Literature continues to face attacks from those that seek to silence voices and ideas with which they don’t agree. Though it is rare for a book to be effectively banned in the United States, censorship is still widespread.
The most common objections to books usually pertain to offensive language, sexuality, suicide or substance abuse. Though not all stories censored may consist of these issues, their censorship often closes off the opportunity for productive discourse.
Yet, no matter how hard anyone tries to ban sensitive topics from publication or education, they impact lives in one way or another.
This week, bibliophiles around the world celebrate Banned Books Week, an annual reminder of how crucial the freedom of speech is to both democracy and society. Here are some of the most common banned books you have probably read or heard about.
“Looking for Alaska” by John Green
Remarkably philosophical for a young adult book, “Looking for Alaska” deals with subject matter fairly commonplace in teenage life. Adults will often take issue with the drinking, smoking and language found in this book.
However, these are framed in the larger context of coping with loss and discerning the purpose of life. If there’s one John Green novel to read, this is the one.
“The Catcher in the Rye” by J. D. Salinger
Don’t let the length of this book fool you. Though the page count is short, it makes up for its brevity with surprising depth of character.
Drifting from place to place in a stream-of-consciousness narrative, Holden Caulfield is the original angsty teenager, disenfranchised by school and just about everything else. Youth today will inevitably find rapport with this timeless, short novel.
The “Harry Potter” Series by J. K. Rowling
Though originally intended for children, these books have become a beloved modern classic among all ages. It’s never too late to visit or revisit this series.
Reasons for being challenged range from being “anti-family” to containing “witchcraft.” However, anyone who has read these books know they contain very uplifting themes such as friendship and triumph of good over evil, in addition to being fantastically entertaining.
“Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley
Every year the advancement of scientific technology brings the real world closer to the realm of eugenics portrayed in this visionary story. It has been widely challenged for containing nudity, racism, religious viewpoints and sexuality.
Those concerned about the ethical implications of progress in reproductive technology will find this story frightening and compelling.
“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou holds nothing back in her autobiography, bravely sharing the most intimate details of her life growing up as a black girl in the 1930s.
Recounting her experience with sexual assault and violence incited many people to challenge this book, but her litany of awards speaks to the power of her voice and how deeply it continues to resonate with so many people.
“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas
This contemporary narrative of K-State’s common read tells the story of youth faced with the horror of police brutality, drug use, profanity and offensive language. Anyone who has paid attention to the news over the past several years has seen the widespread controversy concerning lethal force by law enforcement.
This timely book has won numerous awards in the past year, defying the criticism and censorship efforts of many.
Moreover, the movie adaptation will be released Oct. 19, 2018.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
Repeatedly challenged for containing violence and use of the N-word, “To Kill Mockingbird” remains salient for its subject matter involving racism. Published in 1960, this book still ranks on the ALA’s list of “The Top Ten Challenged Books of 2017.”
This classic American novel conveys frankly the injustice of world through the eyes of a young girl growing up in the South in the 1930s.
Unfortunately, racially motivated violence and institutional racism akin to this time period are very alive and well today, making it all that more important to revisit stories such as these.