Wednesday, 24 September 2014

It’s 'Banned Books Week' in the USA!

Each year, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom documents hundreds of attempts by individuals and groups to have books removed from libraries and classrooms. September 21–27 is the official week when these books are celebrated in the United States.

Banned Books Week banner showing 99 of the 100 most banned books for 1990-2000. Image courtesy of
Dayton Metro Library, re-used under a Creative Commons licence. Can you tell which is the missing 100th book?

According to a recent article in TIME magazine, part of the reason why book banning remains so prevalent in the U.S. is that “the challenges to books happen mostly on a local level. The federal government stays out of it, but individual schools and libraries are ... eager to protect everybody from hazards like ugly words, sedition, blasphemy, unwelcome ideas and, perhaps worst of all, reality.”

The ALA publishes a list of all the complaints they receive and if you can name an author, chances are they're on it: from F. Scott Fitzgerald, Philip Pullman and children's author Judy Blume, to JK Rowling (several times), John Steinbeck and Stephen King.

Here are a few of the most well-known titles on their ‘challenged classics’ list. How many of these have you read?

The Catcher in the Rye JD Salinger
The subject of multiple attempts at banning and censorship, it’s been removed from various libraries and curricula for reasons such as “excess vulgar language, sexual scenes, things concerning moral issues, excessive violence, and anything dealing with the occult”. But my favourite reason was from a submission by Libby, MT, High School in 1983 who wanted it banned “due to the book's contents."

To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
According to Vernon Verona Sherill, NY School District in 1980, it’s a "filthy, trashy novel."

1984 George Orwell
Challenged in Jackson County, FL back in 1981 because Orwell's novel is "pro-communist and contained explicit sexual matter."

Song of Solomon Toni Morrison
Only in 2009 was this book reinstated on the English curriculum at a school in Shelby, MI but parents “are to be informed in writing and at a meeting about the book’s content. Students not wanting to read the book can choose an alternative without academic penalty.”

But my absolute favourite reason for banning a novel is coincidentally for one of my favourite books. Just like the book, this reason has got the lot:

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Ken Kesey
In 1974, five residents of Strongsville, OH, sued the board of education to remove Kesey’s book. Labelling it "pornographic," they stated that the novel "glorifies criminal activity, has a tendency to corrupt juveniles and contains descriptions of bestiality, bizarre violence, and torture, dismemberment, death, and human elimination."

These books are all available to borrow from the Library.

Further reading:

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