Celebrating the right to read what you want

Thursday, September 19, 2013 - 11:14


Banned Books Week, Sept. 22-28, is not a celebration so much as a warning. If you are not vigilant, people you don’t know or agree with can directly affect what you and your children can and can’t read.

Frankly, after skimming the list of challenged and banned books below, I find that very scary indeed.

What is a banned book?

It is a book “that has been removed from the shelves of a library, bookstore or classroom because of controversial content. Possession of banned books has at times been regarded as an act of treason or heresy, which was punishable by death, torture, prison time, or other acts of retribution,” according to www.about.com.  

Challenged books are volumes that individuals or groups have complained about, but were not removed from circulation.

Sounds like Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” which explores a world where all books are burned as a matter of law, wasn’t so far off. And, ironically, “Fahrenheit 451” is itself on the Library of Congress’s list of banned/challenged books that “have had a profound effect on American life.” “Fahrenheit 451” was often censored because of the obscenitites it contained.

Another American classic, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” was rewritten to rid it of objectionable words.

“Huck Finn” by Mark Twain is one of the most-challenged books of all time — even today — because of its frequent use of the “N-word.”

The book has also been challenged for being “racially insensitive,” “oppressive,” and “perpetuates racism.” In the sanitized version of the classic, which was released a few years ago, the “N-word” was changed to “slave.”

Critics across the country condemned this rewrite, which was designed to make Twain’s book more palatable for high school readers. National Review editor Richard Lowry accused the publishers of trying to whitewash history.

“Nothing better captures the quotidian racial ugliness of that time and place than Huck Finn’s deadening, inescapable use of the N-word,” he wrote.

“The Call of the Wild” by Jack London is commonly challenged for “its dark tone and bloody violence.” Ironically, the book was banned in Italy, Yugoslavia and burned in bonfires in Nazi Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s because it was considered “too radical.”

Every year hundreds of books are challenged or banned in the world. The past year’s top 10 challenged books, as reported by the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom are:

  1. “Captain Underpants” (series), by Dav Pilkey
  2. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” by Sherman Alexie
  3. “Thirteen Reasons Why,” by Jay Asher
  4.  “Fifty Shades of Grey,” by E. L. James
  5.  “And Tango Makes Three,” by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
  6.  “The Kite Runner,” by Khaled Hosseini
  7.  “Looking for Alaska,” by John Green
  8. “Scary Stories” (series), by Alvin Schwartz
  9.  “The Glass Castle,” by Jeanette Walls

10. “Beloved,” by Toni Morrison


The top fifteen classics that have been frequently challenged include:

  1. “The Great Gatsby,” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  2. “The Catcher in the Rye,” by J.D. Salinger
  3. “The Grapes of Wrath,” by John Steinbeck
  4. “To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee
  5. “The Color Purple,” by Alice Walker
  6. “Ulysses,” by James Joyce
  7. “Beloved,” by Toni Morrison
  8. “The Lord of the Flies,” by William Golding
  9. “1984,” by George Orwell
  1. . “Lolita,” by Vladmir Nabokov
  2. . “Of Mice and Men,” by John Steinbeck
  3. . “Catch-22,” by Joseph Heller
  4. . “Brave New World,” by Aldous Huxley
  5. . “Animal Farm,” by George Orwell
  6. . “The Sun Also Rises,” by Ernest Hemingway


Students read these titles in middle school or high school, and yet, we still see them taken off shelves and out of the classroom. Worse, many newer titles never make it past the selection process because someone fears controversy.

Banned Books Week, sponsored by the ALA, brings attention to censorship, as well as celebrating our freedom to read and the First Amendment.

Though a public challenge or an outright banning of a book is relatively rare in Alaska — we are lucky — it is frequent enough nationwide to cause concern. Anchorage Public Library will mark the week with displays, discussions, a read-in, and a few surprises.


Toni M. McPherson is APL’s Community Relations Coordinator. To keep up with what is going on at local libraries, go to www.anchoragelibrary.org or https://www.facebook.com/anchoragelibrary.

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