Banned Books Week Starts Today

Probably the most ironic book that people have tried to ban.

Probably the most ironic book that people have tried to ban.

Every year, around the start of the school year in most parts of the United States, the American Library Association sponsors Banned Books Week. This effort of librarians, booksellers, publishers, authors, readers, and others raises awareness and works against campaigns to remove certain books from school and sometimes public libraries around the country. This may not be a headline-grabbing topic (although see these stories in The Guardian and The Huffington Post), but it is important to anyone who cares about intellectual freedom.

There are many reasons that parents (and they usually are parents) might not a particular books in libraries, especially school libraries. The stereotype is that books tend to get banned for religious and conservative political reasons. However, the truth is that these types of challenges happen just as much in the liberal Northeast as the Bible Belt (see this map).

The top reason for books to be challenged is that they are sexually explicit. Brave New World falls into this category (among others), to pick a comparatively time-tested one. This is one of those particularly ironic cases where a book about banning books gets banned. The reason is also rather silly. Brave New World is honestly pretty tame (or at least discreet) and isn’t even the most explicit thing I read in my pretty mainstream high school.

Offensive language is another big one, from general swearing in Catcher in the Rye to racist language in Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird. (Cue more irony, since both of those latter cases carry an anti-racist message, but they suffer from being steeped in the cultures of their times.) Other go-to reasons for censorship include violence, homosexuality, and the wonderfully vague “unsuited to age group” (something frequently applied even to books like The Hunger Games, which are written specifically for the very age group that reads them).

That said, I do wish the ALA would be a little more specific about the reasons books get challenged, or even provided the text of some of the complaints. For example, what “religious viewpoint” is objectionable in Twilight? Is it about Christians objecting to the occult subject of vampires? Mainstream Christians objecting to the Mormon author? Non-Christians objecting to the Mormon author? Or something else entirely? The ALA doesn’t say, at least not where it can be easily found.

Even so, the ALA is doing good work with Banned Books Week, and I wish them luck.

About Alex R. Howe

I'm a full-time astrophysicist and a part-time science fiction writer.
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