top of page
  • Writer's pictureNora Curry

Banned Books Week

It's Banned Books week! And why are we celebrating such an occasion at the library? The American Library Association and libraries across the country are taking the week of September 26 - October 2 as a chance to spread the word that books are still frequently challenged and banned around the country (and world). As advocates for the freedom to read, libraries like ours strive to provide a wide range of material. While we always listen to our patrons' concerns and recommendations, we also recognize the need to provide information, resources, and leisure reading for all ages and lifestyles. Perhaps it's no surprise that children's books dominate the list of Top 10 Most Challenged Books for 2020, as the desire to shield children from content deemed inappropriate steers much of the resistance to various forms of literature. A quick perusal of the ALA's lists of most commonly challenged books is a stark reminder of what classics would be erased from our minds and what contemporary diversity would be missing from our shelves (and often from our children's reading lives) if the principle of intellectual freedom were not upheld.

To borrow from an essay by one of my favorite writers, Brian Doyle, "Who you are as a town is in the library. It’s why when you want to destroy a place you burn down the library. People who fear freedom fear libraries. The urge to ban a book is always an urge to put imagination in jail. But in the end you cannot imprison it, just as you cannot imprison the urge to freedom, because those things are in every soul, and there are too many souls to jail or murder them all, and that’s a fact. So a library is a shout of defiance too, if you think about it: dorn in aghaidh an dorchadas, a fist against the dark.”

The theme for this year's Banned Books Week is "Books Unite Us, Censorship Divides Us." In the words of the ALA, "Sharing stories important to us means sharing a part of ourselves. Books reach across boundaries and build connections between readers. Censorship, on the other hand, creates barriers." While books are less often actually banned now than in the past, the number of challenges to titles has actually risen in recent years, particularly those related to minority groups. Rather than restrict ideas, we can and should open conversations. That's what libraries are all about. But we're also all about satisfying curiosity! So if you're wondering what the most frequently challenged and banned books have been over the years, check out the following list that includes the most challenged book for each year of the last two decades (as reported by the ALA), as well as a selection of commonly banned and challenged classics, most of which were deemed "obscene" (or "smutmobile" in one case) by an offended party. How empty would your high school curriculum have been without some of those books? How many have you read? Which ones pique your interest? See any commonalities and trends? Read on to find out. (And yes, there are links to the catalog for every single one, because Maine libraries are a bounty of challenged books to request as we stand up for the freedom to read!)

Most frequently challenged book, 2014

Most frequently challenged book, 2017

A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess

Naked Lunch, William S. Burroughs

In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

The Awakening, Kate Chopin

The Chocolate War, Robert Cromier

Most frequently challenged book, 2004

An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser

Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

George, Alex Gino

Most frequently challenged book, 2018-2020

The Lord of the Flies, William Golding

(Candid librarian note: After my book hoarding (but primarily non-fiction reading) father died, I found a lengthy letter that he wrote as a teenager about the absolutely transcendant experience of feverishly reading this novel in one night. Take that, censors.)

Looking for Alaska, John Green

Most frequently challenged book, 2015

Most frequently challenged book, 2005

Catch-22, Joseph Heller

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

Ulysses, James Joyce

(Candid librarian note: I was once told by a fellow librarian that Ulysses is also the most common book that people claim to have read without ever having cracked it open.)

A Separate Peace, John Knowles

The Naked and the Dead, Normal Mailer

Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller

Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

Internet Girls series, Lauren Myracle

Most frequently challenged books, 2012-2013

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

Alice series, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Most frequently challenged books, 2009, 2011

1984 and Animal Farm, George Orwell

(Candid librarian note: It's astonishing how many copies of 1984 in the Minerva system, including our own, were never returned!)

And Tango Makes Three, Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson

Most frequently challenged book, 2006-2008, 2010

Most frequently challenged book, 2012-2013

Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling

Most frequently challenged books, 2001-2002

The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie

The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger

The Jungle, Upton Sinclair

Sophie's Choice, William Styron

This One Summer, Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

Most frequently challenged book, 2016

Rabbit, Run, John Updike

All the King's Men, Robert Penn Warren

The Color Purple, Alice Walker

Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh

Native Son, Richard Wright

23 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page