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Celebrate Banned Books Week by reading a banned book

September 19, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
Next week is Banned Books Week, when libraries across the country will celebrate the freedom to read.

The American Library Association maintains a list on its website of books that have been frequently challenged or banned from the curriculum in schools across the country.

It also includes a list of books that people attempted to have removed from school curricula or from school or public libraries in the last year.

The 2012-2013 list includes such books as "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie, challenged at high schools in New Jersey and Washington because of sexual references and strong language; "Feed" by M.T. Anderson, challenged at a school in Virginia because of profanity and because the parent thought it was "trash"; "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card, criticized inexplicably by a parent of a child at a South Carolina school as being "pornographic"; "Nickel and Dimed (On Not Getting By in America)" by Barbara Ehrenreich, criticized, but ultimately retained, at a Pennsylvania high school after a parent complained the book is "obscene" and "of no moral value"; and Sarah S. Brannen's "Uncle Bobby's Wedding," which was nearly pulled from a public library in Brentwood, Mo., when a parent complained about the subject matter: a guinea pig goes to her gay uncle's wedding to his male partner.

There are several other books on this year's list, often challenged for sexually explicit material or profanity or because someone doesn't like the author's politics. For a complete list, log on to—2012-2013—Shortlist.pdf

North Dakota is not immune to such things. Several years back, for instance, a couple of parents in Fargo tried to have John Grisham's "A Time to Kill" removed from the curriculum at Fargo North High School. They believed the book contains inappropriate subject matter. The school board turned down their request to remove the book from the curriculum.

All of the cases noted by ALA were attempts to restrict everyone's access to a book by removal from the school curriculum or library. They do not include the cases where a parent objected to a particular book for various reasons and asked the teacher to assign an alternative book for only his child to read.

Robert Doyle, writing for the ALA, makes a good point when he says that efforts to remove books from class curricula or from school or public libraries threatens everyone's freedom. Even in cases where an attempt to censor a book is not successful, librarians and teachers are more likely to voluntarily restrict access to potentially sensitive material in an attempt to avoid controversy. And, as Doyle said, that can also ultimately lead to certain books not being published at all, which limits everyone's choices.

So, in honor of Banned Books Week, I encourage everyone to read a banned book and to stand up for school and community librarians who dare to offer their patrons a wide selection of reading material, including some books that many might find offensive.


Article Comments



Sep-19-13 5:24 PM

No, I'm not such a big fan of bans either. But you probably already know that.


Sep-19-13 4:14 PM

All of the below should be widely available in public libraries. I don't hold with bans.


Sep-19-13 3:06 PM

Das Kapital by Marx & Engels

Many of the works of William Shakespeare

How about the Where's Waldo series?

Believe it or not, they too have faced bans.


Sep-19-13 2:59 PM

Sheesh, let's go for things less benign...Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler is a frequently banned book...and not just in America.


Sep-19-13 2:58 PM

Does it matter who imposes the ban? If not, such names as Machiavelli, Owell, Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin could be on your reading lists. Even the Bible has faced bans in various times and place.


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