• Nora 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!)



The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, Sherman Alexie

Most frequently challenged book, 2014


Thirteen Reasons Why, Jay Asher

Most frequently challenged book, 2017


Go Tell It on the Mountain, James Baldwin


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


It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health, Robie H. Harris

Most frequently challenged book, 2005


Catch-22, Joseph Heller


The Sun Also Rises, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway


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.)


One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey


A Separate Peace, John Knowles


Lady Chatterley's Lover, Women in Love, and Sons and Lovers, D.H. Lawrence


To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee


The Call of the Wild, Jack London


The Naked and the Dead, Normal Mailer


Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller


Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell


The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, and Beloved, Toni Morrison


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


Captain Underpants series, Dav Pilkey

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


The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck


Sophie's Choice, William Styron


This One Summer, Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

Most frequently challenged book, 2016


The Lord of the Rings trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien


Rabbit, Run, John Updike


Slaughterhouse Five and Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut


All the King's Men, Robert Penn Warren


The Color Purple, Alice Walker


Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh


Native Son, Richard Wright

19 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All