21st century book banners

The last week in September every year has for the last several years been designated as Banned Books Week, an event celebrating the freedom to read. It is sponsored by the American Library Association and a number of other groups interested in access to books and the freedom to read. It brings together readers of all types with librarians, publishers, journalists, booksellers, and teachers, all of whom are united in the support of the free expression of ideas, even those that may be controversial or unpopular.

In a world where information on just about any subject is only a click away, it seems an exercise in futility for anyone to try to ban or censor a book, and indeed it is. And yet people still try. The books featured on lists published by the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom have all been targeted with removal or restrictions in libraries and schools. But even if a book is banned, in most cases it continues to be available. At its most extreme, burning the book will not suffice in the age of Kindles and other eReaders.

It must be said that the motives of many of those who seek the removal of some books are pure if misguided. They sincerely feel that the dissemination of certain ideas, particularly in children's books, is harmful. They do not take into account that ideas are stubborn and elusive things that cannot be contained. It is better to let them flow freely and discuss them openly. Oppose them, argue against them if you must, but don't try to impede their expression.

Year after year, the top reasons for challenges to books remain much the same. "Sexually explicit" material leads the list, followed by "offensive language," "unsuited to age group," "violence," and "homosexuality." There are also a significant number of challenges due to "occult" or "Satanic" themes or "religious viewpoint," and a goodly number because the complainant viewed the book as "anti-family." Books are sometimes challenged for multiple reasons.

Here are the ten books that were most challenged in 2013, along with the reasons for their challenges.

  1. Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence.  
  2. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence.  
  3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.
  5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group.
  6. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl by Tanya Lee Stone: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit.
  7. Looking for Alaska by John Green: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.
  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.
  9. Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit.
  10. Bone (series) by Jeff Smith: Political viewpoint, racism, violence.  
I confess what surprises me most about this list is that Fifty Shades of Grey was challenged because it was deemed "unsuited to age group!" Really? I would have thought the target demographic was probably middle-aged housewives. Do we seriously need to protect their delicate sensibilities? 

And I read The Hunger Games and was blissfully unaware of any particular "religious viewpoint." 

Anyway, there you are - a list of what is deemed the most dangerous books in America. Why don't you pick one up and read it this week? Celebrate your freedom to read!

(UPDATE: Here's a link to graphics which display clearly the most challenged books and authors in recent years and the reasons for those challenges and also the places where the most challenges were filed in the past year. Can you guess which state had the most challenges? That's right - Texas! We're No. 1! Again.)


  1. They're still banning books? Just kidding. We need to suppress The Hunger Games for fear women might believe they don't need a man to be successful. Right?

    1. I find it utterly incredible that people still TRY to ban them in this age of the Internet. What a futile exercise.


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