This is Banned Book Week. Should books be banned?
With no small amount of curiosity, I set out to discover what qualifies as a banned book. I was curious to see what books end up getting banned and somewhat surprised to find that books of a quality both high and low end up on that list.
Currently Like to be Banned
Topping the list for the most banned books of 2012 (according to the New York Daily News) is a selection I can’t say has often crossed my radar: Captain Underpants. Yes. As in “What are you eating under there?” “Under whe– hey!”
And I can only imagine why it is banned. Rounding out the rest of the list (with the reason for the ban according to Banned Book Week listed in italics underneath):
1. “Captain Underpants” (series), by Dav Pilkey
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group
2. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: Offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
3. “Thirteen Reasons Why,” by Jay Asher
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group
4. “Fifty Shades of Grey,” by E. L. James
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
5. “And Tango Makes Three,” by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Reasons: Homosexuality, unsuited for age group
6. “The Kite Runner,” by Khaled Hosseini
Reasons: Homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
7. “Looking for Alaska,” by John Green
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
8. “Scary Stories” (series), by Alvin Schwartz
Reasons: Unsuited for age group, violence
9. “The Glass Castle,” by Jeanette Walls
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
10. “Beloved,” by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence
I’ll be completely honest: I’ve completed not a single book on the list, though I’ve begun–and dropped– a few, so I can’t really speak to any of them with too much detail. If people have the bad taste to want to read about sexually sadomasochistic behavior (as in Fifty Shades of Grey), there’s really no accounting for taste, but I’m not sure that they should be “censored,” per se. This is the U.S. of A, after all. I’ll rely on you, the reader, to tell me something edifying about the above books, though. With the exception of The Kite Runner, which caused my better half to weep through several boxes of tissues, I can’t really go to bat for them on the merits.
Banned in the Past
In the second category–let’s call it “books that have been banned in history”– I was a bit more surprised. One list I found of 100 books most frequently banned between 1990 and 1999 contained many that I not only have read, but would consider either classics or must reads. For example:
4. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
5. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
8. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
11. The Giver by Lois Lowry
12. My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier & Christopher Collier
23. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
32. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
40. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
43. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
48. Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
50. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
54. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
68. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
83. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
And a lot of others, too. To be honest, there are a lot of books on the full list that I would not read myself, nor would I recommend or permit my children to read until they were of an appropriate age. For example, my five-year old is not of an age for Carrie by Stephen King (on the list, along with a number of other King novels).
Perhaps one of my favorites that often appears on banned books lists is 1984. Don’t get me wrong–it’s not one of my favorites because of some inherent beauty or literary merit. It’s actually not a novel I enjoy reading.
However, as political satire and commentary, and a warning to future generations, 1984 was, and remains, a cautionary tale that we should not soon forget. Additionally, says Alex Brown, it’s a reminder for why libraries are so important in establishing and supporting freedom of thought and ideas:
The reason why the public computers erase anything left on the desktop and clear the browser history when you log out? The reason your library doesn’t automatically keep a record of books you’ve returned? The reason we’re such sticklers about ID and not giving out private account information? Because we don’t want anyone, not a fellow patron, not the branch head, not the board of trustees, not the cops, and not the government to come in and demand to know what our patrons are doing. The library is a free, public space, which means it’s my job as a librarian to make sure you have the ability to exercise that freedom. I may not like your opinions, but you have the right to express them.
If only the National Security Agency were of the same mind as librarians.
In good news this week, one book long banned in North Carolina will soon be back on the shelves of libraries there (according to NPR).
On Wednesday evening, the Randolph County school board in North Carolina voted 6 to 1 to retract its ban on Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man at school libraries. In the days after the board took the classic novel about race and identity off library shelves in response to a parent complaint, the decision has drawn fierce criticism and national scrutiny. Vintage, the book’s publisher, donated copies to a nearby bookstore to be given away for free to students, and waiting lists for the book grew at local libraries and bookstores. Board member Gary Cook told the Los Angeles Times, “We may have been hammered on this and we may have made a mistake, but at least we’re big enough to admit it.”
Just because a book is trashy, sexually explicit, violent, contains radical ideas, or in some other way offends does not mean it should be banned or censored. Neither does it mean that it should be read.
There are a lot of books out there. And life is very short. Pick your books carefully, and don’t waste time on reading or material that doesn’t merit the time. I believe in a philosophy that says learning and wisdom can be found between the covers and pages of the best books, both fiction and non-fiction. With the limited time we have, there’s no reason to waste time on the crude, degrading, and demeaning, to say nothing of trash.
Choose wisely, and read on!
[Previously posted over at Attackofthebooks.com]
- Most-Challenged Books of 2012 (wakingbraincells.com)
- It’s Banned Books Week, Charlie Brown! (mockpaperscissors.com)
- Banned Books Week – Celebrating the Right to Read! (buenaparklibrary.wordpress.com)
- Banned Books Week (katyupperman.com)
- It’s BANNED BOOKS WEEK! See who made this venerated list this year… (deenar116.wordpress.com)
- Banned Book Week (jeffmarkowitz.wordpress.com)
- These Books Have Been Banned, Really??? (theliterarysyndicate.com)
- Why Do We Ban Books? (spinningjenni.wordpress.com)