Have you joined the Banned? Banned Books Week comes to a close on Saturday. If you didn’t know about the annual observation of censorship, there’s still time to look over the list and buy one of the most-challenged books of the year. Consider it a form of protest, a raised middle finger to the prudes and idealogues who still think they can censor free speech if it’s something they don’t like.
This year’s theme is Young Adult books. Though many of us can no longer count ourselves as the target audience (some by many years), we can still support the right of those readers to be able to choose these books. This is the list of the 10 most challenged books at school libraries for the past year — challenged, meaning formal, written complaints to a library or school to remove the book.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. Reasons given for challenge: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence, “depictions of bullying.”
Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi. Reasons given for challenge: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint, “politically, racially, and socially offensive,” “graphic depictions.”
And Tango Makes Three, Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell. Reasons given for challenge: Anti-family, homosexuality, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, “promotes the homosexual agenda.”
The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison. Reasons given for challenge: Sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, “contains controversial issues.”
The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. Reasons given for challenge: Offensive language, unsuited to age group, violence.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky. Reasons given for challenge: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, “date rape and masturbation.”
Drama, by Raina Telgemeier. Reasons given for challenge: sexually explicit.
Saga, by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples. Reasons given for challenge: Anti-Family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group.
It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris. Reasons given for challenge: Nudity, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, “it’s child pornography.”
A Stolen Life, Jaycee Dugard. Reasons given for challenge: drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
The American Library Association’s Office For Intellectual Freedom keeps track of the books and challenges. They note that the most common complaint against books in the past 15 years has been that it is “sexually explicit.” That and language, unsuitability to the age group, violence and homosexuality comprise the greatest number of reasons given for challenges. Fewer were accused of “occult” themes, religious viewpoint or the vague “anti-family” label. Most were at school libraries (as if school librarians get paid enough to deal with this nonsense), with classrooms (same with teachers) and public libraries coming in next. Even colleges have been targeted for censorship.
It is mostly parents who issue these challenges to school libraries and classrooms. And, while it is certainly their right to control what their children read, it is not their right to ban the materials from others. They seem to have a lot of trouble with this concept. Alternative choices are easily provided in literature classes and student library cards can be flagged, alerting librarians to certain books not being allowed. The basic rule is this: parent your child, not mine.
The ALA has lists of banned books by decade at their website. They also have a list of the most challenged classics of all time. I thought it might be fun to see which ones I’ve read. You might want to do the same. Here is a representative list:
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
Ulysses, by James Joyce
Beloved, by Toni Morrison
The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
1984, by George Orwell
Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov
Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Animal Farm, by George Orwell
The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
The reasons given for challenges are the usual sex, language, violence triad. Some of the reasons are naive and/or amusing, though. The Catcher in The Rye is “blasphemous and undermines morality.” To Kill A Mockingbird causes “psychological damage to the positive integration process.” 1984 was called “pro-communist.” Steinbeck’s novels were challenged because “Steinbeck is known to have had an anti business attitude.” The John Birch Society “identified (Animal Farm) on its list of ‘problem books’; the reason cited was that ‘Orwell was a communist.'” Several books have been challenged because they use the “N-word,” ignoring publishing dates and context (and a teaching opportunity). Many challenged books have been burned, even in America.
Nobody is saying that children should be reading materials which their parents find inappropriate. But there are ways to avoid this without removing materials from other students. Challenging books is the outlet of a fearful — if not downright lazy — parent. And presumptuous, to boot.
The First Amendment protects all of these books. It is not the place of anyone to be able to ban a single one of them from the public sphere. This is where one must exercise personal responsibility, which includes parenting your kids. Censorship is downright wrong and can lead down a dangerous road. So, join the banned — read banned books! It’s one way to strike back.
Photo Credit: San Jose Library via Flickr