Each year, the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) compiles public news articles and censorship reports to calculate and record challenges to books. In 2016, OIF recorded more than 300 challenges to books, but it estimates that between 82-97% of challenges remain unreported (1).
There were some troubling figures for 2016: a 17% increase in challenged books, and “while only 10% of the titles reported to OIF are normally removed from the institutions receiving the challenges, half of the most frequently challenged books were actually banned last year.”
Our first thought was, “YIKES!” But we also pause to wonder, “What’s the problem with removing or banning books from schools, libraries, or other institutions?” I sometimes struggle with this; on the one hand, it seems like a reasonable request to filter who has access to what books, but on the other hand, it leads us down a slippery slope toward censorship and silencing.
It’s unrealistic to believe that I will always read books that I adore, or that don’t make me uncomfortable. And it seems even more unrealistic to think that removing a book will somehow remove that perspective or point of view from the world. A lot of challenged books seem to be complaints about offensive or profane language, or sexually explicit content. And yet we live in a world where people have unfettered access to the internet and all its unproductive wormholes, a medium where opinions can be posted within seconds, without first contemplating the consequences.
Books are (for the most part) thoughtfully created. I’d rather read a carefully constructed perspective on a subject I’m unfamiliar with in order to widen my lens on the world. Sometimes that’s unpleasant. Sometimes I don’t agree with it. Sometimes what’s said in a book is not okay, and it gives us a the time and space to consider why.
The Banned Books Week Coalition (BBWC) celebrates “the diverse range of ideas found in books, and our right as citizens to make our own intellectual choices.” BBWC Chair Charles Brownstein says, “Our free society depends on the right to access, evaluate, and voice a wide range of ideas. Book bans chill that right, and increase division in the communities where they occur. This Banned Books Week, we’re asking people of all political persuasions to come together and celebrate Our Right to Read.” (2)
What about you? Love ‘em? Hate ‘em? Couldn’t care less? Either way, come find us at 512 Garfield St. in Eau Claire and tell us what you think of Banned Books!
Below are some of the titles we’ll feature at our pop up on Saturday, September 23rd, with further reading on why they were challenged and what happened (sources included).
If you can’t make it on Saturday but would like to special order a book, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (2005)
A parent in Marshfield, Wisconsin has filed a challenge to Jeannette Walls’ memoir The Glass Castle, saying that high school students “deserve better” than a book he describes as “full of foul language, and explicit and disturbing materials.” [...] A representative from the school district said that Alsides’ complaints about the book included “language and ideas put forth in the book by someone with addictions and mental illness.” (Comic Book Legal Defense Fund)
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)
It’s difficult to escape the irony of the fact that The Handmaid’s Tale, like Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, has itself become the target of several book bans and challenges since it was published in 1985. Atwood’s novel was ranked at number 37 on the American Library Association’s 1990-1999 list of the 100 most frequently challenged books. It made the list again the following decade, though it dropped down to number 88.
The Handmaid’s Tale—which won Canada’s Governor General's Award for English language fiction and the British Arthur C. Clarke Award and was nominated for the Booker Prize—has always been popular, but it garnered renewed attention in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. Sales had gone up 200 percent since election day, publicist Russell Perreault told NPR in early February, and Anchor Books had printed 125,000 new copies of the novel just in the first weeks of 2017. (NewsWeek)
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (2007)
The multiple award-winning young-adult novel, which tells of how Junior leaves his school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all-white high school, has come under fire in the past for reasons ranging from offensive language to sexually explicit scenes. Now, following parental objections, the school board in the Meridian district in Idaho has voted to remove it from the high-school supplemental reading list, where it has been used since 2010, reported local paper the Idaho Statesman. (The Guardian)
Are You There, God? It's Me Margaret by Judy Blume (1970)
Challenged in many libraries, but removed from the Gilbert, Arizona elementary school libraries (1980) and ordered that parental consent be required for students to check out this title from the junior high school library. It was challenged in Tuscaloosa, Alabama (1982) and Fund du Lac, Wisconsin (1982) school systems because the book is "sexually offensive and amoral." Blume's book was challenged at the Xenia, Ohio school libraries (1983) because the book is built around two themes: sex and anti-Christian behavior. It was challenged as profane, immoral and offensive, but retained in the Bozeman, Montana school libraries (1985). It was restricted in Zimmerman, Minnesota (1982) to students who had written permission from their parents. After the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union sued the Elk River, Minnesota school board (1983), the Board reversed its decision to restrict this title to students who had written permission from their parents. (Delete Censorship)
Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)
Again and again, this Pulitzer-prize winning novel by perhaps the most influential African-American writer of all time is assigned to high school English students. And again and again, parental complaints are lodged against the book because of its violence, sexual content and discussion of bestiality. (Banned Books Week)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (1964)
A Colorado library put this book in a locked reference collection because a librarian thought the tale of Charlie Bucket and his tour of a candy factory embraced a "poor philosophy of life." (CS Monitor)
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2000)
A graphic memoir of growing up during the Iranian Revolution, [Persepolis] has received international acclaim since its initial publication in French. When it was released in English in 2003, both Time Magazine and the New York Times recognized it as one of the best books of the year. In 2007 it was adapted as an animated film, which was nominated for an Oscar and won the Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize and a French César. Although it was certainly controversial in the Middle East, there were no publicly reported challenges or bans of the book in U.S. schools or libraries until March 2013, when Chicago Public Schools administrators abruptly pulled it from some classrooms. (Comic Book Legal Defense Fund)
Short Stories by Flannery O’Connor (1953)
The short stories of Flannery O’Connor were banned from Catholic schools in Louisiana for racist language.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (2013)
One of seven New York Times Notable Children’s Books and a Printz Honor recipient, this young adult novel was challenged for offensive language. It was number ten on the top 10 challenged books in 2016. (Office for Intellectual Freedom)
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel (2006)
A graphic novel memoir of the author’s childhood, [Fun Home is] particularly focused on her relationship with her closeted gay father Bruce. As Alison grows older and realizes that she is a lesbian, she and Bruce are both forced to confront how his repression may have affected her own self-image and the way that she dealt with her sexuality. Loaded with literary references and appropriately gothic-tinged (“fun home” is the Bechdel children’s abbreviation for funeral home), the book was included on numerous “best of the year” lists, including Publishers Weekly, Time, Amazon.com, and The New York Times. It was also a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award (memoir/autobiography category) and won an Eisner Award (best reality-based work), the Stonewall Book Award (non-fiction), the GLAAD Media Award (outstanding comic book), and the Lambda Literary Award (lesbian memoir and biography).
As with many critically-acclaimed books — particularly graphic novels — Fun Home soon drew the attention of would-be censors. In 2006, Louise Mills of Marshall, Missouri, requested that the book (and another graphic novel, Blankets by Craig Thompson) be removed from the local public library. Mills characterized the books as “pornography” and expressed concern that children might be drawn to them because they looked like comic books. Another citizen who spoke at a library board meeting even contended that the books could result in “seedy people coming into the library and moving into our community.” (Comic Book Legal Defense Fund)
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (1997)
[This novel] earned the young Indian novelist Roy millions of dollars in royalties, international fame, and the 1997 Booker Prize. It also earned her an obscenity trial. In 1997, she was summoned to India's Supreme Court to defend against a claim that the book's brief and occasional sex scenes, involving a Christian woman and a low-caste Hindu servant, corrupted public morals. She successfully fought the charges. (Thought Co)
The House on Mango Street by Sarah Cisneros (1984)
Under Arizona House Bill 2281, [The House on Mango Street] and more than 80 other books were banned in the state's public schools. The law, aimed at Mexican-American Studies, prohibits courses that "promote the overthrow of the government." (Houston Chronicle)
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (1963)
Sendak’s work is beloved by children in the generations since its publication and has captured the collective imagination. Many parents and librarians, however, did much hand-wringing over the dark and disturbing nature of the story. They also wrung their hands over the baby’s penis drawn in In the Night Kitchen. (Banned Books Week)
For more Banned Books, check out the ones that shaped America:
American Library Association: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks