Why Books Shouldn’t Be Banned
Books are essentially a gateway to another world through written word. Some books challenge the perception of everything while others can inspire a whole generation. Without books, much of today’s entertainment would not be the same. Unlike Film or TV, a book is only limited by an author’s abilities as a writer.
The reader may not agree with the words of the author, but it’s important to learn why that is. That is why banning books especially for young readers is essentially blocking off a whole world of thought. Banning certain written works can cause more harm than good to children and young adults. When someone reads a book, the reader is not only going on a journey with the characters, but also with the author.
The American Library Association explains the difference between a challenged and banned book. A challenge is the attempt to remove the written material while a ban is the actual removal.
According to the American Library Association data, the biggest reasons for banned books are racial issues, damaging lifestyles, blasphemous dialog, sex, violence/negativity, witchcraft, religion, politics, or just age inappropriate. The three most common reasons for a challenged book from 1990 to 2009 are sex, offensive language, and satanism/occult. The number one demographic for these complaints is the parents by a landslide. Schools, school libraries, and public libraries are the institutions that constantly challenge written work. The states with the most challenges are Texas, North Carolina, and Oregon.
The Absolutely True Diary of Part-Time Indian
The most challenged book since 2013 is Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of Part-Time Indian for its cultural insensitivity, offensive language, explicit sexuality, and violence. The 2007 novel depicts a boy leaving his Indian reservation to go to an all-white school. High school English teacher Lynn Frick stressed the importance of Alexie’s book in schools because of its exploration of personal identity and resilience the character goes through. He mentioned how difficult it can be for parents to learn that their children are being taught novels that deal with difficult issues like sexuality and gender.
“I think that the reason these books are just eaten up by kids is because they can relate to the topics and can understand some of the emotions that the characters are feeling,” Frick said. “It all really resonates with them.”
Even Alexie himself laughs off the the challenges his book receives today.
“There are these webpages and websites that pick and choose quotes from the book,” Alexie said. “Once you do that, you can render the book down to four masturbation lines. It gives the impression the book is some sex-filled Porky’s movie, and it’s not. I’m amused by all of it. And all it ever has done is help sales. So please, repressed Americans…Ban me, ban me.”
Some parents are very protective of their children and they don’t want them “being corrupted”. The BBC had an article on why books where frequently challenged in the U.S. compared to the United Kingdom. In the U.K., challenged books are rare, because of the school having full control and they also cite the U.S. to be a more religious society. Mike Holzknecht, a lawyer from Stockton, Missouri succesively led the movement to ban Alexie’s novel in his school district.
“The book is just chock full of vulgarity, profanity, obscenity and sexual explicitness involving minors,” Holzknecht said. “People around here, where it’s pretty rural and conservative, they will go a long way, but this book was so far over the edge. It doesn’t belong in a school.”
Other Famous Examples
J.D. Salinger’s 1951 novel Catcher in the Rye is a famous example of a heavily criticized work. The biggest detractors only focused on the language and certain situations that happen, rather than the relatable feelings of Holden Caufield. Holden was a teenager who was terrified of adulthood and wanted to do his best to preserve innocence, because he hates the “phoniness” that comes with growing up.
Harper Lee’s 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird is another frequently challenged book to this day. It’s an important story that revolves around a white lawyer defending an African-American accused of rape. To this day, the detractors cite its material to be offensive or uncomfortable. It was published during a time of segregation in the south, and it was shown as a great example of integration. The discussion that come from this book can be valuable to have, especially for young people growing up in modern times.
Even J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series couldn’t escape controversy from religious groups. A book burning in New Mexico took place because of the book’s alleged satanic themes. The fantastical focuses on magic and witchcraft, which many believe would attract children to “dark magic”. A lot of Trump supporters have criticized Rowling’s statements against the president, with many fans claiming they are tossing away their books.
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher has been on everyone’s mind because of the Netflix show. A temporary ban of the novel in a Colorado district because it was believed that it glamorized suicide after students tragically took their own lives. Librarians in that area protested against this and said that reactionary censorship is wrong when it comes to the serious issues the novel and TV show present.
In Asher’s interview with PBS, he talked about the importance of young adult literature and how it’s important for stories like this to be out there for a younger generation.
“I just got an email from a reader who said that ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ was the first time they had felt understood,” Asher said. “A book shouldn’t be anybody’s first time feeling understood and that’s where censorship bothers me. These books need to be out there.”
For all the controversy and negativity that can come with a book, there’s more enlightenment and positivity. Harry Potter’s impact on culture is undeniable. One of the series’ biggest accomplishments is single-handedly forcing the New York Times Best Selling lists to include its own section for Children’s books, because of how successful they were. More children starting reading just because of the boy who lived.
Many adolescents to this day feel like they relate to Holden’s angst in Catcher in the Rye. When it was published in 1951, many teens felt this one of the first they were being accurately represented.
A Northwestern University study concluded that Thirteen Reasons Why had a more positive impact than negative, especially when it came to conversations of suicide, depression, and bullying between parents and their children.
In today’s political climate, To Kill A Mockingbird can still be a reflection of racial tensions and the criminal justice system. In an interview professor Alice Randall explains why Lee’s novel is still relevant today.
“It explains to readers who don’t understand it why black people are afraid of the criminal justice system, because we have not gotten, historically, justice in that system,” Randall said.
When you continually tell people not to do something without valid explanation, they will want to do that thing even more. When it’s declared that a book is banned, it essentially makes people want to read it even more. Most of the time when a book is banned, it’s because a certain demographic feels uncomfortable. If that certain demographic makes enough noise about their displeasure over a book, then they could successfully get that book banned. Making a book unavailable to everyone around you, because of the demographics displeasure, is the equivalent of trying to make everyone have the same beliefs.
Harry Potter inspired more kids to enjoy reading rather than engaging in witchcraft.
It’s okay to feel uncomfortable with Thirteen Reasons Why, but its impact on the conversation of bullying and mental health in adolescence is undeniable.
A fictional or non-fictional book can inspire a reader in think in new ways. If a book is making people having serious discussions about certain topics, then the author has done their job. It’s important for people of all ages to have these conversations, especially growing young adults. Depriving those conversations is harmful and will ultimately lead to ignorance.
What do you think? Leave a comment.