Banning books. Out of all the moves governments could make, out of all the important decisions they could debate over, books in schools (and their content) seem to make it at the top of the list. The recent bans on certain literature in schools, such as Art Spiegleman’s 1980 novel Maus by The Tennessee School Board, has sparked controversy across the country. Though the days of book burnings may be behind us, schools and libraries have since become the new battlegrounds for the war on books.
What’s more worrying, “over the past year, book challenges and bans have reached levels not seen in decades,” according to officials at the American Library Association’s (ALA) website on banned and challenged books, and the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC). The Guardian reported that the uptick and “unprecedented rise” of book banning listed 330 unique new cases between 1 September to 30 November of 2021 alone, “more than double the number for the whole of 2020.”
Investigating the topic, the New York Post tracked one story from Stephana Ferrell, which, unfortunately, represents many across the US. Ferrell’s political activism was mostly limited to the “occasional email” to city officials. That was until the change in Orange County, Florida, with an objection raised to cartoonist and writer Maia Kobabe’s graphic novel Gender Queer: A Memoir. The county decided to scrap the text from high school shelves last fall and sent activists like Ferrell into an uproar.
“By winter break, we realised this was happening all over the state and needed to start a project to rally parents to protect access to information and ideas in school,” said Ferrell.
The Florida Library Association (FLA) released a statement on 24 January 2022 that discussed the freedom to read for all library patrons. “Library materials are carefully selected by trained professionals who follow established collection development policies and professional standards,” it read.
“Banning, removing, or censoring material also violates the library patron’s right to intellectual freedom and their freedom to read,” the statement continued.
The ALA doesn’t support banning books, but on the ground individual librarians are also having to come up with ways themselves to combat the growing issue. “I can’t name a single librarian who’s okay with book banning,” said Amanda Oliver, writer and author of the wake-up call Overdue: Reckoning With the Public Library, which was released on 22 March 2022.
Now onto the forbidden authors we recommend you read while you still can:
Among the many books of the banned, Xtra* magazine’s listing of Flamer is a graphic novel that draws on Curato’s real-life experiences during the tender and trialling time of middle and high school. The protagonist Aiden Navarro “navigates friendships, bullies and a boy he can’t stop thinking about while at camp.”
Speaking to Xtra*, Curato explained that schools in Texas have been at the forefront of pushing Flamer’s ban status. “There is a consistent pattern of books for and/or by BIPOC and queer people. My book fits the profile,” he explained.
You didn’t really think I could get through this list without mentioning my favourite horror author, right? King has a plethora of books that have been banned, and even adaptations of his works in film have had their own series of roadblocks—The Shining (adapted by Stanley Kubrick) and Carrie come to mind. Though I prefer the film counterparts more than their original books, one fiction work by King stands out among the rest: Rage, which is so controversial it’s been out of print for 20 years, according to Screen Rant.
This case is strange since Rage’s content wasn’t unlike the common horrors of King’s other works. That being said, the “five separate real-life incidents of school shootings or classroom hostage-takings that appeared to be directly inspired by the story,” as Screen Rant took note of, may have had something to do with its banned status…
You may have heard about Silverberg’s Sex is a Funny Word: A Book about Bodies, Feelings, and YOU, written in partnership with Fiona Smith. However, what you might not have known is how much an “award-winning educational comic book for kids about sexuality, body parts and families,” as Xtra* labelled it, could cause sheer pandemonium among adults.
Silverberg himself admitted that the book “has been on the most challenged list of the American Library Association for a few years.” His hypothesis? “[People] don’t want them to learn to think critically about race, colonisation, gender, sexuality or violence.”
There are so many influential works of James Baldwin that I desperately want to share. However, to keep it short and somewhat sweet, I introduce to you Go Tell it on the Mountain. Thank me later.
Culture Trip described Judy Blume as “a hero to hundreds of thousands of teenagers across the globe,” and was also “one of the most banned authors in the US, second to only Stephen King.” Good Enough and The Evolution of a Girl were some of the most important books that got me through my own troubling teen years.
Of course, we have to dive into science-fiction and dystopian authors too. Since the genre of speculative fiction has had more than its fair share of banned books—cough, cough, 1984. However, A Clockwork Orange stands out as a novel that still confuses people to this day and in more ways than the made-up language filling its 324 pages. Burgess created a work of fiction that was both bizarre and brutal enough to get banned multiple times, in multiple countries, leading to the first American edition’s ending being butchered by censorship regulations, but that’s just my take.
Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death is a book that triggers some of the most staunch stances to collections of paper pages ever witnessed in history. The controversial novel has been at the epicentre of censorship debates since its publication in 1969. Long time, much? Vonnegut blends war stories with space-age science fiction to get us all to grips with the true violence of war.
For its emphasis on the prejudice faced by gay people during wartime Europe, the book has been labelled “blasphemous, immoral and obscene,” according to Culture Trip. The head of one school board reportedly “burned 32 copies of the book after it was attempted to be taught in the classroom.” Talk about making your stance clear.
Though the film has made its resurgence into popularity thanks to toxic masculine ‘filmbros’ obsessed with Christain Bale’s physique, American Psycho is a testament to Ellis’ ability to craft a novel and protagonist as interesting and complex as Patrick Bateman. Was it all simply a psychotic dream? Who’s to say?
Complaints soon plagued Alexie’s best-seller The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, from its supposedly eyebrow-raising “filthy words” to wild leaps labelling the book as “anti-Christian” in more recent years. 17 different schools across the US ripped it off their reading lists, which later prompted the author to condemn education officials in 2014.
Throwing my own two cents in, I have to mention one of my favourite authors and one of the few female winners of a Nobel Prize, the late, great Toni Morrison. There’s no experience quite like reading Beloved or The Bluest Eye—one of Morrison’s most notable and, more importantly, most banned books—for the first time, or picking up Home and unexpectedly having your heart shatter, or finding yourself enamoured by Tar Baby and Paradise.
“It’s definitely getting worse,” said Suzanne Nossel, the CEO of non-profit and free-speech organisation PEN America. “We used to hear about a book challenge or ban a few times a year. Now it’s every week or every day.” At least the efforts of librarians and organisations are working to change this troubling tide, such as Stephana Ferrell’s project with fellow Orange County parent Jen Cousins, the Florida Freedom to Read Project.
So, while you’re looking to expand your collection and that mountain TBR, try adding some of these before it’s too late.