Banned Books Week, challenges and bans

We’re nearing the end of Banned Books Week, which runs through September 24 and celebrates the freedom to read. We’ve all heard of banned and challenged books, but what do those terms mean?

Challenges and bans explained:
A challenge is when there is an attempt to remove or restrict materials from a library, school or university. A ban is when the materials are removed. In spite of these attempts, the majority of challenged materials remain available, “thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, students, and community members who stand up and speak out for the freedom to read.” (American Library Association)

What were the most challenged books in 2021?

Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison
All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson
Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin

Why were they challenged? LGBTQIA+ content, sexually explicit, profanity, depictions of abuse, child sex abuse, use of derogatory terms, degrading to women and, for The Hate U Give, promotion of an anti-police message and indoctrination of a social agenda.

I’ve only read two on the 2021 list, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and The Bluest Eye.

What are the top banned and challenged classics?
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Ulysses by James Joyce
Beloved by Toni Morrison
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
1984 by George Orwell
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Animal Farm by George Orwell
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Native Son by Richard Wright
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
Sophie’s Choice by William Styron
Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Women in Love by DH Lawrence
The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer
Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
Rabbit, Run by John Updike

I’ve read a bunch of these, but definitely not all. Seeing this list makes me want to go back and read the rest! You can read more about banned and challenged books here.

Have books ever been challenged or banned in your community? Leave a comment.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

37 thoughts on “Banned Books Week, challenges and bans

  1. Of the first group I’ve only heard of The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. I’m not too with it.

    Of the second group I’ve read 27, mostly in high school or college. Don’t know what this says about my reading habits since then, but there you have it.

  2. I’ve read most of those banned., My concurrence with banning the books listed for this year is because they were put in libraries for elementary school children. Some of the content is pornographic and NOT appropriate for young children. They are fine for adult libraries.

  3. I’ve read most of these on your list and was aware that they had been banned at some point. I loved Dairy of a Part-Time Indian and passed it on to some teens I knew at time. They loved it too. The best books demand that we give ourselves, our social circles, our communities and our nations a critical eye, and that means looking at characteristics and behaviours that are less than stellar. Since banning is about control, the “banners” don’t want readers doing that because it might upset the status quo and change the balance of power. Enjoyable post. 🙂

    1. Yes, I completely agree with you, Lynette. I also loved Diary of a Part-Time Indian. I think when people challenge books, they’re just looking at the language or whether it’s sexually explicit and they forget to look at the broader themes. And they forget, as you said, that looking at things that are less than stellar is important. Thanks for stopping by and leaving such a thoughtful comment. 🙂

  4. I have only read on LGBTQIA+ and it was quite good. I haven’t read any of the ones you listed though. I have read 10 from your next list. I don’t believe in banning books. If you can read it, you should be able to read it if you want to.

  5. What a great list – the titles alone are intriguing. I live in a liberal community that borders on land owned by UC Berkeley so I doubt anyone here is considering banning any books. Could be wrong.

    1. Yes, I think you’re probably right. I live in a different type of political climate – half and half! Although I haven’t heard of any local book challenges. Thank you, JT, for stopping by and commenting 🙂

  6. I’ve read at least half on the banned and challenged classic list and loved everyone one of them. Thanks for sharing the other books with us. I wasn’t familiar with them, but will check them out!

      1. Since it is about a doctor who runs an orphanage for the children of unwed mothers he delivers, who also performs abortions on women who decide they can’t give birth, calling both of his services “God’s work” then I would say it might be top of the banned book lists these days.

  7. My daughter is doing her undergrad thesis on banned books. I just shared this with her. She hasn’t formalized her question yet, but I know she’ll appreciate this

    1. Oh that’s fantastic, LA! Best wishes to your daughter – sorry for the delay. And thanks for sharing. I got a lot of the info from the American Library Association – they have some great lists. Thank you for reading 🙂

  8. I haven’t heard of our libraries banning books, although I’m talking about the public libraries, not the school libraries. I can understand a parent challenging a book that they think is too mature for a child (I wouldn’t want a middle school student reading Ulysess, for instance, since it has graphic scenes of sexual dominance), but I think outright banning a book is rarely a good idea. It will only stop when we’re willing to argue that no book should be banned, I think. Unfortunately, we usually only argue to keep the books on shelves that we happen to see the value in.

    1. Hi Ann, you raise important points. Adult graphic novels have the same challenges. They look like kids’ books, but they are too mature for younger readers. So we put them in a different place. I also don’t think it’s a good idea to ban books, but I understand your comment about Ulysses. Thank you for reading and for leaving such a thoughtful comment. 🙂

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