Last week, book lovers from all walks of life including librarians, educators, publishers and readers participated in Banned Books Week, celebrating the freedom to read.
This is an annual celebration held the last week of September ever since its launch in 1982, a year that experienced a rise in challenges to books found in schools, libraries and bookstores.
Books that are challenged have received attempts to restrict the material in school curriculums and libraries, whereas books that are banned are actually removed from these areas.
According to the Office of Intellectual Freedom, the top three reasons for challenging books include:
1. The material was sexually explicit
2. The material contained offensive language
3. The material was unsuited to any age group
While these are the three most common reasons to challenge or ban books, many other reasons are used by various groups, especially parents of school-aged children.
The American Library Association (ALA) provides lists of bans placed on books every year in order to educate and inform citizens about challenges and bans that affect schools and libraries.
Many classic works that undergo research and analysis by students at the middle, secondary and post-secondary levels continue to be challenged, decades after publication. Such classics teach invaluable lessons to students, while also providing historical information about the time in which the books are set.
These titles include, but are certainly not limited to The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (which was recently on the challenged books list in 2011), Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 and John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath.
Millersville’s English Department includes classic titles in their curriculum that have been banned or challenged at one point in history. These include Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison for profanity, violence and sexuality; The Awakening by Kate Chopin, which was banished for decades following its publication for greatly disturbing the public; and As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner for containing “offensive and obscene passages referring to abortion and using God’s name in vain.”
Young adult titles in recent years that have been challenged include The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins and the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. One young adult title, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie has appeared consistently on the frequently challenged books list from 2010 through 2013. Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, religious viewpoint and unsuited to the age group are among the many reasons this title continues to be challenged.
This title is a favorite for Dr. Caleb Corkery, Millersville’s Associate Professor of English. Corkery explains that “Alexie has such a valuable perspective to bring to American literature, since he explores so many dynamics to the outsider’s role. Banning his work only proves that point more.”
Dr. Timothy Shea, Associate Professor of English at Millersville also lists The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian as one of his favorite banned books along with To Kill a Mockingbird.
To investigate more titles that are being challenged, visit www.bannedbooksweek.org or www.ala.org/bbooks.