The last week of September is Banned Books Week here in the U.S. Sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA), the purpose is to draw attention to censorship and to celebrate the freedom to read.
From September 26th through October 2nd, the ALA sponsors events at libraries and schools around the country. There are talks by authors, roundtable discussions, and a spotlight on books that have been the focus of bans.
This weeklong event was started way back in 1982 (that makes me feel old) as a response to a surge in attempts to ban books in schools, libraries, and bookstores. This was also around the same time as the focus on censoring rock, rap, and hip-hop music.
One of the interesting things about book censorship is seeing the list the ALA produces each year of the most challenged books. Obviously, there are a lot of new titles on the list each year, but what amazes me is the classic titles that never seem to drop off.
Here is the list of most challenged books of 2020, courtesy of the ALA:
- George by Alex Gino. Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community.”
- Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds. Banned and challenged because of the author’s public statements and because of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people.
- All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism and because it was thought to promote antipolice views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now.”
- Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint, it was claimed to be biased against male students, and it included rape and profanity.
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of the author.
- Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story about Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin. Challenged for “divisive language” and because it was thought to promote antipolice views.
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience.
- Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes and their negative effect on students.
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse.
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Challenged for profanity, and because it was thought to promote an anti-police message.
I’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird many times, and I’ve also read Of Mice and Men. In both cases, I can see how people could take offense at the racial language, but I also find it sad that they can’t keep it in context. Those were the words of those times, the ideas and thoughts that people had then. It doesn’t make them right or dignify them in any way. It’s like a slice of history, and those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.
I’m also sad to see Sherman Alexie on the list. He’s one of my favorite authors. His stories about the Native American experience are an emotional rollercoaster and give amazing insight into a culture marginalized by mainstream society. Regardless of his personal life, I appreciate his writing. (I try to separate the artist from the art.)
This week, think about censorship and how lucky you are that you can read anything you want whenever you want. Literature is art, and art is a gift. It doesn’t just entertain us, it makes us think, feel, consider other perspectives, and expands our horizons.
Many people feel that if they don’t like something, then no one else should like it. That’s an unfortunate perspective. Unless something is explicitly inciting violence or hatred, then we should be free to read and judge it ourselves.
If you have a chance, please pick up one of these books and help support the author.