is an excellent one!

For the most divergent reasons, books have been banned throughout the years. Uncle’s Tom Cabin, for example, was banned in the Confederate States of America for its critique on slavery. Frankenstein was banned in South Africa in 1955 for obscenity. Even today, some Christian schools in the Netherlands prohibit students to read Harry Potter for its occult character. Isn’t it more attractive to read Harry Potter after you find out that you aren’t allowed to read it? In the Netherlands, we don’t have an official list of prohibited books, although Mein Kampf is still not available for print. The government owns the rights of that book but still doesn’t want to publish it on paper. 

The Hitler Youth burning books during Hitler's regime

I think that the prohibition of a book ensures that people actually want to read it. A book is prohibited because it might upset people, changes their minds or actually forms a threat to an institution. Humans, however, tend to do what is forbidden. So, in order to get rid of the myths behind a book like Mein Kampf, people should actually able to buy it.  

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