I should probably wait until Banned Books Week to write this post but recent discussions about the media and “fake news” have planted the topic of censorship firmly in my mind. I will still be addressing Banned Books Week in September. However, I didn’t want to wait over five months to talk about the American Library Association’s Frequently Challenged Books.
For those who aren’t familiar with this list and/or wish to see which books made it this year, here’s a link to the ALA website.
I have been following this list since high school. I stumbled across the site while preparing a presentation on the first amendment and censorship and got a kick out of the books that had been challenged. Ever since, I’ve revisited the list for updates and when I’ve needed a good laugh. Every time I read it, I feel a mixture of outrage and amusement. Sometimes I even skim it for new books to read.
Everything from children’s books to literary classics have been challenged. My personal favorite is Fahrenheit 451, which is number 69 on the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009.
What’s even funnier than the books are the reasons why they’re challenged. “Offensive language”, “sex education”, “inaccuracy”, the list goes on and on. Did you know that Captain Underpants made the list for being “unsuited for age group”? That Bridge to Terabithia was accused of occult/Satanism? That The Holy Bible was challenged for “religious viewpoint”?
If nothing else, the trends among the challenges reveal what is most on the minds of Americans the year(s) the data is gathered. That information in and of itself is invaluable. A wide variety of professionals can utilize these trends, from politicians to sociologists to, yes, writers.
I don’t mean to offend anyone by finding the challenges and the reasons behind them humorous. I have my own very strong viewpoints and I accept that everyone is entitled to their beliefs. I don’t want to hinder that. However, this respect deserves similar treatment in return.
There is no excuse for censoring literature. Literature always has and always will offend people. We can criticize it all we want. That’s the flip side of free speech. Nevertheless, that does not mean that we should restrict other reader’s access to these writings. We should be in control of what we read. If we stumble across something which offends us or strikes a nerve, well, lesson learned. Don’t read that book/story/whatever again. It doesn’t mean that you should force others to follow your lead. Everyone deserves the chance to decide what they do and do not want to see. Besides, you never know what you are missing if you do not explore controversial works for yourself.
I can hear the counterargument already: what if I don’t want my children to read it?
Yeah, what if you don’t want your children to read it? I suppose that you’ll have to pay attention to your children, talk to them about what they’re reading, and teach them what is and is not OK to read. Let them ask you questions. Try and explain why you don’t want them to read something. As they grow older, expand your conversations to allow them to tell you what their beliefs are becoming. You could both discover new writings and new ideas. You could grow as people together.
The wonderful thing about literature is that there’s no end to the ideologies represented and no limit to what you can find. Don’t restrict the possibilities because you’re afraid of an idea. If you don’t want to read it, that’s fine. Don’t read it. If you don’t want your children to read it, open a dialogue with them so they know what you don’t want them reading and why.
Remember, limiting your reading list limits your brainpower.
Were you surprised by any of the books on the list? Angered? Humored? Were you surprised that a book wasn’t challenged a certain year? Let us know in the comments.
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