Last week, the American Library Association posted their annual list of the most challenged and banned books in America. It's an important thing to keep tab on because of the implications. For one thing, once a book gains a reputation as controversial, especially a YA or children's book, it's unlikely to leave the list until a more controversial book comes out. It doesn't matter if there are greater social implications in the book. Context makes no difference. The inclusion of controversial elements to address them in a way that makes sense to young people so they can be encouraged not to follow that behavior means nothing.
That's the second point. Just mentioning a taboo subject is enough to get a book challenged or banned. That's how titles like The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie wind up on the list. The mere mention of race in those books gets them labeled racist and challenged from many school systems.
There is also a bias against books assigned in schools. This is where it gets a little strange. If a classroom never assigned a school student to read The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, the parents attempting to challenge the book wouldn't even know it existed. Pure speculation here, but it feels like there is such an inherent distrust in public education by some people in this country that some people are looking for any excuse to take a shot at schools.
Just look at what's happening in South Carolina right now. The state legislature is trying to strip funding from the College of Charlotte because the summer reading selection was Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. The book is a graphic memoir about Bechdel's relationship with her closeted gay father and her own realization that she is a lesbian.
Members of the state legislature took such offense to the idea of a book about sexuality being distributed for free at a public university that they took to legal censorship. They want to strip the exact amount allocated to the summer reading program from the college's budget as punishment for handing out that book to every student. It doesn't matter that no one was forced to read the book or that we're dealing with adults at a college; the state itself is attempting to censor literature they find objectionable just to make a point.
There is a small silver lining for 2013's Challenged Books list. Recorded instances of censorship were down from 464 in 2012 to 307 in 2013. 307 is 307 to many, but it's significantly less than 464.
Here's the full list for 2013.
The complete list of the ten most challenged books in 2013:
- Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence
- The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
- Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James Reasons: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
- The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
- A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit
- Looking for Alaska, by John Green Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
- Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
- Bone (series), by Jeff Smith Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence