Be Bold: Read Banned Books

Banning books has long been a tactic to squash what some consider offensive or inflammatory, but during this year’s Banned Books Week (September 22–28), we celebrate the most challenged books that have remained on the shelves. This year’s theme, “Censorship leaves us in the dark—keep the light on!” reminds us to resist the growing tide of censorship and read banned books!

Often, parents or educators want to ban books from school libraries to protect young minds from dark realities or controversial topics, but as Hermione Granger reminds us in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, banning books only makes us want to read them more. 

“Oh Harry, don’t you see?” says Hermione, when Professor Umbridge issues a school-wide ban on the magazine carrying Harry’s expose on the return of Lord Voldemort. “If she could have done one thing to make absolutely sure that every single person in this school will read your interview, it was banning it!” 

This principle was certainly true for J. K. Rowling, since the most popular book series of the decade was also one of the most frequently-banned, for allegedly promoting witchcraft.

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Infographic via ala.org

Book-banning is most dangerous when it erases different points of view and promotes discrimination. Almost half of the American Library Association’s list of the Top 11 Challenged Books in 2018 were books that include LGBTQIA+ characters and themes, which has been a common reason for censorship throughout history. 

  • A classic example is Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, which was heavily censored to eliminate homosexual implications and was used as evidence to sentence Wilde to two years in prison for his sexuality. 
  • Even Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was banned from a New Hampshire school in 1996 for its whimsical portrayal of cross-dressing and an accidental same-sex romance.

Some literary classics, like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, have been banned and censored for less obviously bigoted reasons. Many object to these books’ portrayal of racist violence and use of racist language, like the n-word, in the texts. Many might agree it’s not good to include this kind of language in school curriculum, but then again, if we remove evidence of racism from our literary canon, isn’t that kind of like pretending it isn’t real? I’d argue it’s better to read these texts in a school setting and have productive conversations about historical realities than to “protect” our youth by glossing over all the ugly stuff. 

The same goes for a lot of the reasons people have for challenging or banning books: offensive language (Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian), discussions of mental health and suicide (Thirteen Reasons Why), political and religoius viewpoints (1984 and The Hunger Games), drugs/alcohol/smoking (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), and sexually explicit content (Looking for Alaska). These are all complex and sometimes difficult parts of the human experience, but it’s best for young adults to learn about them through conversations and excellent storytelling. Banning books promotes silence, secrecy, and fear, while what our society needs most right now is communication and collaboration.

Here are some more banned books worth reading and re-reading: 

1.) Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Challenged for profanity and depictions of racism and abuse

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2.) Beloved by Toni Morrison

Challenged for violence, profanity, sexual content, and depictions of racism

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3.) Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi 

Challenged for profanity and having a religious and political viewpoint

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4.) Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

Banned for violence, profanity, and “glorifying witchcraft”

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5.) The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Challenged for sexually explicit content and for being “a real downer”

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6.) The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Banned for drug use, profanity, and being “anti-cop”

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7.) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

Banned for violence, sexual content, and glorifying criminal activity

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8.) Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

Challenged for profanity, violence, and explicit sexual content

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9.) Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh 

Challenged for portrayal of homosexual characters

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10.) The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Banned for profanity, sexual references, and violence

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11.) The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Challenged for vulgar language and sexual references

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