A few days ago EW’s Shelf Life blog linked to the just released American Library Association’s list of top ten books most frequently challenged in 2009. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the list, their site explains that frequently challenged books are those that are formally, through written request, asked to be removed from a library’s bookshelf for inappropriate content.
I looked at the list for 2009 along with the 100 most frequently challenged books of the decade in astonishment. The 2009 list includes most notably, as EW points out, the Twilight series. It takes me back a while. In school we learned that The Catcher in the Rye was at one time censored, and I remember feeling incensed by the notion and proud that those days of narrow-minded censorship were over. But lo and behold, there, staring back at me at #6, was the 1951 Salinger classic. I was aghast to see other titles that shaped and influenced me in my youth on the list: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (#3) and To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (#4). The list of 100 Banned/Challenged books were equally as shocking and included an all time favorite, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle (#90). It was just one among many, many others that I had read and loved as a child. And what was at #1 on the list of 100, you ask? Why it’s the one and only Harry Potter series—a contemporary classic that pretty much introduced a new generation to reading, period. Among the quibbles that they are arguing make the books on the list unsuitable are topics such as Satanism, objectionable religious viewpoints, offensive language and homosexuality. While I will say that it’s true that a book should be age appropriate, and that parents of young children should have the right to determine what that means individually, removing books from the shelves is not today, and has never been, an acceptable course of action. ALA Director Barbara Jones puts it perfectly when she says, “Protecting one of our most fundamental rights—the freedom to read—means respecting each other’s differences and the right of all people to choose for themselves what they and their families read.”
We learn and are shaped as people by learning about subject matter that exposes us to the harsher (or truer) realities of life. Some of the most important things I have learned about, I learned from reading books just like these. Many people would be appalled that To Kill A Mockingbird is still on the top ten list. As EW’s Catherine Garcia points out, the objection that it incites racism misses the point entirely. But even books that legitimately tackle subjects that some parents would want to shield their children from are beneficial to us in a way that we may not even know to appreciate. Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried (#65) is about war, sure. But few other things convey the heartbreak, the magnitude and the ramifications of it the way O’Brien’s words do. It is more than just about war—it’s about people, individuals. And the lessons I took from it were complex, eye-opening, and, dare I say, good for me. As someone who read a whole lot of stuff that was age inappropriate (the first time I became fully aware of sex and attraction it was in Judy Blume’s Tiger Eyes, #87, I was 8), I can say that I don’t believe I turned out any worse for it. I felt armed with knowledge that the world was a bigger place, with more for me to learn than I was able to wrap my head around. And personally, I rather enjoyed unwrapping those layers of ignorance; it is much like the satisfaction I feel when peeling away the skins of a tightly wrapped onion.
What about you, readers? Which of these books were you surprised to learn people are objecting to?