Friday, March 4, 2011

The What If List - The Unbelieveable World of Banned and Challenged Books

"You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them."- Ray Bradbury

It was with my first reading of Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, that I first took a good long think about the concept of censorship, a concept that makes my soul sad every time I think about it. To me, the censorship subject is not just about the infringement on 1st Amendment rights, but goes much deeper to thought of what me, and my world, would be like if just one of the books I hold near and dear to me were taken away.

According to the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom, of the Radcliffe Publishing 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century, the books below are those from that list that have been banned or challenged at one point or another(hence the missing numbers on the list, as all 100 have not been banned/challenged):

1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
3. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
4. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
5. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
6. Ulysses, by James Joyce
7. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
8. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
9. 1984, by George Orwell
11. Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov
12. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
15. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
16. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
17. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
18. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
19. As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
20. A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway
23. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
24. Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
25. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
26. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
27. Native Son, by Richard Wright
28. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey
29. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
30. For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway
33. The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
36. Go Tell it on the Mountain, by James Baldwin
38. All the King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren
40. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
45. The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair
48. Lady Chatterley's Lover, by D.H. Lawrence
49. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
50. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
53. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
55. The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie
57. Sophie's Choice, by William Styron
64. Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence
66. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
67. A Separate Peace, by John Knowles
73. Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs
74. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
75. Women in Love, by D.H. Lawrence
80. The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer
84. Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller
88. An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser
97. Rabbit, Run, by John Updike

Reasons for bans/challenges include(but not limited to) things such as sexual content, race relations, religion, and violence, though some were as small as use of language someone didn't like - "Damn", "whore lady" and "nigger" in To Kill a Mockingbird   and "nigger" in Gone With the Wind. While it's understandable that these could be offensive, particularly in the time they were written, a little perspective is needed as well. Yes, the term "nigger" is derogatory, offensive and inappropriate....out of context. But putting it into context, such as an epic novel set during the American Civil War and at the peak of slavery in the US, it's almost necessary. Can you imagine reading a story with this setting that completely avoided an extremely common term for that time? Instead of being a portrayal of a troubled time, it would be a sugar-coated ode that didn't seem all too realistic.

According the ALA, the most common reason noted is sexual content, and the most common initiators of challenges(by a ridiculous landslide, no less) are parents. Really? Are you kidding me?

Ok, so I'm not actually surprised by the parent statistic, but it does remind me once again that parenting has some very skewed perceptions at times. I would love to ask some of these parents a few questions:
  • Did YOU ever read these books? If you so, was it detrimental to you?
  • If you didn't, what DID you read?
  • Do your children play video games? Watch television? (ok, this doesn't apply to the older bans/challenges, but still)
  • What DO you consider appropriate?
Now, I don't want this to sound as though I am trashing these parents, as I know they ultimately have(or think they have, so general principle is still there) their children's best interest and protection in mind. This fact, however, in no way lessens my desire to know what they are thinking, and to ask them to open their minds a bit. Or better yet, just tell them to monitor what their children read - if YOU don't want YOUR children reading something, it's not the world's responsibility to protect them from it by taking it away from everyone else, particularly considering that everyone may not share your views. Whoa. Crazy thought. Parental Accountability.

On a positive note, the number of challenges each year(per the ALA again) has decreased overall in the past 15 years. A few ups and downs, but overall much better than past years. That doesn't mean though, that there aren't still an awful lot of challenges made against great books. Below is the list of most challenged books of 2000-2009...

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Myracle, Lauren
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
11. Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
12. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
13. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
15. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
16. Forever, by Judy Blume
17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
18. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
19. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
20. King and King, by Linda de Haan
21. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
22. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar
23. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
24. In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak
25. Killing Mr. Griffen, by Lois Duncan
26. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
27. My Brother Sam Is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier
28. Bridge To Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
29. The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline B. Cooney
30. We All Fall Down, by Robert Cormier
31. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
32. Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
33. Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson
34. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
35. Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison
36. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
37. It’s So Amazing, by Robie Harris
38. Arming America, by Michael Bellasiles
39. Kaffir Boy, by Mark Mathabane
40. Life is Funny, by E.R. Frank
41. Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher
42. The Fighting Ground, by Avi
43. Blubber, by Judy Blume
44. Athletic Shorts, by Chris Crutcher
45. Crazy Lady, by Jane Leslie Conly
46. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
47. The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby, by George Beard
48. Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez
49. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
50. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
51. Daughters of Eve, by Lois Duncan
52. The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson
53. You Hear Me?, by Betsy Franco
54. The Facts Speak for Themselves, by Brock Cole
55. Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Green
56. When Dad Killed Mom, by Julius Lester
57. Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause
58. Fat Kid Rules the World, by K.L. Going
59. Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes
60. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
61. Draw Me A Star, by Eric Carle
62. The Stupids (series), by Harry Allard
63. The Terrorist, by Caroline B. Cooney
64. Mick Harte Was Here, by Barbara Park
65. The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
66. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor
67. A Time to Kill, by John Grisham
68. Always Running, by Luis Rodriguez
69. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
70. Harris and Me, by Gary Paulsen
71. Junie B. Jones (series), by Barbara Park
72. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
73. What’s Happening to My Body Book, by Lynda Madaras
74. The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
75. Anastasia (series), by Lois Lowry
76. A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
77. Crazy: A Novel, by Benjamin Lebert
78. The Joy of Gay Sex, by Dr. Charles Silverstein
79. The Upstairs Room, by Johanna Reiss
80. A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck
81. Black Boy, by Richard Wright
82. Deal With It!, by Esther Drill
83. Detour for Emmy, by Marilyn Reynolds
84. So Far From the Bamboo Grove, by Yoko Watkins
85. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher
86. Cut, by Patricia McCormick
87. Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume
88. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
89. Friday Night Lights, by H.G. Bissenger
90. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle
91. Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George
92. The Boy Who Lost His Face, by Louis Sachar
93. Bumps in the Night, by Harry Allard
94. Goosebumps (series), by R.L. Stine
95. Shade’s Children, by Garth Nix
96. Grendel, by John Gardner
97. The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende
98. I Saw Esau, by Iona Opte
99. Are You There, God?  It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
100. America: A Novel, by E.R. Frank

Interesting how many bestsellers and new pop culture classics are floating around in there, and that so many classics are still showing up.

And a little ironic that one of the most iconic books about censorship is on the list of books to censor....

What do you think?


  1. It's shocking/disturbing/saddening to see the kind of books that are being challenged. We are not doing our children by overly "sheltering" them. They learn by seeing what's out there in the world and asking questions about it. Our role as parents is to make sure that we guide them through their exploration. Dialogue, not censorship, is key.

  2. Sam, it is so refreshing and wonderful to hear that at all, but especially from a parent. Typically, I tend to be a bit more reserved on expressing my opinions on such topics(having not been a parent myself yet, I don't have the benefit of experience when looking at the different angles of argument) but this is one that I am happy to fight for! Thanks!

  3. I still can't believe that some of these are still on this list. If they want to "protect" their children, why not start by talking to their children about things. If you "forbid" a child/teen to do something.... they are going to do it. They hear, see and are subjected to more just by being in school, the movies they watch, the music they listen to or the video games they play.