Banned Books Week is almost here again, my favorite week of the year. Every single year in America people petition to have certain library books removed from shelves for various reasons. We’re lucky–in America, books don’t actually get banned from libraries unless they are illegal or they fall prey to particularly irksome and spineless librarians who forget their professionalism and cater to the whims of local hysterics.
But they do get challenged. This essentially means that someone fills out a form that says “Get that book off the shelf for the good of (insert age group, religion, nationality, etc).” Librarians meet, review the challenges, and usually are happy to refute them and ignore the backlash.
Now, this does not mean that I necessarily love the content of any banned book. But I am a member of a profession that purports to fight censorship whenever possible, and I am happy to separate my personal feelings and beliefs from my professional ones.
I do not believe every book is worth reading based on its content alone, but I do believe that every banned book is worth reading simply because someone thinks that we should not be allowed to. I am very easy to get along with, but since I became an adult, anyone who tells me that I cannot read something becomes an enemy, the opposite of everything I believe in, as a professional librarian and a curious free thinker.
With that, here are seven of my personal favorites from the frequently challenged list:
1. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Why it gets challenged:
This is not a light-hearted tale. It’s about a private school where a secret society, The Vigils, torments and bullies the other students for their own amusement…until one boy decides that he will not sell chocolates in the school’s annual fundraise–one which the Vigils have a stake in. There is some explicit sexuality for a young adult book, an unhappy ending, and a whole lot of miserable kids. Here is my full Chocolate War review.
2. Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Why it gets challenged:
Severe, chronic lameness by people who scream that the book promotes bad behavior and/or parental cruelty. After all, Max gets sent to bed without supper for throwing a tantrum. But instead of being sorry, he gets whisked away to an island full of awesome monsters where he gets to play in the trees and be their king. My full review of Where The Wild Things Are.
3. The Giver by Lois Lowry
A story about a society in the future, a utopia that relies on euthanasia to create an ideal world. Shrill critics say that it promotes suicide and state-mandated-death. Critics can suck it. This book is wonderful and I believe that close readings reveal that it promotes the opposite, showing the devastating consequences that would result from the attempts at creating a utopia in this manner.
4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Ah, Margaret Atwood, the only woman who has ever made me say, “Now, if only I were a couple of decades older…” The Handmaid’s Tale is a chilling book about a future where women are measured only by the functionality of their ovaries–it is objectification taken to its most extreme. Told by one of the handmaids, it is an unforgettable story. Challenged for anti-Christian and P*******ic themes and scenes.
5. James And The Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Seriously. When a talking centipede declares that it would rather be “fried alive and eaten by a Mexican,” I think waving the racism flag is a bit premature. I have read this book so many times, and it gets better with each reading, despite the parts that allegedly encourage bad behavior, the singing of disgusting songs, mystical elements, and violence. My review of more banned books by Roald Dahl.
6. 1984 by George Orwell
Sweet, sweet irony. A book that is the ultimate cautionary tale against totalitarianism, censorship, free thought, and historical revisionism is always getting challenged by people who say that its bleak story, political indictments, and “immoral” themes are not fit for consumption by the public.
My full 1984 review.
7. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Someone who cannot see the value of this book is missing a soul. This is one book I read every single year just to see how my own perceptions have changed. Every single year, it is a different book for me, and every single year, it is an accurate gauge of the person who I want to be. I can’t explain exactly what that means without making you privy to some things about myself that I don’t like, but I mean it. I turn to this book helps the way that many people turn to their scriptures when they need comfort. Read it, and then read it again.
Oh, and it’s usually challenged for reasons of racism and language. My To Kill A Mockingbird Review.
All right, your turn. What books have I missed?
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