Banned Books Week
The history of witch hunts shows that over time they tend to fade away as the perceived threat to society turns out to be entirely perceived and not an actual threat. However, there is an ongoing witch hunt that unfortunately will probably never fade away – the witch hunt against the printed word. September 25 through October 2, 2010 was Banned Books Week and the American Library Association has some very interesting and disturbing facts about banned and challenged books on its website , including the top 100 lists of most frequently challenged books for the past two decades (1990 to 1999 and 2000 to 2009).
Some of the most frequently challenged books from 2000 to 2009 are:
1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
*Up from No. 48 on the previous decade list
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
*Not ranked in the previous decade list
17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
19. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
*Not ranked in the previous decade list – perhaps J.D. Salinger’s death sparked a renewed interest in his work and therefore a renewed interest in getting it banned?
21. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
26. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
*One of three Toni Morrison novels that make the top 100 list along with The Bluest Eye and Song of Solomon.
36. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
46. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
69. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
*Oh, the irony.
90. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle
The American Library Association also has statistics on who initiates a book ban challenge, the place the initiator wants the book banned from, and the reasons for the challenge. By far the greatest initiators of book ban challenges are parents and the top three places challengers want books removed from are school curriculums, school libraries, and public libraries. The reasons for the challenges in order of frequency are:
1. Sexually explicit
2. Unsuited to age group
*Considering the other categories on this list, I don’t know what would be considered “other.”
7. Religious viewpoint
11. Sex education
13. Political viewpoint
Clearly, parents want to protect their children from what they believe to be inappropriate or objectionable material. I am not a parent so I can’t completely sympathize on this topic. If someday I become a parent I would think I would do what my parents did – trust school administrators, teachers, and librarians to make those choices. Then again, my parents routinely took me to “R” rated movies before I became a teenager so I don’t think they were worried about me getting exposed to things through books.
The point that parents and other challengers to books fail to grasp is that books and the printed word in general can spark discussion and understanding of a multitude of viewpoints. Isn’t that what literature classes and book clubs are all about? Not to mention the general enjoyment and benefits of reading. If I could give a piece of advice to all the parents out there who want to protect their kids from the books on the top 100 banned/challenged lists it would be that they should talk to their kids about the subject matter they find objectionable and read the books along with their children. Make reading the books a shared experience and a learning opportunity. Just leave the curriculum and library access decisions to those that know best.
Finally, while Banned Books Week will be over by the time you read this, I think we should all take part in a belated celebration by reading a book on the latest top 100 list and enjoy the hell out of the experience. My choice will be Brave New World. What’s yours?