GOOD Books: The Threat of Censorship
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The Cult Of The Wood-Burning Car Giving the term “smoke trees” a whole new meaning
This week’s anti-SOPA action across the internet has GOOD thinking about the threat of censorship. High school kids nationwide are handed dystopian novels that warn against a Big Brother-like state, and celebrate the freedoms of our own society. Yet SOPA has reminded us that even when our White House comes out against a pro-censorship agenda, its very existence implies that the threat of obscuring information will always lie beneath. Here are some of our favorite parables about the dangers of a silenced society.
By Yevgeny Zamyatin
256 Pages. Harper. $7.99
Before there was 1984 or Farenheit 451, We invented the totalitarian super-state in which free will is considered to be the root of unhappiness. The first work banned by the new Soviet censorship bureau in 1921, this dystopian novel follows government mathematician D-503 as he attempts to create a spaceship that would bring the "great flywheel of logic" to other parts of the universe. Hilarity ensues as D-503 becomes obsessed with I-330, a seductive woman who's not his state-poet girlfriend, and turns out to be part of a rebel movement.
By George Orwell
270 Pages. Signet Classics. $7.63
Orwell’s 1959 dystopian novel takes place in Oceania, a terrifying dictatorship of incessant government surveillance and public mind control orchestrated by English Socialism (Ingsoc). The book has captivated American high schoolers for decades with its Shakespeare-esque made up words and images of child sex. Many of the concepts in 1984 have crept their way into our vernacular, our social fears and political philosophy. Modern ideas of censorship in particular have been developed under the shadows of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth, where photographs are doctored and history is washed of former figures.
The Palace of Dreams
By Ismail Kadare
208 Pages. Arcade Publishing. $20.
This 1981 novel was published in Albania, where, in accordance with the thematic movement of its narrative, it was immediately banned. The story presents a pervasive dictatorship that monitors even its citizens’ subconscious. The modern totalitarian police state operates in 19th-century Albania and follows Mark-Alem, an employee of the Bureau of Sleep and Dreams. Mark-Alem flourishes at the Bureau but, in a moment of failure, discovers the danger of his government.
By Ray Bradbury
176 Pages. Del Rey. $10.
Bradbury’s 1953 novel presents a world in which reading is illegal. The book follows Guy Montag, a fireman responsible for burning books. The opening presents Guy’s wife overdosing on sleeping pills (an occurrence that's presented as common) and treated (in a way that is impersonal and methodical). Though the literal censorship of books seems relevant enough, Bradbury has insisted that the novel is more concerned with television’s destruction of interest in literature and of technology’s reduction of knowledge. Thankfully, civilization has invented cheesy book trailers and Google Books.
The Sledding Hill
By Chris Crutcher
240 Pages. Greenwillow Books. $13.25.
This 2005 postmodern metafiction caused many to wonder why all the kids were narrating books by omniscient dead boys and inserting themselves into the plotline. Crutcher’s story follows Eddie Proffit as he struggles with best friend and narrator Billy Bartholomew’s death. When Eddie decides to become mute, his mother turns to the Red Brick Church. Eddie’s high school class begins to read the fictional novel Warren Peece by actual author Chris Crutcher, and the Red Brick goes into full censorship mode in an effort to rid the children of their racy book.