A decade’s worth of banned books

In the midst of National Library Week, the American Library Association has released both its list of the 10 most frequently challenged books of 2009 and the top 100 banned/challenged books of 2000-2009.

Just as with the bestseller lists, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is number one on all-decade all-star team, so to speak. And it’s still amazing to see what shows up in the top 25 of the list. John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, first published in 1937, ranks fifth on the decade’s list. Other classics include The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (14th), Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (19th) and To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (21st). Even though English curricula recognize the worth of these novels, they still get attacked by book banners. That seems a sad commentary on intellectual and personal freedom.

Rowling may have a contemporary on the 2009 list. The Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer is new to the 2009 list. It’s “religious viewpoint” is one of the reasons it is challenged. And what is that religious viewpoint? Evidently, it’s that, like Harry Potter, there are “supernatural” elements to the stories. Also new to the list is My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult. Lauren Myracle’s best-selling young adult novel series TTYL, written entirely in the style of instant messaging, headed the list.

Seven books actually fell off last year’s most challenged list: His Dark Materials trilogy (series) by Philip Pullman; Scary Stories (series) by Alvin Schwartz; Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya; Gossip Girl (series) by Cecily von Ziegesar; Uncle Bobby’s Wedding by Sarah S. Brannen; The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini; and Flashcards of My Life by Charise Mericle Harper. Here’s the complete 2009 list with the reasons for the challenges:

  1. TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series), Lauren Myracle (Reasons: nudity, sexually explicit, offensive language, unsuited to age group, drugs.
  2. And Tango Makes Three, Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson (Reasons: homosexuality).
  3. The Perks of Being A Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky (Reasons: homosexuality, sexually explicit, anti-family, offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, drugs, suicide).
  4. To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee (Reasons: racism, offensive language, unsuited to age group).
  5. Twilight (series), Stephenie Meyer (Reasons: sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group).
  6. Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger (Reasons: sexually explicit, offensive language, unsuited to age group).
  7. My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult (Reasons: sexism, homosexuality, sexually explicit, offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, drugs, suicide, violence).
  8. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, Carolyn Mackler (Reasons: sexually explicit, offensive language, unsuited to age group).
  9. The Color Purple, Alice Walker (Reasons: sexually explicit, offensive language, unsuited to age group).
  10. The Chocolate War, Robert Cormier (Reasons: nudity, sexually explicit, offensive language, unsuited to age group).

I can occasionally understand an “unsuited to age group” complaint. Particularly in the school context, though, it seems far more sensible to allow students whose parents object to read an alternate title rather then have one or a couple families decide the curriculum and what everyone else’s children can read. Likewise, while requiring parental permission in school or public libraries may dissuade some kids from reading those books, it is a far less restrictive alternative than depriving access to all readers of a particular age.

The ALA defines a challenged book as one where there is a “formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.” And remember, one of the 2009 challenges was in the Sioux Falls School District.

Censorship is the tool of those who have the need to hide actualities from themselves and others. Their fear is only their inability to face what is real.

Charles Bukowski

2 comments to A decade’s worth of banned books

  • I actually acquired TTYL via bookmooch recently, and I had no idea it had been challenged. Makes me want to read it even more.

  • I completely agree with everything you’ve said in this post. Sadly I think that most parents who do try to get books banned think that they are acting in the best interest of everyone, “saving” them from the evil influence of powerful or harmful ideas. I agree that there are some ideas that some kids might not be ready to deal with (like suicide, violence, etc.) and agree with you about individuals students being allowed to read alternate titles.

    The whole thing with the Harry Potter books has always seemed entirely ridiculous to me, that being said I do happen to know some folks who think that the books are like gateway drugs. They think that kids will read about magic and then start to read more and more about darker magic books, eventually segueing into satanism. Poppycock I say! 🙂 (That and I’d question if they’d ever read the Harry Potter books. There are far darker themes in books like Lord of the Rings, and I don’t hear much uproar about those books.)