Features / Five in Bloom

FIVE IN BLOOM: Freedom to Read

by Juhi Singhal Karan

This month we are “celebrating the freedom to read.” In honor of Banned Books Week, which will be taking place from September 21-27, we highlight five bloomers whose works have been decried, reviled, and banned.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

A “slim yet Proustian graphic memoir,” in the words of New York Times, “Fun Home is at its heart a story about a daughter trying to understand her father through the common and unspoken bond of their homosexuality.” Fun Home has faced allegations of “pornography” and of inciting “seedy people coming into the library and moving into our community.” Recently, the College of Charleston in South Carolina chose Fun Home as one of the books for its summer reading program. It immediately faced intimidation in the form of budget cuts. The call to censor Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel memoir is one of the reasons that comics and graphic novels are being spotlighted in this year’s Banned Books Week.

And Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns Carr


And Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead was banned by The Irish Censorship of Publications Board when it was first published in 1954. To quote Matt Bell, “As the novel’s spectacular opening begins, a house floods, peacocks and sheep drown in the yard, depressed and hungry hens commit suicide.” According to Brian Evenson it was this “disgust, death, and decay,” that led to the book being banned. Matt Bell posits differently. To him the ban was about much more than the “disturbing imagery.” As he explains, there is no “authorial soapboxing” in the book. Comyns Carr is conspicuous in her lack of “direct commentary.” And it is this lack of “one true morality” that must have been truly disturbing because “work that does not judge . . . leave[s] the moralizing to their readers.”

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

What makes a family is at the heart of the controversy surrounding one of the most frequently banned and challenged books of the last decade, And Tango Makes Three. A picture book, this true story is about two male penguins in Central Park Zoo, who are “a little bit different.” They want nothing to do with the girl penguins and build a nest of their own where they hatch an egg that a zookeeper ultimately gives to them, rearing the “only baby-girl with two daddies.” The book has been banned for being “anti-family” and “and unsuited to age group.” In their own words, Justin Richardson, a psychologist by profession, and Peter Parnell, a playwright, became debut authors “to help parents teach children about same-sex parent families. It’s no more an argument in favor of human gay relationships than it is a call for children to swallow their fish whole or sleep on rocks.”

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

From being one of the top 100 books of the 20th century according to Time magazine and a host of others, to nothing more than “a useful weapon,” in Jeanette Winterson’s words “that rendered women more sexually available and more docile” in the 1960s, Tropic of Cancer continues to be one of the most frequently banned and challenged classics of all times. The United States government banned the book upon its release “saying [that] it dealt too explicitly with his [Miller’s] sexual adventures and challenged models of sexual morality.” Indeed, to leave no room for any misunderstanding all of Miller’s books were banned from entering the United States. It was only in 1964, 30 years after it original publication date, when Miller was 73, that the court deemed the book to be a piece of literature and not mere obscenity.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

For Madeleine L’Engle religion and science were “one and the same.” As The New Yorker put it, “L’Engle’s life philosophy is the kind of happy religious pluralism in which Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and even scientists can live together in peace.” As the magazine continues, “[N]eedless to say, conservative Christians were not thrilled about the easy conflation.” Indeed, A Wrinkle in Time was one of the 100 most frequently challenged books in both the 90s and the 2000s. It was tasked with “offering an inaccurate portrayal of God and nurturing in the young an unholy belief in myth and fantasy.”

Click here to read more about Madeleine L’Engle “in pictures

Bloom Post End

Homepage picture courtesy Eastern Michigan University’s Halle Library via Ryan Munson

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