Books have been banned all over the world for many reasons. Usually the intention is to protect people, especially children, from controversial ideas or opinions that are considered dangerous. The basis for being challenged frequently has something to do with sex, violence, religion, racial views, or profanity.
The number of books challenged each year is high, numbering in the hundreds. Classics, award winning books, new publications, and even children’s picture books have all been challenged. The result of a ban is the restriction of free access to materials and thoughts.
Who Bans Books
Books can be challenged by any person or group that files a complaint against a teacher, school, library, or bookseller. Parent organizations may demand that books be removed from school shelves. Religious leaders may encourage their followers to not read certain books deemed inappropriate, and may lodge complaints. Books may even be banned or censored in a hostile political environment, such as in the case of Funny in Farsi, by Firoozeh Dumas.
Quite simply, anyone that wants to challenge a book may do so. Unfortunately, a challenge can sometimes lead to disciplinary actions against teachers or librarians in a community. For this reason, some teachers choose to remove a book from the curriculum, or librarians may choose to remove it from the shelf, rather than fight the challenge.
Lists of Banned Books and the Reasons
This is a tiny sampling of some of the books that have been challenged or locally banned or found to be objectionable by parents or community groups. Many of the books are challenged for more than one reason, however, they are in the groups by the primary reason.
* Books banned for sexual themes include Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret, by Judy Blume, Forever, by Judy Blume, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou.
* Books found offensive for racial themes or depictions include To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor.
* A book widely used in school curricula, but challenged due to social or political views is The Giver, by Lois Lowry.
* Many books include some violence or profanity, and this can land them on a banned books list. Beloved, by Toni Morrison and Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers are two such books.
* Books challenged for religious reasons, especially the use of magic or witchcraft, are Harry Potter, the entire series, by J.K. Rowling, and Scary Stories, by Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell.
This list is by no means comprehensive. There are hundreds of books challenged or banned each year. Well known authors whose books have been banned include Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, JD Salinger, George Orwell, John Steinbeck, Kurt Vonnegut, and Jack London, for a small part of a long list. The American Library Association has lists of banned books online at their website.
Censorship of Funny in Farsi
By comparison, books published in Iran must first get permission from the censor’s office. Funny in Farsi, A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America, by Firoozeh Dumas has come under close scrutiny. According to the article, “(Not So) Funny in Farsi”, by Firoozeh Dumas, in the RHI Censorship and Banned Books, Volume 3, Issue No. 1, (2009) pages 90-91, an entire chapter had to be removed from the book before it could be published there.
The book became very popular, and then it came under scrutiny again. Since it had already received permission from the censor’s office, it wasn’t withdrawn, but it has been publicly condemned, in spite of its success. The author isn’t sure if her second book, Laughing Without an Accent, will succeed in gaining the censor’s office permission for publication. Both of these books are available in other countries and online.
Books will continue to be challenged, censored, or banned. Writers expressing volatile or unpopular opinions will continue to be targeted. Materials for young people that include sex, violence, profanity, and racial or religious views will continue to have an audience that doesn’t approve.
Parents will always have the final say in which books their children may read. However, when groups of people attempt to censor or ban books that do not reflect their own ideologies, it is in violation of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
Censorship may be alive and well, but it sometimes has the opposite effect of restricting reading. It sometimes brings publicity to those books and results in more people reading them. Banned Books Week is celebrated the last week of September each year in the United States to raise awareness of the issue and to encourage everyone to exercise their freedom to read.
American Library Association Banned Books Week Basics. Retrieved on July 11, 2009.
National Coalition Against Censorship, Book Censorship Toolkit. Retrieved on July 11, 2009.