To many, the month of September brings the advent of fall which usually means cooler weather, soybean harvest, and apple cider. However, to those in the education and library science fields, it means the coming of Banned Books Week (September 24—October 1)! According to American Library Association, “Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.”
When thinking about censorship and our own country, I call to mind the Cold War-era — specifically Senator Joseph McCarthy’s antics. Could books still possibly be censored and banned today in our country…even the classics? Absolutely; however, not by the government, but rather by schools and public libraries at the request of individuals and occasionally groups.
The Office of Intellectual Freedom, under the American Library Association (ALA), collects and compiles data sent in from schools and libraries, as well as via the media, about materials that people and/or groups have found to be inappropriate for a library’s collection. There is a difference between challenging materials and the actual banning of them. The ALA defines the terms: “A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A challenge is the removal of those materials.”
Why are books, especially popular classics, challenged and sometimes banned? Popular reasons range from racism, explicit language, blasphemy, violence, religious viewpoints, and at times readers found the content to be inappropriate for the intended audience.
While writing this article, I fell into conversation with several of the staff and volunteers at the museum about this topic and many were surprised by the books that made the list — with several of them having been required reading while in high school. In Kathryn Stockett’s latest piece titled The Help (2009), one of the main characters, Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, says towards the beginning of the novel, “I head down the steps to see if my mail-order copy of The Catcher in the Rye is in the box. I always order banned books from a black market dealer in California, figuring [that] if the State of Mississippi banned them, they must be good.”
So which classics have been challenged and/or banned over the years? As Stockett hints, Catcher in the Rye (1951) by J.D. Salinger is a frequently challenged and banned book even though it was recognized by the Modern Library as one of the “100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.” Other works include several of which have won awards: Gone with the Wind (1936) by Margaret Mitchell (Pulitzer Prize) All the King’s Men (1946) by Robert Penn Warren (Pulitzer Prize), The Great Gatsby (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald (this piece was recognized by the Modern Library), The Grapes of Wrath (1939) by John Steinbeck (Pulitzer Prize), To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee (Pulitzer Prize), Ulysses (1922) by James Joyce (this piece was recognized by the Modern Library, Lord of the Flies (1954) by William Golding (Golding won the Nobel Prize), Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) by George Orwell (this piece was recognized by the Modern Library), Of Mice and Men (1937) by John Steinbeck (Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) by Ernest Hemingway (nominated for Pulitzer Prize), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) by Mark Twain, Call of the Wild (1903) by Jack London, and Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley (this piece was recognized by the Modern Library). (To view a complete list, please visit the American Library Association at http://www.ala.org). To learn more about Banned Books Week, please visit http://www.bannedbooksweek.org.
About the Columnist: JC Brown, a proclaimed bibliophile, is currently working on a Master in Library and Information Science at Wayne State University. She is a member of the American Library Association, Young Adult Library Services Association, and the Intellectual Freedom Round Table. In her spare time, Brown blogs about her various bookish adventures (Hermionish.com), enjoys workshops offered by the Historical Society of Michigan, and literature to film club at Oakland University.
The credit for the BBW photo goes to the American Library Association and the credit for JC Brown’s photo goes to Birchfield Studios.