Does Banned Books Week Really Matter Anymore?

In News by Dennis Abrams

Alexie's novel leads the ABA's list of banned books.

Alexie’s novel leads the ALA’s list of banned books.

Banned Books Week garners headlines and is easy to support, but some believe its an anachronism that “traffics in fear-mongering over censorship.”

By Dennis Abrams

September 27th through October 3rd is officially Banned Book Week.

And with that, the American Library Association has released its list of the most banned books of 2014:

  1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying”
  2. Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
    Reasons: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint. Additional reasons: “politically, racially, and socially offensive,” “graphic depictions”
  3. And Tango Makes Three, Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
    Reasons: Anti-family, homosexuality, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “promotes the homosexual agenda”
  4. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
    Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “contains controversial issues”
  5. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
    Reasons: Nudity, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group. Additional reasons: “alleges it child pornography”
  6. Saga, by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
    Reasons: Anti-Family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  7. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
    Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited to age group, violence.
  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
    Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “date rape and masturbation”
  9. A Stolen Life, Jaycee Dugard
    Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group
  10. Drama, by Raina Telgemeier
    Reasons: sexually explicit

Banned Books WeekAs the ALA notes on its website:

“The ALA promotes the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinions even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those viewpoints to all who wish to read them.

“A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others. As such, they are a threat to freedom of speech and choice.”

But at Slate, Ruth Graham argues that “Banned Books Week is a Crock.”

Why? “No one bans books anymore. We won!”

Looking at the recent case of a Jackie Sims, the mother of a 15 year old son in Knoxville, Tennessee who objected to the assignment of Rebecca Skloot’s critically acclaimed The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks because she thought the book was “pornographic,” and wanted it “taken out of the hands of all the students in the district,” Graham writes that:

” … the brouhaha got a boost from the approach of Banned Books Week, an annual event promoted with much fanfare by the American Library Association and other organizations. This year’s event began Sunday and runs through the end of the week, with parties and “read-outs” all over the country. It’s a cause that’s easy to support; Banned Books Week is well-intentioned, and it’s unquestionably run by the good guys. In the battle between a prudish mom and freedom, it’s not hard to pick sides. But in feeding off of conflicts like Sims vs. the school board, Banned Books Week also traffics in fear-mongering over censorship, when in fact the truth is much sunnier: There is basically no such thing as a “banned book” in the United States in 2015.

“The statistics certainly sound alarming. Since Banned Books Week was instituted in 1982, the event’s website informs us, 11,300 books have been challenged. In 2014 alone, 311 books were banned or challenged in schools and libraries in the United States, with many more cases unreported. It would be easy to assume that the literal banning of books is still a routine occurrence in the United States.

“But take a closer look, and there’s much less for freedom-loving readers to be concerned with. The modifier ‘banned or challenged’ contains a lot of wiggle room, for one. A ‘challenge,’ in the ALA’s definition, is a ‘formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.’ By that definition, Sims’ one-woman freak-out in Tennessee qualifies as a ‘challenge,’ despite the fact that it posed no real threat to Skloot’s book, let alone the ‘freedom to read.'”

To read the rest of Graham’s article, which argues that actual banning of books is “very very rare,” and how ready access to books has changed the game entirely, click here.

To read more about the ALA and Banned Book Week click here.

Have an opinion? Let us know what you think in the comments.

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.