Banned Books Week 25 September – 1 October


Banned Books Week is here again, and this year’s theme is “celebrating diversity”. This is an American coalition, launched in 1982 to create awareness of the freedom to read and the problem of censorship. This isn’t about (for the most part) censorship at a national level, which even historically has happened very rarely. It’s more about local censorship: town libraries, school reading lists, even bookshops.

Frequently banned books are often really good books, important books that offer different perspectives on the world, that challenge readers to think outside of their own experience. Common reasons given for calls to ban books include homosexuality, religion, politics, sex and suitability for age group. However, an unspoken factor behind the stated reason is the avoidance of diversity.

A list of frequently challenged books with diverse content includes such great titles as Beloved by Toni Morrison, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

The people behind Banned Books Week are highlighting the 10 most challenged titles of 2015:

  1. Looking for Alaska by John Green
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  2. Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James
    Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, “poorly written”, and “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”.
  3. I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
    Reasons: “Inaccurate”, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.
  4. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
    Reasons: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and “wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”.
  5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
    Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and “profanity and atheism”.
  6. The Holy Bible
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint.
  7. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
    Reasons: Violence and “graphic images”.
  8. Habibi by Craig Thompson
    Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  9. Nasreen’s Secret School: a True Story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence.
  10. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
    Reasons: Homosexuality and “condones public displays of affection”.

I’m not sure if it’s contrariness or a wish to be supportive that makes me want to read all the books on that list I haven’t already tried. Except maybe Fifty Shades. Both John Green and Craig Thompson were already on my “want to read” list.

But more seriously, I do support the more general idea of reading diversely, and encouraging others to read diversely, and encouraging publishers to publish diversely. Books should reflect all of society, not a narrow privileged slice of it.

Will you seek out any banned and/or diverse books to read this week? The American Library Association has loads of lists if you want to browse for some suitable titles. I plan to read either Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan (teen sexuality) or The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna (African setting and characters).