Banned and Challenged Books



September 21-September 27, 2014  is Banned Books Week. The American Library Association sponsors Banned Books Week and provides excellent information and resources.

“Each year, the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom records hundreds of attempts by individuals and groups to have books removed from libraries shelves and from classrooms.  See Frequently Challenged Books for more details.  According to the Office for Intellectual Freedom, at least 46 of the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century have been the target of ban attempts.  The titles below represent banned or challenged books on that list ( see the entire list here). For more information on why these books were challenged, visit challenged classics and the Banned Books Week Web site.

1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
6. Ulysses by James Joyce
7. Beloved by Toni Morrison
8. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
9. 1984 by George Orwell

Frequently challenged books of the 21st century– According to the ALA:

“Each year, the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom compiles a list of the top ten most frequently challenged books in order to inform the public about censorship in libraries and schools. The ALA condemns censorship and works to ensure free access to information….A challenge is defined as a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness. The number of challenges reflects only incidents reported. We estimate that for every reported challenge, four or five remain unreported. Therefore, we do not claim comprehensiveness in recording challenges.

Background Information from 2001 to 2010

Over the past ten years, American libraries were faced with 4,660 challenges.

  • 1,536 challenges due to “sexually explicit” material;
  • 1,231 challenges due to “offensive language”;
  • 977 challenges due to material deemed “unsuited to age group”;
  • 553 challenges due to “violence”
  • 370 challenges due to “homosexuality”; and

Further, 121 materials were challenged because they were “anti-family,” and an additional 304 were challenged because of their “religious viewpoints.”

1,720 of these challenges (approximately 37%) were in classrooms; 30% (or1,432) were in school libraries; 24% (or 1,119) took place in public libraries.  There were 32 challenges to college classes; and 106 to academic libraries.  There are isolated cases of challenges to materials made available in or by prisons, special libraries, community groups, and student groups.  The majority of challenges were initiated by parents (almost exactly 48%), while patrons and administrators followed behind (10% each).”  American Library Association

Take a look at the ALA list of the lists of books banned by year, starting with the report for 2011-2012 ALA Books Challenge Banned 2011-2012

As you consider these lists of banned and challenged books, ask yourself these questions:

How many of these books have you read?

Were they part of school requirements or did you read them on your own?

Why were the ones you have read banned or challenged?  Do you agree/disagree with the reasons for banning/challenging?

As you read Milton’s Areopagitica, do you agree/disagree with his argument about the nature of books, about the consequences of censoring, banning, or destroying books?

You might also read John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty.  This is one of the most important, influential, and enduring works arguing against restrictions on speech and other forms of human activity. Mill’s arguments are still used today.