This week is Banned Books Week, at least according to the American Library Association (ALA).
They have a great site on the phenomena of the banned book, with a statistics pages that appeals to my inner nerd. Surprisingly, total challenges brought against books seem to be trending down. Are video games stealing this piece of book thunder too? The stats also show, as expected, that Americans have a much tougher time with sex (which is covered in three categories) than they do with violence. Parents are most likely to initiate challenges to books, and the bans focus on schools and libraries. Anywhere public money is spent on books, someone will try to control what everyone else can read.
The ALA site lists the 100 most frequently challenged books from both the last decade and from the 1990s. You have to wonder why the likes of Aldous Huxley, Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, and even Judy Blume are still on the list. Isn’t that stuff all terribly old school by now? Kid’s book authors make up a good chunk of what gets banned. Madeline L’Engle, Garth Nix, Philip Pullman, J.K. Rowling, Lois Lowry, Louis Sachar, Maurice Sendak, R.L. Stine, and Chris Crutcher all appear for this decade. Poor Roald Dahl and Shel Silverstein (along with Stephen King) seem to have fallen back into grace.
Looking over the list, I noticed two things. First, banned books receive some notoriety before getting banned. There’s no point in banning it if no one’s heard of it. How many other far more shocking books never made the cut and instead languish silently on library shelves? Second, they deal with an issue–whether it be sexuality, racism, or religion–that some would rather not have anyone write anything about, ever. That makes for great suggested reading. Books that are well written enough to get noticed, and that deal with challenging subject matter.
Of course, bookstores saw this as a marketing opportunity long ago. Banned book displays do a remarkably good job of selling banned books. Thank you book banners! Keep up the good work of ferreting out titles worthy of lasting attention.