Once again, the American Library Association is “celebrating” Banned Books Week. Each year the organization provides a list of books that are frequently banned, schedules events, and provides useful information for stopping those who would ban books.
This year’s list is topped by Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series of books, which has been on the list several times. According to the list, these children’s books have “been challenged for ‘offensive language’ and ‘unsuited to age group.’” The Wikipedia report on the books says that they’ve also been challenged for “encouraging children to disobey authority.”
These days in the United States we are mostly concerned with books being removed from library shelves rather than legal banning of books. That is, the problem is one of access to the books rather than a legal prohibition on selling or reading them.
However, the reason that we have fewer problems with legal bans is that people fought those for many years, culminating in some U.S. Supreme Court rulings. The textbook case involved Fanny Hill, but many other books were blocked legally, including James Joyce’s Ulysses, which generally is at the top of lists of best books of the 20th Century.
These days the First Amendment fights tend to be over porn, though some books preaching extreme hate may also be outlawed. However, the challenges to books in schools and libraries are often aimed at important books and reflect the desires of some people to impose their personal beliefs on everyone else.
Last week, a school board in North Carolina banned Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, with one board member commenting, according to Salon, that he didn’t think the book had any “literary value.” Apparently the board is going to reconsider this vote, since it got a lot of bad publicity, and a New York journalist who grew up in the community is donating free copies of the book to all high school students in the district.
I noticed that Toni Morrison’s Beloved is also on this year’s list of most frequently challenged books. Apparently winning the Nobel Prize for literature does not keep an author’s work from being challenged. This particular choice bothers me a great deal, because Beloved is a book that moved me greatly. It’s a brilliant work, and it provides a perspective on U.S. history that everyone should consider.
What books that have been challenged or banned are particularly important to you? And if you’re an author whose books have been banned, tell us about your experience.