This post was originally published in 2014.
If you’ve visited any library or bookstore this past week then you’ll know that it was ‘Banned Books Week.’ To celebrate, the Washington Post included an article the listed the “10 most challenged books every year since 2000.” There seems to be some dissonance there. ‘Banned’ and ‘challenged’ are not the same thing. At all.
‘Challenged’ books are books that parents have found in their local (usually school) libraries and have written a formal complaint about. Something along the lines of, “I’m not trying to be a prude or anything but I’m just not sure that hardcore erotica is appropriate for my fifth grader.” These parents are not (usually) saying, “We should take this book, along with every copy we can find in this great nation of ours, and create a bonfire. Then, we can burn the author in effigy!” Yet that’s how they’re portrayed. Only a Nazi would want to ban ‘New York Times Bestsellers’ and ‘Classics.’ Wait…What’s that? They don’t actually want them banned? They just don’t think they’re appropriate for a particular age group? Seriously?
The fact is, everyone recognizes that some things are appropriate for certain age groups and some things aren’t. There aren’t (hopefully) people arguing that copies of Penthouse and The Anarchist’s Cookbook should be placed in every school library across America. Why? Because we recognize that some content is for mature viewers, readers, gamers, etc.
This is the reason we have rating systems for movies and video games. It’s the reason there are ‘Explicit Content’ labels on CDs. And yet there is no system like this for books, at least not one that’s as obvious.
‘Challenging’ books has nothing to do with ‘banning’ books. It has everything to do with keeping objectionable content out of the reach of younger audiences who may not be prepared to process it fully.
We live in America. If you want a book, any book, you can get a copy. You can go to Amazon.com or your local library or hundreds of big (and little) bookstores across America and get any book you want. And if you want to buy your child a copy of ‘Looking for Alaska’ or ‘Captain Underpants’ to read, you can do it. And you know what? I’d be willing to bet that if they brought those books into their classrooms, their teachers wouldn’t bat an eye. In fact, they’d probably be proud. “Look at that!” they might say, “What a brave young man, reading ‘Captain Underpants’! I’m so proud.”
‘Challenged’ books are simply books that certain parents deem inappropriate for their child’s age group. And even if they challenge it, that doesn’t automatically mean it will be removed. Before any kind of removal, there is a process in place that assures someone can’t remove anything they don’t agree with on a whim. It’s not like teachers are walking around, monitoring what children are reading, and telling them, “You can’t read that in my classroom!” Oh wait… Yes they are.
The Bible has been one of the most banned books throughout history. Even today, owning or selling one in many countries can lead to serious consequences. I doubt owning a copy of ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ will get you executed in many places.
So, if you’re going to celebrate ‘Banned Books Week’ and you want to read a real banned book, pick up a Bible.
Now that would be counter-cultural.