Most Challenged Books of 2000- 2009

img_6665I printed out the list of most challenged books, and highlighted the ones I’ve read.  Of the 100 books on the list, I’ve read 24.  Not too bad, but not great either.

I read many of these books, like Killing Mr. Griffen and Scary Stories, as a teenager or child.  I remember being shocked and saddened by Killing Mr. Griffen.  I sympathized with the main character, and how she got pulled into a situation that got out of control.  It made me think about peer pressure and morality (though I wouldn’t have articulated it that way as a kid).  Reading books like these made me a more empathetic person.

I was surprised to see a lot of these books on the list.  Possibly the book I was most surprised by was The Great Gilly Hopkins.  I’m sure I was under 10 when I read this, and I loved it.  Gilly was fearless and terrible.  But she was also frightened, desperate to be loved, and in the end, able to trust again.

I had to look up why this book was challenged, and it appears to be because of Gilly’s flaws.   There is also a section where Gilly tries to get under her African-American teacher’s skin my giving her a card that implies a racial slur.  (I honestly didn’t understand what she was implying when I read this as a kid.)

The thing is that Gilly is awful at times, but it’s also clear that she’s a kid desperately trying to figure out where she fits in, angry at the world and trying to alienate everyone.  As a child, this was a thought-provoking concept.  It set the groundwork for me to understand that everyone has a story.

Of the books on this list that I’ve read, each brings something valuable.  Learning, growing, and changing can be painful, but they’re so worth it.  Books should encourage these processes.  In order to do so, they have provoke strong reactions.  (We don’t learn from anything we’re lukewarm about).  So, if they provoke strong reactions, that means that someone is going to want them banished.

In that sense, a challenge is a compliment to a book.  It means that it invoked that strong emotional response.  I hope that most of the challenges fail, and that adults and teens read these books and have strong reactions to them.  I hope they’re debated loudly on Facebook and Twitter and in coffee houses and over dinner.  I hope that people look at the list, and go out and tell at least one person about a book on this list, how it affected them.

Tell me what you think about any of the books on this list.  Do any surprise you?  Do you love any of them?  Hate any of them?

 

Don’t Ban Eleanor & Park

71lklmxqgjlWith Banned Book Week coming up next week, I thought it was important to talk about a book I liked.  Eleanor & Park is a YA novel published in 2013 that’s been challenged a number of times by people who think that parts of it are offensive or inappropriate.

This is an open letter regarding the challenges to Eleanor & Park.  I’ve also sent a copy of this letter to ncac@ncac.org

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing to you about Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell. I’m an adult who read, and loved this book.

I know that this book has been challenged a lot, and I wanted to let you know why I think that it shouldn’t be banned.

I read this book breathlessly, in one day.  I stayed up late because I couldn’t put it down.

This is exactly the kind of book I wish I’d had when I was growing up.  Both Eleanor and Park were so real.  I could empathize with Eleanor.  The strange girl who feels overweight and uncomfortable.  Who wants to fit in, but also wants to stand out and be noticed for who she is.

The dominant themes in the books are domestic violence, child abuse, body image issues, and bullying.  While I couldn’t relate to all of those issues, I could relate to some.  As an awkward teen, I would have loved to read a book that talked these issues in a candid way.

What makes this book so magical is that even though those issues are big and important in the book, the story is ultimately about Eleanor and Park, and how they find one another and fall in love.  Too many stories about big issues are about the big issues, and ignore the human factor, that people can have problems, lots of problems, and still want to fall in love.  Still want to have friends and find their tribe, the people for whom it doesn’t matter if they’re weird or overweight or have things going on at home.

Don’t try to deny kids the right to read this book.  Don’t try to screen kids from reality.  It doesn’t work.  Because they’re either going through some of these issues, or they know someone else who is.  Reading fiction like this can help make us all into more sensitive, caring human beings.  Reading fiction like this can help teens be more prepared for navigating difficult issues.  If nothing else, books like this means that it’s okay to talk about these things.  It gives teens a language to talk about it, a voice to represent them, and a venue to discuss it, even if they don’t say that it’s about them.

I sympathized with both Eleanor and Park.  I laughed out loud sometimes.  And I cried at other parts.  The ending was lovely and perfect.

Life is messy.  This book helps to make sense of some of that.

Thanks for your time.

If you read this book, what do you think?  If you have an opinion, here’s a link to Rainbow Rowell’s website where she explains what you can do to help fight censorship of this book.71lklmxqgjl

Banned Books Week

From the Phoenix Art Museum Photo Credit: Doree Weller

From the Phoenix Art Museum
Photo Credit: Doree Weller

This week, September 21-27, was Banned Books Week.

I love the idea that people attempt to ban books.  Why?  Because people wanting to ban a book means that it was provocative, that it touched a nerve.  I’m all for entertainment, and some of my favorite books are just entertaining, with no other “value.”  I don’t think that art needs to have value other than entertainment, but I like it when art provokes and inspires.  Art at its best should have an effect on the reader or viewer or listener.  It should touch some chord within, even if it’s not in a positive way.

Art is a reflection of life, sometimes a truer reflection of life than an actual reflection.  One of my favorite quotes is:

“Artists use lies to tell the truth. Yes, I created a lie. But because you believed it, you found something true about yourself.”
― Alan Moore, V for Vendetta

Life isn’t always pretty.  It’s not always neat.  Sometimes it’s ugly and difficult.  Sometimes it disgusts.  Which is why art should be provocative.

Don’t get me wrong; I have been personally offended by art.  I sympathize with people who want certain books banned.  But there’s only one type of censorship I favor: the ability to choose.  That’s right, if something personally offends me, I can choose not to view it or read it or listen to it.  I think parents should always have the right to choose what their children are exposed to, but that doesn’t mean that a certain group of parents should be able to choose for all.

Personally, when I see a list of banned books, I want to read all the ones on the list.  I’m not easily offended, and I always find it interesting to see what offends others.  I’ve read The Hunger Games and Fifty Shades of Gray, but those are the only ones on the list.

Here’s a list of the Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2013.