Banned Books Week, which was held last week, is an annual event promoted by the American Library Association to celebrate the freedom to read. As a reader, writer, and former K-6 librarian, I believe in the freedom to choose and the freedom to express one’s ideas.
Books are most frequently banned from libraries and school reading lists when well-meaning parents object to their content and age-appropriateness. While I respect the right of all parents to determine what is and is not appropriate for their children to read, I don’t agree that they have the right to determine what my child can read.
From John Stuart Mill in On Liberty:
If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.
These are the top three most frequent reasons a book is challenged: the material is considered sexually explicit; the material contains offensive language; and the material is unsuited to any age group. I’m not sure how a book could be unsuited to any age group as adults certainly have the right to choose their own reading materials, but the other two objections are definitely open to interpretation. For good or bad, our popular culture is permeated with sexual references and offensive language. Music, movies, television, video games all touch on this, and our kids have more access than ever with phones, tablets, computers, etc. I guess it’s easier to challenge a single book than it is to challenge the entertainment industry.
The funny thing is that once a book is banned, more people want to read it, and if it wasn’t already, it frequently becomes a bestseller.
These are the top ten most frequently banned and challenged classics (as determined by the American Library Association):
- The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
- The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
- To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
- The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
- Ulysses, by James Joyce
- Beloved, by Toni Morrison
- The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
- 1984, by George Orwell
I’m proud to say that I’ve read them all. Have you read any of these, or any other banned books?
There was an excellent article in The Guardian last Friday where they asked readers to submit their wildest tales of literary rebellion, Reading banned books, your stories of literary rebellion: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/sep/26/reading-banned-books-stories-literary-rebellion
I was lucky that my parents gave me free rein to read whatever I wanted, so I never needed to rebel. Do you have a tale of literary rebellion?
Romantic Pursuit question: What is the most frequently banned classic book? Be sure to post your answer here.