Shimer President Susan Henking advocates against censorship during Banned Books Week
America's first banned book was Thomas Morton's New English Canaan, first published in 1637. Why was it banned? It featured a heavy critique of the Puritans, while also portraying Native American populations sympathetically. To keep Morton’s points from causing too much political turmoil, New English Canaan was banned.
There are a plethora of other books that have been banned throughout the centuries. Some have since been recognized for their important contributions, and some are even included in great books studies. To celebrate the importance of these books, as well as the importance of fighting against censorship, Shimer celebrates Banned Books Week every year at the end of September.
Rather than ban books, Shimer College advocates against censorship. As Shimer President Susan Henking states, “I’m not in favor of banning books.” Instead, she says, “I am in favor of providing an intellectually rich and responsible context within which to discuss difficult, challenging, and troubling texts.” Which banned books does she recommend? Read on to find out!
1. Henking Endorses Fahrenheit 451 for Reading in Great Books Studies
Widely regarded as one of the best novels of the 20th century, Fahrenheit 451 was first published in 1953 and written by Ray Bradbury. It presents a future society in which books are outlawed and firemen burn any that are found. The number, 451, refers to the degree of heat presumed by Bradbury to be needed to burn a book.
Fahrenheit 451 has won countless awards, including the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature and the "Retro" Hugo award. As a student in great books studies at Shimer College, you'll have the opportunity to read beautifully inspiring books like Fahrenheit 451 and then develop a keener understanding of their messages through thought-provoking discussions with your peers.
2. The Communist Manifesto Is a Must Read at Great Books College
Written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto is an 1848 political pamphlet that has had a profound impact on politics. It argues that all history is based on class struggle and that the capitalistic mode of production distorts society’s view of reality, leading to the continued exploitation of the poor (the proletariat) by the rich (the bourgeoisie).
The Communist Manifesto was banned in Turkey for 165 years as part of an attempt resist communist leadership. Whether you agree with its arguments or not, The Communist Manifesto is an important read for anyone who wishes to gain a deeper understanding of politics and economics. It’s one of the reasons why this book is included in any great books foundations curriculum.
3. The Bluest Eye: Tackling Troubling and Difficult Subjects Through Literature
The Bluest Eye was written by Toni Morrison, and when it was published in 1970, it was her first novel. Since its publication, there have been numerous attempts to ban the book because of the difficult themes that it explores, such as incest, racism, and child molestation. While the subject matter of the book can be challenging and uncomfortable for readers, it’s an important text that tackles deep issues and topics still relevant today. As the New York Times noted in their review of the book, “Miss Morrison exposes the negative of the Dick-and-Jane-and-Mother-and-Father-and-Dog-and-Cat photograph that appears in our reading primers, and she does it with a prose so precise, so faithful to speech and so charged with pain and wonder that the novel becomes poetry.”
Want to discover more great books in a great books college?
Contact an advisor at Shimer today to discover more!