When I was fourteen or fifteen, I had to write a paper on a banned book. The book I chose was On The Road. I hadn’t yet read it, but it was on my list of things I’d like to read and this seemed like a good opportunity. I searched the school library’s shelves but had no luck finding it and decided to turn to the librarian for help. She didn’t even need to turn to the card catalog to find out where it was; she knew immediately that it wasn’t in the library. “I saw that on an episode of Quantum Leap,” she told me, “and I don’t think that’s an appropriate book for a high school library.” Who knew that Scott Bakula would be a driving force of a school library’s collection development policy?
Since 1982, Banned Books Week has been celebrated in late September. According to the Banned Books Week website, over 11,300 books have been challenged since then! You can find lists of the top ten most challenged books for each year since 2001 here. One of the primary reasons that a book is challenged is that it is judged to be unsuitable for the age group. I’m sure that’s what my high school librarian had in mind, although I would argue that adolescence is the perfect time to read Kerouac. Of course, it’s possible that she was actually a secret Kerouac fan and that she knew the best way to get a teenager to do something is to tell them they can’t do it: of course I got my hands on a copy of On the Road as quickly as I could and became a huge Kerouac fan.
Libraries, and public libraries in particular, serve large communities of diverse people. Lots of people equals lots of different opinions, and we librarians strive to buy materials that will suit each person’s need, despite the fact that someone (sometimes us!) might disagree with it. I’d like to think that if we have a pretty good balance of things that make you happy and things that make you angry, we’re doing our job. In any case, I always like to think of Banned Books Week as a chance to look at those frequently challenged books with a fresh eye and think about them critically, as well as to revisit those books that wind up on the most challenged list that I’m especially fond of. Some of my favorites, like The Chocolate War, The Catcher in the Rye, Cat’s Cradle, and The Call of the Wild are among those books that have turned up on the lists of challenged books (the first two are frequent offenders!).
Do you have any favorites that are frequently challenged?