Imagine being told what you can and cannot read. Doesn’t sound like something that should be happening in the United States, does it?
But it does. Every year.
The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom tracks books across the country that are banned or challenged. Over the past decade, the office has recorded 1,577 challenges based on “sexually explicit” material, 1,291 due to “offensive language,” 989 deemed “unsuited to age group,” 619 challenged due to “violence” and 361 based on “homosexuality.”
Another 274 materials were challenged due to occult or satanic themes (among those, the incredibly popular Harry Potter series, which turned millions of kids on to reading). Another 291 were challenged for their religious viewpoint and 119 because they were “anti-family.”
Curious about what the top 10 banned books were last year? Here’s the list: The “Captain Underpants” series by Dav Pilkey, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie, “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher, “Fifty Shades of Grey” by E. L. James, “And Tango Makes Three” by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini, “Looking for Alaska” by John Green, the “Scary Stories” series by Alvin Schwartz, “The Glass Castle” by Jeanette Walls and “Beloved” by Toni Morrison.
Some huge bestsellers are on that list, which doesn’t, by the way, guarantee they are well written. More importantly, the list includes a number of critically acclaimed and thought-provoking books.
Most of the challenges were fielded at school libraries, public libraries and classrooms, including some at the college level. So it is commendable that SUNY Plattsburgh’s Feinberg Library will today host its second-annual Banned Books Read Out, initiated by Distinguished Librarian Cerise Oberman.
If you stop by the library lobby from 2 to 4 p.m. today, you can hear faculty and staff reading excerpts from some of the top 100 banned or challenged books. You can stay for a short time or listen for the full two hours.
We encourage participation. It is a way to let the world know that you don’t approve of restricting intellectual growth, that you believe that expanding the mind sometimes necessitates confronting uncomfortable information.
That is not to say that we believe every book is suitable for every person. Parents, for example, should monitor the reading choices of younger children. They know better than anyone what type of material might be overly disturbing or inappropriate for their kids.
But there comes a time in the mental development of young adults when they feel ready to step past restrictions and challenge their fledgling moral concepts or that of their parents.
To read about something different, unusual or even, to some, unconscionable doesn’t make the reader immoral. Often, it can strengthen their belief in good.
We firmly believe that unrestricted access to all books is an essential American right.