Okay, raise your hand if you’ve never heard of Fifty Shades of Grey. I’m betting your hand stayed put; it may have stayed down even if I’d asked about E.L. James, whom many of you know is the book’s author. That’s because, in large part, word-of-mouth helped propel it to the top of the best seller list, as did its status as one of 2013’s most challenged books.
It came under fire for offensive language and sexual explicitness, two of the main reasons books are targeted. Others include unsuited for age group, violence, occult or Satanic content, homosexuality, political viewpoint, drugs, and racism.
And it happens quite often. Indeed, 2013 saw a 53% increase in attempts to remove books from libraries and classrooms. Even The Dairy of Anne Frank came under fire; a parent claimed it contained “pornographic” sections. Meanwhile, here are the ten most challenged books of the year and the reasons why:
- Captain Underpants, by Dav Pilkey: offensive language, unsuited for age group
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie: offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
- Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher: drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group
- Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James: offensive language, sexually explicit
- And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell & Justin Richardson: homosexuality, unsuited for age group
- The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini: homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
- Looking for Alaska, by John Green: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
- Scary Stories, by Alvin Schwartz: unsuited for age group, violence
- The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls: offensive language, sexually explicit
- Beloved, by Toni Morrison: sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence
They’re in good company, actually, as the likes of Mark Twain, Maya Angelou, and Harper Lee have found their way on most challenged books lists, too, as has J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.
Well intended such challenges may very well be, but those who would prevent the rest of us from choosing for ourselves what we read actually harm rather than protect.
Wrote John Stuart Mill in his On Liberty: “If all mankind, minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind …”
That, of course, is the thinking behind the First Amendment which states, in part, that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press …” It is also the reasoning behind the establishment of the Kids’ Right to Read Project (KRRP). Its mission is “promoting freedom of thought, inquiry, and expression and opposing censorship in all its forms.”
Among its successes:
- Getting God Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya, back into Driggs, Idaho classrooms
- Getting The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende, returned to Watauga County Schools in Boone, North Carolina
- Getting Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman, back in Alamogordo, New Mexico schools
As for the book that has taken up most of the group’s time? That would be Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, because it was labelled “anti-Christian” in several states, including New York and New Jersey.
Bottom line: Parents should be the final arbiters of what is right and acceptable for their children, and we adults can certainly decide for ourselves what we want to read regardless its offensiveness to others. No one else.