Roy Exum: Why I Love Banned Books

Sunday, September 29, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

As one who feels very strongly about Freedom of Speech, it is easy to understand why I believe no one in America should ever try to ban a book from a library. The American Library Association strongly supports “the freedom to express one’s opinions even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of all viewpoints to all who wish to read them.”

That is why the last week in September every year has been designated as “Banned Books Week” and, according to the library association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, during the first 10 years of this decade there were 5,099 “challenges” to have books removed from the nation’s shelves. Charges ranged from sexually explicit, offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence, homosexuality, Satanic, occult, religious viewpoint and even anti-family.

I am absolutely delighted to find I have read dozens of “challenged” books. The reason is they are great reads! My all-time favorite is “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee (offensive language, racism, unsuited for age group) but I also loved “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini (homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit) and “The Glass Castle” by Jeanette Walls (offensive language, sexually explicit.)

“The Hunger Games,” a trilogy by Suzanne Collins, has triggered a dynamic surge of reading skills in schools all across America but – whoa! – there are those who claim her words are anti-ethnic, anti-family, insensitive, offensive language, occult/Satanic and violent. My favorite book in junior high was “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger (sexual content, offensive language, unsuited to age group) and before that – when I was age 8 or 9 -- I read “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain (offensive language, racism).

A teacher made me read “Brave New World”  by Aldous Huxley, which I thought was a little goofy and I would have protested vehemently had I only known it was “challenged” for its insensitivity, offensive language, racism and sexual-explicitness. “My Sister’s Keeper,” the best-seller by Jodi Picoult, was challenged for the same things, plus homosexuality, religious viewpoint and unsuited for age group.

Of course, the modern-day leader is the “Fifty Shades of Grey” book that E.L. James just turned into the greatest best-sellers of all time. I’m told “Fifty Shades” and its sequels have done more to liven up marriages than Viagra. You can also credit our modern reading tablets which keep others from knowing a prim-and-proper lady is actually reading about getting tied up to the bed.

“Beloved,” the wonderful book by Toni Morrison, was tagged as sexually explicit, religious viewpoint and violence while “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker was challenged for the same things, adding “unsuited for age group.” Forget it later became one of the best movies ever.

“Of Mice And Men,” another required read back in the day, has long been kicked for offensive language but there was a loud cry to have the “Harry Potter” series ousted on charges of occult/Satanism. “The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier makes the Top Ten list every year (offensive language, sexual explicit, unsuited to age groups) and “Go Ask Alice,” required at schools everywhere, is another challenged year-after-year due to drugs, sexually explicit, and offensive language.

Don’t you see? If you want to read a great book, simply ask the clerk where the banned books are kept. Seriously, go get “The Summer of my German Soldier” by Bette Greene or “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou. Try “The Golden Compass” by Phillip Pullman or “Olive’s Ocean” by Kevin Henkes. They are all equally fabulous – and somebody wants to ban them.

The Top 10 list for 2013 is still being tabulated but in 2012 there were 464 written challenges received by the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom. Here are the 10 books you’ll absolutely adore, in order by challenges received:

1. CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS, the series by Dav Pilkey (offensive language, unsuited for age group)

2. THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie (offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group)

3. THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jay Asher (drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age groups)

4. FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, by E.L. James (offensive language, sexually explicit)

5. AND TANGO MAKES THREE by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson (homosexuality, unsuited for age groups)

6. THE KITE RUNNER by Khaled Hosseini (homosexuality, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit)

7. LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green (offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age groups)

8. SCARY STORIES, a series by Alvin Schwartz (unsuited for age group, violence)

9. THE GLASS CASTLE by Jeanette Walls (offensive language, sexually explicit)

10. BELOVED by Toni Morrison (sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence)

No Apologies Needed

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