John Irving on Banned Books

October 3, 2012

in Books

It's Banned Books week. I have stated before that I do not believe in banning books. Ever. Never ever. I talked about it last year and gave you a list of the 100 most banned books of the last 20 years.

This year I ran across a letter John Irving wrote in response to one of his books being challenged. I love his response. The last paragraph just really drives it home. I hope you enjoy this letter as much as I do!



John Irving
P.O. BOX 757

Pam Harland, Librarian
Plymouth Regional High School
86 Old Ward Bridge Rd.
Plymouth, NH 03264-1299

November 4, 2008

Dear Ms. Harland:

My wife and agent showed me your letter, and I commend your efforts to keep "The Hotel New Hampshire" available to young readers at the Plymouth Regional High School Library. Thank you! Thank you, too, for contacting me; it's often the only way I hear about efforts to ban my books. To my knowledge, only three of my novels have been successfully banned—"The World According to Garp," "The Cider House Rules," and "A Prayer for Owen Meany." (All for different reasons.) I recently spoke at a school library in Massachusetts during Banned Books Week, and I will speak this coming Sat., Nov. 8, at a public lecture for the Nashville Public Library in Tennessee—once again on the subject of banned books.

I enclose five other books of mine, signed to the Plymouth Regional High School Library. I feel they are in good hands!

I know that you already know this, because you read my novels, but in my stories there is often a young person at risk, or taken advantage of; many of my stories are about how innocence fares in the adult world. I take the side of young people, but I am also a realist; it is especially offensive to me when an uptight adult suggests that my stories are "inappropriate" for young readers. I imagine, when I write, that I am writing for young readers—not for uptight adults.

I thank you for having the courage to stand up for a novel that is utterly sympathetic to young people. As you know, the last so-called Hotel New Hampshire (at the end of the novel) is, in reality, a rape-crisis center, a place to counsel victims—most of whom are young. I wonder if the staff member who found my novel offensive actually read that far, or if the incest issue—or the sexual explicitness, of the four-letter words in the dialogue—was sufficient to impede their progress. (Real readers finish books, and then judge them; most people who propose banning a book haven't finished it. In fact, no one who actually banned Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses" even read it.)

With my heartfelt best wishes,

(Signed, 'John Irving')

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Lindsey Renuard is a blogger, YouTube beauty expert, and the Managing Editor of the Skiatook Journal.


Lady goo goo gaga October 4, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Love!!! Love this!!!!

Barb October 17, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Ever since our daughter (now 23) could read, I have gotten her a "box of books" for Christmas.   I don't know who loves it more, me or her.  You can bet your bottom dollar that there is going to be a book by John Irving in the box this year.  Thanks for a great post.

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