Let’s – all readers – come together in support of Banned Books Week (September 25th to October 1st ), an annual commemoration of our right to access every brilliant piece of literature our writers provide us.
Thanks to the Banned Books Week Coalition – a national alliance of organizations that value the right to read as much as we do – an entire week has been dedicated to celebrating that very freedom every year since 1982. It came about at a time when the number of books challenged by information stiflers shot into the thousands. Between now and then, more than 11,300 books have been removed or under threat of removal from libraries and school curriculum. This is primarily the work of outraged moralists, religious groups and protective parents worried for the corruption of our youth. Perhaps equally outraged is the entire book community – the librarians, authors, publishers, teachers and readers – who understand the harms of censorship as much as the significance of free information sharing. Banned Books Week pays tribute to their continued effort to keep our thoughts and ideas accessible to all.
“A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others. As such, they are a threat to freedom of speech and choice.” ~ American Library Association
Over the years, many of your high school English teacher’s top picks have been challenged or banned, despite – or maybe because of – their “profound effect on American life.” Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one them. For its treatment of racial issues and offensive language, it has been called “trash and suitable only for the slums.” Fahrenheit 451 is another. Ray Bradbury was a little too liberal with his “hells” and “damns.” Shame shame. From the moment it came out in 1852 until 1977, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter was under fire for being “pornographic and obscene,” among other things. Be sure to check out the full list of scandalous American classics here.
You may not be surprised that Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James is a contender for one of the top ten most challenged books of 2015. But not just because its graphic content is unsuitable for young adults. Apparently, it was far too “poorly written.” Who knew bad writing could get a book banned? Even less surprising is #6, The Holy Bible. Expressing a religious viewpoint is even more touchy than admitting a sexual preference.
“ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, has determined that 52% of the books challenged, or banned, over the past decade are from titles that are considered diverse content.” ~ Olusina Adebayo, Why Diverse Books are Commonly Banned
Diversity is hardly ever the reason given as to why these books have been banned but some say it is an “underlying and unspoken factor.” Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie was banned or challenged for: “anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: ‘depictions of bullying.‘” Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan has been frequently challenged because of homosexuality it “condones public displays of affection”.
Then there are books that have been challenged or banned for ridiculous reasons. Some people took offense to Where’s Waldo by Martin Handford because one beach scene in the 1987 version had “side boob.” Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin was banned because the author shared the same name with a Marxist. There was no relation, they just shared the same name.
Thankfully, most of what was banned in the past made a come-back at one point or another. And with the evolution of information sharing technology, it’s becoming more and more difficult to fully remove any kind of text. So at this year’s event we can be even more optimistic about this whole book-banning nonsense eventually coming to an end.