When you think of the word “censorship,” what comes to mind?
You might imagine a black bar over an image, a political speech, perhaps something sexually explicit. But you probably won’t think about a young Iranian girl, a sensitive teenaged boy or a character created by one of our country’s most revered authors. All of those — and many, many others — have been and are on lists of the most frequently banned books of the past. . .year.
That’s right. Not past century or decade but just this past year. Even in modern society, we’ve made so little progress on some fronts that literature of great merit continues to be banned in some classrooms due to “controversial” topics. (The phrase “controversial subject matter” is actually used by more than one book-banning group to describe a volume on this list.)
Banned books change with the times. Once, these titles were the most frequently challenged; in 2015, the five below have hit nerves. Notice that almost all of the books on the “older” list are now considered classics. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov was once called “the filthiest book I have ever read” by a newspaper editor. Nothing has changed out the book. What has changed are our attitudes. Sadly, one book on that list, The Perks of Being A Wallflower, is still oft banned today. Some people are still terrified by some subjects.
The five books on this list (taken from the American Library Association’s Top 10 Banned Books of the 21st Century list) were chosen because of their strong literary merit and widespread appeal but also because of their diversity of content and author backgrounds. In a society where censorship still happens, it’s more important than ever to make sure we read books about difference written by people of different races, colors, ethnicities, faiths, sexual orientations and political views. And here are five great places to start.
Banned for: Offensive language, unsuited to age group, violence
Read because: Afghanistan is a complex nation with an even more complex societal hierarchy. In this debut novel by Hosseini, two boys named Amir and Hassan grow to adulthood by grappling with their culture quite differently. Guaranteed to make you cry.
Banned for: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
Additional reasons: “rape and masturbation”
Read because: Released in 1999, this young-adult bestseller was made into a 2012 movie. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll identify — and you’ll wonder who would ever choose to keep this book from teenagers when it so precisely depicts their lives.
Banned for: Gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint
Additional reasons: “politically, racially, and socially offensive,” “graphic depictions”
Read because: Satrapi’s gorgeously rendered graphic novel about her coming-of-age in post-Khomeini Iran may convince you once and for all that any religion requiring women to dress differently from men is a religion that oppresses everyone.
Banned for: Sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
Additional reasons: “contains controversial issues”
Read because: We need to stop measuring beauty by bluest eyes and blondest hair and start seeing beauty in many colors. This story about Pecola Breedlove’s wasted life is a hymn sung to the power and strength of “abiding black women.”
Banned for: Anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying”
Read because: Life on the Spokane “rez” is hard enough, but for the super-geeky Arnold Spirit, Jr., it’s even harder. He doesn’t belong with the other Native American kids, and he doesn’t belong with the white kids nearby, either. Spectacular novel.