Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me… right?
Recently the ALA (American Literacy Association) released a list of the top ten most frequently challenged books in American schools and libraries. By challenged I mean books that a member of the public has asked to be removed. Here is the list and the reasons behind the complaints.
1. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
2. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”).
3. I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
Reasons: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.
4. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin
Reasons: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).
5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“profanity and atheism”).
6. The Holy Bible
Reasons: Religious viewpoint.
7. Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
Reasons: Violence and other (“graphic images”).
8. Habibi, by Craig Thompson
Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
9. Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter
Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence.
10. Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
Reasons: Homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection”)*
Challenging and banning books is an interesting and controversial topic as it has a lot to do with personal opinions. You should know that I understand why books are banned or challenged and in some cases I agree that the book in question should not be available to the public. Someone doesn’t go around banning books just to cause controversy, they do so with good intentions. Arguably the most famous banned book is Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence. The story follows Lady Chatterley’s affair with her grounds keeper after her husband is paralysed in the First World War. The novel covers issues such as class differences, mind and body and industrialism and nature. The first edition of the book was published in 1928 in Italy and was banned from Britain and several other countries. Copies of the book were smuggled into the England and kept underground until 1960 when the publishing group Penguin decided to publish the book. This lead to a widely reported court case with people arguing for and against the publication of the book. In the end the court ruled that Lady Chatterley’s Lover could be published.
It’s easy to see why some books are on this list. The Bible, for example, challenges anyone’s idea of religion if they are not Christian and even then not all Christians agree with every story the bible says. Two Boys Kissing is going to offend people who do not believe in gay marriage or gay rights. These books were not written to offend but it is easy to see why people may be offended by them.
Another main issue of books being banned or challenged is the social norms of different time periods. At the time of Lady Chatterley’s Lover being published it was considered scandalous. Some people find Adventures of Huckleberry Finn offensive for its use of the word “Negro”. During the Golden age of animation Warner Brother’s, owner of the Loony Tunes franchise, regularity used a gag called black face that mocked those of African descent. During the time these books and shows were published and broadcast it was common for such jokes to occur but in the modern age it is incredibly offensive and unacceptable. Warner Brothers have since placed a following warning on the cartoons featuring such gags.
“The cartoons you are about to see are products of their time. They may depict some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that were commonplace in the U.S society. These depictions were wrong then and they are wrong today. While the following does not represent the Warner Bros. view of today’s society, these cartoons are being presented as they were originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming that these prejudices never existed.”
I should stress that the books on the ALA list have not been banned because they are on the list. The list contains books that have been challenged although some of the books may be banned in certain parts of the globe. The most challenged book in America is Looking for Alaska by John Green. By chance this is my all-time favourite novel but I can understand the reasoning behind the complaints. If you haven’t read Looking for Alaska allow me to give you a premise. Miles Halter AKA Pudge leaves home to attend Culver Creek Preparatory High School where he falls in love with a girl called Alaska Young. It’s hard/impossible to capture the emotional impact of a book in a single sentence and Looking for Alaska is one of those books. I highly recommend you read it. Be warned, the novel features swearing, drinking, smoking and two “intimate” scenes.
The main complaint of the novel is that it is unsuitable for the age group it is targeted towards, young adults and teenagers but one of the reasons I love the book is its accuracy and realism. Teenagers take drugs. Teenagers swear. Teenagers have sex. You may not like these facts but that does not make them any less true. Another complaint is that the book is too sexually explicit. I think John Green explains his counter argument for this much better than I can, you can find his response in the video below.
Some writers take pride in having books banned. The idea of writing something so powerful that people are not allowed to read it does sound appealing. Others are upset their work can’t reach the masses. What do you think? Do you think that some books should be challenged/banned or should each book of potentially offensive material come with a warning? How would you define potentially offensive? Have you read any of these challenged books and if so what did you think? Have you been offended by any books and would you be proud to have one of your books banned somewhere in the world?
*You can read more about the ALA and the top ten most challenged books on their website here: http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10