Banned Books Week: Changes in Challenge Categories

September 24th – September 30th is Banned Books Week. This is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and highlights the value of free and open access to information. This year’s tagline for Banned Books Week is “Words Have Power. Read a Banned Book.” This alludes to the notion that we have a right to challenge any attempt at restricting our First Amendment rights a part of which guarantees our freedom of expression and inquiry.

The books featured during Banned Books Week have been targeted for removal or restrictions in libraries and schools. According to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF), there were 323 challenges reported in 2016 but there may be thousands that go unreported every year.

Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association

James LaRue, director of the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom, said in the early 90s, the reasons cited for challenging literature were fairly straightforward often falling into two categories, unsuitable language or sexually explicit content. He also noted that there has been a clear shift toward seeking to ban books focused on issues of diversity; things that are by or about people of color, or LGBT, or disabilities, or religious and cultural minorities.

LaRue cited that the shift seems to be linked to demographic changes in the country and the fear that can accompany those changes, to that he added, “There’s a sense that a previous majority of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants are kind of moving into a minority, and there’s this lashing out to say, ‘Can we just please make things the way that they used to be?’”

Suffice it to say that the changes in challenge categories over the past two decades correspond with changes and current issues in our society. The list of the top ten challenged books of 2015 and 2016 contains a range of genres and formats and is a reflection of this.

The concepts, theories, and creativity in banned and challenged books offer a diverse range of perspectives and expose readers to varied literary prowess. Celebrate Banned Books Week by reading a Banned Book. Check out some of the many banned books that the James B. Duke Memorial Library (JBDML) has in its collection. Here are some of the Banned and Challenged Classics that JBDML has on its shelves:

The great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger
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
Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison

You can view the full list of Banned and Challenged Classics here.

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