If you’re looking for something to read this week, consider one of the books most often banned or challenged last year.
The top 10 includes “Beloved,” by Toni Morrison, “The Kite Runner,” by Khaled Hosseini and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” by Sherman Alexi. “Captain Underpants,” a series by Dav Pilkey, topped the list of the most frequently challenged books in 2012.
If none of those books interests you, check out the 100 most often banned or challenged books from 2000 to 2009. Tops on that list are J.K Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series. Checking in at No. 5 was “Of Mice and Men,” by John Steinbeck,” and right after that was “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” by Maya Angelou. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” by Mark Twain, was 14th, “The Color Purple,” by Alice Walker, was 17th, “Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger, was 19th, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee, was 21st, and “The Giver,” by Lois Lowry, was 23rd. There’s some literature and serious subject matter in those titles.
Not coincidentally, this is Banned Books Week, which the American Library Association sponsors as an annual celebration of our freedom to read. Though local challenges have been rare, there have been more than 11,000 challenges to books in schools and libraries since 1982, the first year of Banned Books Week. Last year, there were 464 challenges, 138 more than occurred in 2011, according to the ALA.
Generally when an individual or an organization challenges a book in a school or a public library, the objections involve graphic sexual content, homosexuality, offensive language, racism, references to suicide, anti-family references or the claim that a book is unsuited for a particular age group. Concerns about magic were among complaints about “Harry Potter.”
Some regulation can be beneficial, and it’s not hard to understand book banners whose desire is to protect others, especially children, from material that’s not appropriate for them.
But it’s wrong for a self-appointed group to try to control what others can read; there are as many determinations of what is acceptable reading material as there are readers. Banning a book from a library certainly isn’t necessary when checking it out is voluntary and when a book’s appropriateness for children can be decided by their parents.
If there is a positive side to attempts to ban a book, it’s that publicity over a challenge can increase interest in it, boost sales and serve as a reminder that our right to read what we want will exist only as long as we stand up for it.