Azar Nafisi on why we need to cherish rather than ban books (2024)

Throughout my childhood and teen years, even much later when I had children of my own, my mother worried that I had my head in the clouds, reading too many stories, neglecting real life and its problems. My take on having one’s “head in the clouds” was different from my mother’s, for me it meant having a place of one’s own, somewhere like Alice’s Wonderland, or what I later named The Republic of Imagination. A place on earth, in our own backyard that might help us get to the clouds and all sorts of other wonderlands, existing all around us and yet invisible to the naked eye. I wanted to go there in order to return to my own home refreshed, armed with a new perspective, prepared to confront “life and its problems.” For what is a wonderland but a new and magical version of our everyday reality, rescuing that reality from the dust of habit and complacency, what is the Republic of Imagination except the version of reality as it should or could have been?

Azar Nafisi on why we need to cherish rather than ban books (1)

This is the magic of books which are read first and foremost for the pure and sensual joy of reading, of discovering, of unexpected adventures in unknown places, satisfying our curiosity and giving us the gift of true empathy. Reading offers us a unique kind of joy, that of being simultaneously private while sharing a communal experience. You can, without leaving that small space in a corner of your room, travel to numerous places, move back and forth in time, meet many different people, and connect to millions of other readers whom you have never met and might never meet in person.

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As is the case with real life friends, good friends, my favorite fictional characters remain with me throughout my life, I never grow tired of their company. With them I travel to unknown places, creating our own secrets and secret spaces, and with each new reading at different times of my life I discover new unknown corners in my favorite books and characters. And as with true friends, I learnt to live better and be more independent.

As a child my father told me tales from the great epic Iranian poet Ferdowsi. One favorite character was Princess Rudabeh, who fell in love with Zal, a great and handsome hero, with one peculiarity in that his hair since his birth was all white. The great obstacle to their love was that their very powerful families were also mortal enemies. I followed with anticipation and trepidation how the two young lovers met and made love in secret, and stood up to their families until they were united. Rudabeh was no feminist, but a thousand years ago she existed in a poet’s imagination, an independent woman, knowing the risks she had to go through for love, but also knowing what she wanted, and how to get it.

When I went to England at the age of 13, I took Rudabeh’s and many other stories from Iran’s rich literary landscape with me, and in England I discovered Rudabeh’s younger English cousins, women like Jane Austen, who in 18th and 19th century England said no to the dictates of their parents and mores of their time, embracing a life of poverty but making their own free choices, marrying only the man they loved.

Banned, burned, or simply life changing: what are the best dangerous books?Read more

From her I also learnt that you need to be deserving of true love, ready to see through the eyes of your beloved not just your strength but your flaws, love opened Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s eyes to their own prejudice and pride. Their story also proves the truth of the poet Ezra Pound’s claim that, “Literature is news that remains news.”

Two centuries later, spin-off novels, films and television series of Pride and Prejudice speak to us, bring us joy and touch our hearts. Yet none reach the depth and beauty of the original, not even in terms of sensuality. No scene in Joe Wright’s recent film adaptation, can produce the sexual and emotional tension that we encounter time and again between Elizabeth and Darcy, especially in the part where they try to communicate in a public drawing room, suppressing their burning passion, their desire to speak freely, while she is pouring tea for others who, unaware of their feelings come and go, interrupting them at every attempt to communicate.

Then there is Elizabeth’s young American Cousin, Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Over a century later living in a racist southern city, we follow her growing up mainly during her father’s defense of an innocent African American man, and learn that independence and courage mean doing the right thing even if you lose, even if you know you will fail. From her we learn the connection between fiction and empathy, the importance to defend other people’s human rights as you would defend your own, the fact that other’s rights and freedoms guarantee yours.

Perhaps the best defense of why we need to save books, to cherish them and to read them comes from the fictional characters themselves, best expressed by the first of these quotes from To Kill a Mockingbird:

“Until I feared I would lose it I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”

When I think about why books are so important to our society, I am always drawn to the following three quotes:

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it. (To Kill A Mockingbird)

There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me. (Pride and Prejudice)

I’ve reached the end of this great history

And all the land will fill with talk of me:

I shall not die, these seeds I’ve sown will save

My name and reputation from the grave,

And men of sense and wisdom will proclaim,

When I have gone, my praises and my fame. (The Persian Book of Kings)

Join Azar’s #BooksSave campaign

Azar Nafisi on why we need to cherish rather than ban books (2)

Do you have a line (or many) from your favourite books which has inspired you, fired you up or moved you to change – we want to know! Simply write out your quote, or take a photo of it and share it with @GdnChildrensBks @WindmillBooks with the hashtag #BooksSave.

Azar Nafisi on why we need to cherish rather than ban books (2024)


Azar Nafisi on why we need to cherish rather than ban books? ›

Perhaps the best defense of why we need to save books, to cherish them and to read them comes from the fictional characters themselves, best expressed by the first of these quotes from To Kill a Mockingbird: “Until I feared I would lose it I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”

What is the summary of Reading Lolita in Tehran memoir by Azar Nafisi? ›

Brief summary

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi is a memoir that chronicles the author's experience leading a secret book club in Iran. It offers a captivating exploration of the power of literature and the challenges of living under a repressive regime.

What is the author's message in Reading Lolita in Tehran? ›

Answer and Explanation: The author's purpose is to describe the enlightening experience of reading works of literature that not only allow, but require, an open mind and critical thinking.

What is the Republic of Imagination by Azar Nafisi about? ›

“The Republic of Imagination” bills itself as an exploration of American culture and values through the careful examination of three works of literature: Mark Twain's “Huckleberry Finn,” Sinclair Lewis's “Babbitt” and Carson McCullers's “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.” (There is also an epilogue that focuses on James ...

What is the purpose of Lolita in Tehran? ›

The book Lolita is used by the author as a metaphor for life in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Although the book states that the metaphor is not allegorical (p. 35) Nafisi does want to draw parallels between "victim and jailer" (p. 37).

What are the trigger warnings in Reading Lolita in Tehran? ›

Content Warning: The source text contains allusions and/or depictions of political and domestic violence, including allusions to child sexual abuse, and death by suicide. Reading Lolita in Tehran is divided into four parts, with a short epilogue.

Is Reading Lolita in Tehran a true story? ›

The book we chose was Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books—an account based on real life events of Azar Nafisi during Iran's Islamic revolution and in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This book is broken into four parts: Lolita, Gatsby, James, and Austen.

What is the quote from Lolita in Tehran? ›

Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth. The quote from "Reading Lolita in Tehran," stating that "fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth," encapsulates the profound power of storytelling.

How does Humbert manipulate the reader? ›

Through fancy prose style Humbert covers up and hides his horrible actions. His verbal game serves to manipulate his readers to accept Humbert´s feelings and actions and sympathize with him. Humbert´s narration is very persuasive and the reader is easily fooled to concentrate on what he says rather than what he does.

What did Lolita and Humbert do in the hotel? ›

Lolita flirts with Humbert as he takes her to the Enchanted Hunters hotel and they stop to kiss along the way. At the hotel, Humbert gives Lolita clothing he bought for her. He gives her a sleeping pill at dinner and leaves her alone in the hotel room to fall asleep.

Where does Azar Nafisi teach? ›

She has held various teaching posts across the world including at Johns Hopkins University, Oxford University, and Free Islamic University and Allameh Tabatabai. She now resides in Washington D.C.

What is fantasy the liberation of imagination about? ›

Using a broad definition of fantasy to include myth, folklore, legend and fairy tale, this survey of the genre will entice as well as inform any student interested in the mysterious, mystical or magical. Beloved authors like J. R. R. Tolkien, Ursula K. Le Guin, William Morris and Robert E.

What is the book being Lolita about? ›

Being Lolita is a stunning coming-of-age memoir that shines a bright light on our shifting perceptions of consent, grooming, vulnerability, and power. This is the story of what happens when a young woman realizes her entire narrative must be rewritten—and then takes back the pen to rewrite it.

Why do the students meet in the Nafisi's apartment? ›

After resigning from her literature teaching post at the University of Tehran in 1995, Nafisi formed a group composed of seven of her best students to meet in her home and discuss literature. The seven were all women, as a mixed group would arouse suspicion from the Islamic authorities.

What is the author's purpose in writing Reading Lolita in Tehran? ›

Explanation: The best description of the author's purpose in writing Reading Lolita in Tehran is to explore the personal stories and struggles of young women navigating the challenges of a conservative society.

What reading level is Reading Lolita in Tehran? ›

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi. Random House, New York, my edition 2004, originally published 2003. Adult memoir, 358 pages including reading group guide. AR Level: 8.4 (worth 25.0 points) .

What happened to Azar Nafisi? ›

She also taught novels by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James and Jane Austen, attempting to understand and interpret them from a modern Iranian perspective. After staying in Iran for 18 years after the Revolution, Nafisi returned to the United States of America on June 24, 1997, and continues to reside there today.

Is Humbert the narrator? ›

The main function of Humbert, as an unreliable narrator, is arguably to break identification with the reader. The many textual signals embedded in the discourse create a distance between narrator and reader, and between narrator and implied author.

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