Banned Books Week 2014: Preserving the free exchange of ideas

Held annually since 1982, Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community—librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers and readers of all types—in support of the freedom to seek, express, and share ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

During Banned Books Week, the ALA brings attention to books that have been challenged in or banned from public or school libraries. (A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials; a banning is the actual removal of those materials). In doing so, the organization seeks to draw national attention to the harms of censorship.

According to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, hundreds of books are reported as challenged each year—in fact, in the decade between 2000 and 2009, the office received reports of 5,099 challenges to books. And for each challenge reported, according to the ALA, four or five book challenges go unreported.

Challenges to books are based on objections to such elements as allegedly “sexually explicit” material, offensive language, material deemed unsuited to an age group, violence, homosexuality, occult or “Satanic” themes, religious viewpoint, and themes considered “anti-family.”

Books very popular among young people—including many works credited for getting young people interested in reading in the first place—are often targets of challenges and bans. The Harry Potter series was challenged based on the belief that it promoted Satanism and occultism. The Hunger Games series was challenged based on sexual explicitness, unsuitability to an age group, and violent content.

But challenges aren’t limited to recent favorites. Timeless classics, including Mark Twain’s The Adventure’s of Huckleberry Finn (racism), Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (offensive language, racism, unsuitability to age group), J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (offensive language, sexual explicitness) and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (insensitivity, racism) have all been targets of bans or challenges since the ADA began keeping records in 1990.

Banned Books

During Banned Books Week, the ALA encourages book lovers across the nation to get involved in events that promote free access to reading materials. Suggested events include organizing Banned Books Week events at schools and public libraries, going to school board meetings, organizing panel discussions, and speaking out on the importance of reading. For the fourth consecutive year, the ALA also is promoting a “Banned Books Virtual Read-Out” online. As part of the project, participants assert the importance of the freedom to read by posting videos that will be featured on a dedicated Banned Books Week Virtual Read-Out YouTube channel .

“If large numbers of people believe in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it,” said George Orwell, author of the classic 1984 (a book once challenged on the grounds that it was “pro-communist”). “But if public opinion is sluggish,” Orwell said, “inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.” Here’s hoping that, with the help of the ALA, public opinion remains on the side of free speech and the free exchange of ideas.

Top Ten Challenged Books, 2013 (as reported by the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom):

  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
    Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence
  1. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
  1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  1. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
    Reasons: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  1. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
  1. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit
  1. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
    Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  1. Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
    Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
  1. Bone (series), by Jeff Smith
    Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence

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