Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Banned Book that Made Me an Activist

I've always been interested in banned books - in fact, I could dig out an old french class speech on the subject from when I was about 10. But somehow when Banned Books Week came up this year, I nearly dismissed it, convinced it wouldn't apply too much to me. After all, I read mostly science-fiction and fantasy, often with romance thrown in there, and let's be honest - books are banned in North America because they're being read in class, and how often do you find romantic sf/f in class?

But then I looked over the lists of the most challenged books of recent years, and my brain patted me on the head very gently and reminded me that there are some truly crazy people in the world. I skimmed this page and was shocked to see What My Mother Doesn't Know, quite possibly one of my favourite books ever, and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, which I recently recommended as one of the "7 Books Your Daughters Should Read." 

I read more closely, and discovered that of that list I've also read The Hunger Games, Summer of My German Soldier, Twilight, Brave New World, And Tango Makes Three, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Golden Compass, Captain Underpants, Bridge to Terabithia, Harry Potter, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, Julie of the Wolves, The Perks of Being A Wallflower, quite a few things by Chris Crutcher and The Handmaid's Tale.

While I enjoyed many of those books and it's fair to say some of them shaped me, today I want to talk about the last one on that list:The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood. I read it for English class in the spring, and it was the only piece of required reading that I enjoyed all year. In fact, I fell in love with it, actually CARED about the class discussions we had, and even got slightly excited about writing the final essay.

But in Toronto in 2008, a parent tried to ban The Handmaid's Tale from the classroom.
The parent formally complained about the use of this dystopian novel in a Grade 12 English class at Lawrence Park Collegiate... The parent said that the novel’s “profane language,” anti-Christian overtones, “violence” and “sexual degradation” probably violated the district school policies that require students to show respect and tolerance to one another.
Thankfully the school board saw sense and kept The Handmaid's Tale in the curriculum, but it still seems crazy. The book teaches about the evils of subjugating women and religious extremism (of any bent), and readers get a clear sense of how far the theocracy's religion has been twisted from its roots. Objecting to degradation of women and the portrayal of religion seems a bit like banning To Kill A Mockingbird for racism.

Oh wait. That's been tried.

In all seriousness though, The Handmaid's Tale changed the way I view the world in the space of a few short weeks. It was the catalyst for me to bring my feminism out of the conceptual and into the actual, so that even if the world goes to Gileaden hell, at least I'll know I did everything I could. In reading The Handmaid's Tale and seeing so many similarities to laws being enacted in the US today, I realized that taking rights for granted means they might be taken away. That's what pushed me to stage last weekend's counter-protest.

Thank you Margaret Atwood.

For more about Banned Books Week, check out Dianna Anderson's blog link-up. Info here.


  1. Came from Dianna's blog. Loved this post and can't wait to read Atwood. It's been on my must-read list for way too long.

    1. Thanks for popping by. I haven't read anything else by Atwood, but THT was amazing, and so like you, her other books are definitely on my must-read list!