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A Shocking Number of Books Were Banned This Year

A Shocking Number of Books Were Banned This Year

2013 has seen a drastic rise in requests to ban books – especially those about race or sexuality — from schools. The Kids’ Right to Read Project (KRRP), which is part of the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), says that, in the past year, it has investigated 49 book bannings or removals of books from shelves in 29 states, a 53 percent increase from the year before.

Just in the last half of 2013, the KRRP responded to 31 incidents as compared to 14 in the same period in 2012. In November alone, there were three times the average number of incidents. As many such complaints go unreported, it’s very likely that there are even more.

The KRRP is supported by the Association of American Publishers and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. It is also part of a collaborative effort to fight the “growing trend to rate and label” not only books but also movies and video games.

A Pattern to Ban Books From Schools and Libraries?

Parents of students, library patrons and local or state officials were behind complaints about books addressing issues of race, such as Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

Books discussing LGBTQ issues were also challenged: Two parents in Leesburg, Fla., filed a petition to remove The Bermudez Triangle from the public library on the grounds that it contains homosexual content. In West Bend, Wis., the Library Advisory Board was accused of “promoting the overt indoctrination of the gay agenda” after it resisted pressure to remove certain titles. The Litchfield, N.H., school board removed four stories including David Sedaris’ “I Like Guys” from an elective upperclassmen English course after parents objected.

As the KRRP’s Acacia O’Connor comments:

Whether or not patterns like this are the result of co-ordination between would-be censors across the country is impossible to say. But there are moments, when a half-dozen or so challenges regarding race or LGBT content hit within a couple weeks, where you just have to ask “what is going on out there?”

In a year in which the Supreme Court ruled DOMA unconstitutional and which witnessed the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the increase in requests for the removal of books that address topics of sexuality and race stands out. O’Connor in fact describes the past year as a “a sprint” during which, after the KRRP settled one complaint, its staff would “wake up the next morning to find out another book was on the chopping block.”

Censorship of books about race and LGBTQ issues “affects everyone,” the NCAC underscores. In the case of the latter, the NCAC emphasizes that ”young people who are questioning their sexuality, kids with gay or lesbian parents, adults who visit public libraries, and anyone who has met or is likely to meet an LGBTQ person also have the right to read stories that don’t come from a ‘straight’ standpoint.”

The Censors Have By No Means Won

Lest it seem that those who seek to restrict what students read are gaining the upper hand, 2013 was also a year in which the KRRP scored a number of successes. Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima was returned to English classrooms in Driggs, Idaho. A ban on Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits at Watauga County Schools in Boone, N.C., was reversed. After Neil Gaiman’s urban fantasy novel Neverwhere was banned in Alamogordo, N.M., due to only one complaint by a parent, the school board ruled that the book must be returned to school bookshelves. The KKRP also reversed a proposed ban of The Diary of Anne Frank from schools in Northville, Mich., after one parent complained that passages in which the author describes her own body were “pornographic.”

Calls to remove books from shelves have often stemmed from inflated concerns about specific passages in books. The “pornographic” passages in Frank’s diary are, the NCAC observes, “no more pornographic than a conversation with one’s gynecologist or a health-ed class.”

The book that the KRRP and the NCAC found themselves called the most to defend (specifically, in Montana, New Jersey, New York and West Virginia) was Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, on the grounds that it is “anti-Christian.” In light of the numerous calls to ban his book, Alexie summed up why it is necessary to fight such calls to limit what books students encounter in public school classrooms and libraries. Censors, he says, are “punishing the imagination” and, in the process, potentially stoking even more interest in “dangerous” books.

As Alexie commented earlier this year when asked how it feels to be the author of a banned book, it means “that I wrote a great book. I wrote the book that needs to be read.”

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159 comments

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5:49PM PST on Feb 21, 2014

Wow, im loving my school now. We have many books some people would very well deem "unfit" for students (I.E health books) as well as diaries of teens who got raped, books about STDs, terrorism and forensic science books, and religious information. In health class, (or so I've heard), shows a live video of a birth from one of our teachers. Being an LGBTQ student, I'm proud of how accepting and open my district is.

3:03AM PST on Feb 5, 2014

show a list of books banned. Don't make me click to other sites. please.
Also there is a huge rise in people trying to BAN christian symbols, so don't get on your high horse about tolerance, please.
i don't agree with banning books, I do agree that the Grammy awards should not have to -bleep- out most words in some songs, and I really don't need to see beyonce, madonna anymore.
WTF happened to feminists? these women are not feminists.
sorry, went on a rant.
anyhow, I am upset that there seems to be a HUGE double standard in what is ok and what gets banned or ridiculed. tolerance my a$$

2:24PM PST on Jan 26, 2014

Even in upper grade school I liked reading. I can remember sitting on the floor of the second level of the local library in Ishpeming, Michigan, while selecting another book to read by Pearl Buck; I was in the 8th grade. I don't remember anyone telling me not to read a particular book. I was fastenated by a book telling how to make a real komona, & I discovered the recording of Madam Butterfly in the library. I sat in the little listening room & listened to it over and over. Sometime between grades 8-10, I read The Diary of Ann Frank & more books by Pearl Buck. Madam Butterfly is still one of my favorite pieces of music.

At home I would read Popular Science, Popular Machanics, Time, Life, Christian Century, and various other church magazines. My dad would order magazines according to who was running a special!

When I saw the movie 1984 I was horrified by the burning of books! We had many books at home, both my parents frequently read, & I'd received books as gifts as soon as I could read. My life would be much poorer if these books, music & 1984 had been forbidden or declared not suitable. At 71, I still read from a very wide span of interests.

6:10AM PST on Jan 9, 2014

Any time I hear about a book being censored, all that does is serve as a triple-dog-dare for me to go out and get it for our own personal library. Damned if MY kids are going to suffer just because a bunch of intellectually stunted, religiously-repressed cases of walking cranium rectumitis feel that their right to control their world extends to "protecting" my kids too!

Among the titles in our library:
The Color Purple
The Joy Luck Club
Walter the Farting Dog
The Chocolate War
Brave New World
Animal Farm
1984
To Kill A Mockingbird

And many others, of course!

3:29AM PST on Jan 7, 2014

Thank you for sharing

12:24PM PST on Jan 5, 2014

I used to 'borrow' Mickey Spillane books from my aunts' Book Club collections, when I was about 12 years old. Of course I knew they were a 'bit naughty', so I never took them back! They must have known, but never said anything about it! Super nice women! I don't think the books harmed me in any way. I'm pretty average and 'normal', mostly!

12:20PM PST on Jan 5, 2014

Who remembers when, "Lady Chatterley's Lover" was banned by the British High Courts? Sales from all over went through the roof, with people carrying it wrapped in paper, friends lending it those who didn't have it already. You name it! Do you know why it was banned? Because the lowly gardener had the audacity to 'thread forget-me-nots through miladies pubic hair' !!!!! I was a teen, I think and not a bit experienced, yet I thought it profoundly romantic, and dreamed of one day experiencing the same. I don't think I would have found it wonderful if it had been really pornographic. (I'm still waiting!)

11:43AM PST on Jan 5, 2014

When you start banning books the next thing to be banned is THOUGHTS! Please, lets not go there.

5:54AM PST on Jan 5, 2014

You cannot currently send a star to Nimue because you have done so within the last hour.

3:17AM PST on Jan 5, 2014

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