“Diversity” may be a buzzword in enlightened literary circles (so much so that certain writers feel oppressed by the very idea) but diverse books — especially those with LGBT, with emphasis on the T, content — are among the most frequently challenged books, according to the American Library Association.
Today marks the start of Banned Books Week, a celebration of the First Amendment spearheaded by the ALA but enthusiastically supported by the greater literary community and the publishing world — which wants all books to circulate for the health of the industry.
The ALA’s list of challenged books varies somewhat from year to year, often including classics like Salinger and Toni Morrison. But as LGBT and racial awareness increases in the media, there’s a clear backlash. Two of the ten books on the most-challenged list are trans-related, including TV personality Jazz Jennings’ I Am Jazz. Who is doing most of the challenging? Unfortunately, it’s parents.
“Because the definition of diversity stems from what is considered to be outside the norm it has frightened parents who want to protect their children from overexposure,” writes Olusina Adebayo of the American Publishers Association. “Ideally, parents would want their children to be inquisitive and become independent thinkers. The banning and censorship of books stifles constructive dialogue and promotes division over understanding.”
As a new parent, I understand parental protectiveness and sensitivity — but mine, while very real, is the opposite kind.
I want to protect my kid from the kind of conformist, censorious instincts that lead to books being challenged — because that is the same instinct that creates bullying and alienation. I do not want to protect him from the content of the books themselves, which I hope would help him understand himself and others (the famed mirrors and windows idea).
The particular prudish streak in our country is fortunately offset by a flourishing literature of difference, and a robust discussion of how to use art to aid empathy and understanding.
Here is the top ten challenged books of 2015:
- Looking for Alaska, by John Green Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
- Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”).
- I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings Reasons: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.
- Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin Reasons: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“profanity and atheism”).
- The Holy Bible Reasons: Religious viewpoint.
- Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel Reasons: Violence and other (“graphic images”).
- Habibi, by Craig Thompson Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
- Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence.
- Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan Reasons: Homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection”).