The American Library Association released yesterday it’s list of Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2015 in its annual report which can be found here. The report is released every year during National Library Week and I found it extremely enlightening. It confirms what I have been saying for years: People absolutely despise, yet thrive on, anything that causes controversy. Let’s examine the list. The only book I have read any part of on this list is the Holy Bible, but even from the titles and cover art I can assume why the other books on this list have been challenged by parents and patrons across the country. Some I agree with, others not so much, but the beauty of this country is that all ten of these books have a right to be on the shelf, and every patron has the right to pick up, or pass up, each title.
The majority of parents who challenged these titles are undoubtedly concerned that their child or teenager will pick up a book that contradicts what they have been teaching them all their life, and that just maybe they might form an opinion on their own that differs from that upbringing. Take, for example, the Bible. It made the list. I’m not sure why, but it did. I don’t care how you feel about the Bible, whether or not you believe it’s content or divine authorship, it is a significant religious and historical document that is relevant to human history. Would you say the same about other such documents? Apparently, people have. According to the report, 33% of respondents do no believe their children should have access to the Koran at school, and another 29% believe the same of the Torah and the Talmud. On one hand, I believe that schools should either have all of these materials, or none. Do not pick and choose what is available to students. That is socialism if ever I saw it. Choosing what books are available to public in general is a move Hitler made, and following in those footsteps is generally frowned upon. From a religious standpoint (and I mean any religion), shouldn’t you know what other religions believe? What better way to defend your own faith, than understanding how others believe? Young minds in particular are more able to grasp concepts like this because their own beliefs are still being molded. They can experience the learning of other religions and cultures and ask questions while their brains are still processing this information. Not to mention, I think we all can agree that when you ban a book, or even question it, kids are bound to seek it out. It’s human nature to seek out the prohibited out of sheer curiosity. This happens in the fifth Harry Potter book when Umbridge bans The Quibbler after Harry’s interview…oh wait. Harry Potter is also on the banned books list. Nevermind.
I do have a problem, however, with some of the official reasons why people have challenged these titles. Going back even to last year’s report (which can be found here, certain books are labeled “unsuitable for age group.” Um, where exactly are they finding these books? Barnes & Noble classifies The Kite Runner, Saga, The Perks of Being A Wallflower, The Bluest Eye, and A Stolen Life (2014 Challenged books) as ADULT fiction and nonfiction. They should not be on any children’s shelf. If kids are having access to them, they are either required reading by a school, or a library is placing them in those categories. I have also found that, of this year’s list, Fifty Shades of Grey, Habibi, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time are also all classified as adult fiction (Habibi can be found in Graphic Novels). Having worked at the bookstore for several years, I know that The Curious Incident is repeatedly placed on the summer reading table because school’s have assigned it to students. If parents have a problem with this book, the complaint should be lodged against the school for requiring it, or at least question why a particular library houses the book in the Young Adult area. All of the above mentioned books are being challenged because they are unsuitable for the age group to which they are placed, but no one bothers to question why they are listed as available to these age groups. We just complain and demand they be taken off the shelves altogether. I can promise you that no bookstore or library anywhere is placing Fifty Shades in a YA section. Yes, the writing is poor (I found that challenge hilarious), and as a writer, I’m offended that this is considered publishable yet my type of writing is not, but people have the right to read smut if that’s what they prefer. Many people would say, “Hey! Why pay for Fifty Shades when porn is free online!” but to each his (or in this case, her) own.
As for what may be the most controversial part of these books, the topic of homosexual and transgender titles, let’s face it, these topics are here to stay. No matter how you may feel, whether you support the LGBTQ community, condemn it, are confused by it, or are repulsed by it, you cannot deny that it isn’t going anywhere. It is a trend. That phrase alone may be offensive to someone, and I apologize because I don’t mean it offensively. Whatever is being covered by news media or talked about among celebrities or on talk shows, is a trend, simply put. With the revelation of the new Caitlin Jenner came the conversation of transitioning adults. With the announcement that Brad and Angelina’s daughter Shiloh is now going by the name John, a conversation was opened about transitioning kids. If you live in North Carolina, the debate in Charlotte over restrooms has sparked a firestorm of controversy. The topic is not going away and with the trend comes published works of those who wish to profit on the perfect timing. Again, those titles have a right to be in the library and whether they are in schools or not, kids and teens who seek out such material will always find it. You can also look at it this way: there are plenty of stories about teen drug abuse (Ellen Hopkins’ Crank and books in the style of Go Ask Alice) and sex (Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer, Huntley Fitzpatrick’s The Boy Next Door, and even Stephanie Myer’s Twilight series). Are we supposed to shield our kids to the point where they cannot even recognize subject matter like this when approached by it in the real world? Are they not going to be exposed to the same material in movies and TV shows? Again, they are going to come into contact with it at one point or another, and parents, if doing their job right, will teach their kids how to react to these situations. Kids will make their own decisions based on that, but even the bad decisions are not at the fault of a book or a movie.
I’m not saying there are not books out there (or even on this list) that I wish hadn’t been published. I am simply saying that the practice of banning books is nothing short of ridiculous when you consider the First Amendment upon which our country was principally founded. The authors and publishers have a right to put them out there, and you as a patron have the right to not pick it up.