It’s Banned Books Week! Which means, it’s time to appreciate those books that have been banned or challenged by schools, libraries, or governments. Books have been banned for all sorts of reasons, whether it’s for political reasons like 1984, Animal Farm, Dr. Zhivago, and The Jungle; religious reasons like The Da Vinci Code, The Satanic Verses, and Animal Farm (again); being “obscene” or “indecent” like Frankenstein (the horror!), The Canterbury Tales (I mean, fair), The Decameron (also not surprising), and Ginsberg’s Howl; or for the potential to offend like The Grapes of Wrath and Alice in Wonderland (apparently China decided that anthropomorphized animals were insulting to humans).
Actual bans on books are usually at the government level, like all the books mentioned above. (Check out a list of books banned by governments here.) More commonly, books are challenged by schools, libraries, school boards, easily offended parents, and religious groups. Frequently challenged books include The Hate U Give, To Kill a Mockingbird (yes, recently – this was one of the top ten most challenged books in 2017), The Kite Runner, Eleanor & Park, Fun Home, Habibi (one of my favorite graphic novels, go check it out), Persepolis, The Bluest Eye, Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Glass Castle, The Hunger Games… I think you get my point. (You can check out the lists of each year’s most challenged books here.)
So many of my favorite books have been banned or challenged (including Neverwhere, because – gasp! – the main character walks past two people making out on a bench). I think a lot of books are challenged unnecessarily. Sure, I agree that Fifty Shades of Grey probably shouldn’t be allowed in school libraries (it’s really something you shouldn’t be reading at school anyway, do that at home). And I kind of get why The Caterbury Tales was so controversial (it’s basically the Fifty Shades of Medieval England). But I also remember when I was twelve years old and going to Catholic school and wasn’t allowed to read Harry Potter because it was witchcraft. And guess what? Harry Potter taught me worlds more about being a good person than eleven years of being bullied in Catholic school. If I didn’t have Harry Potter as a child (my parents didn’t pay attention to what I was reading, even if they pretended to care), I would bet money that I wouldn’t be a very empathetic adult. And if the people who “banned” those books bothered to read them, they might have seen that. Also, I tried so much harder to practice magic after reading Matilda than I did after reading Harry Potter (anyone else?).
I think almost every instance of books being banned or challenged is out of fear. Fear of your beliefs being challenged. Personally, I genuinely don’t understand why some people feel the need to have everyone else believe what they believe. Do I think The Decameron is probably inappropriate for an eight-year-old? Sure. But do I think a fifteen-year old should be allowed to read The Diary of Anne Frank or Animal Farm? Absolutely. Because The Diary of Anne Frank is a brilliant introduction to studying The Holocaust (which is necessary so it is never ever repeated) and Animal Farm is a great way to learn about both satire and the politics of World War II. Just like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Color Purple will help people understand racism in the United States in the 1930s. And George and Fun Home and The Perks of Being a Wallflower (all of which were banned for homosexual themes) will make people more empathetic to the LGBT+ community.
Banned books are important, often precisely for the same reason they were banned in the first place. They are an important part of our culture, and they have value. So read more banned books, and not just during Banned Books Week. Read them all the time. Support banned books. And stand up for books you don’t believe should be banned (like Barnes & Nobles list of Books That Were Banned for Completely Ridiculous Reasons.)
Share your favorite banned book(s) in the comments below! What banned book do you think is most important for people to read?