Mark Twain, John Steinbeck and Harper Lee might be three of America’s most beloved authors, but they have all made it on to a list of the country’s 100 most frequently banned and challenged books of the last decade.
Marking the start of Banned Books Week, the American Libraries Association (ALA) has reviewed all of the censorship reports it has received over the last 10 years to come up with the 100 books that readers and parents have most frequently tried to have removed from libraries and schools in the US.
The list is topped by Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which won the Native American author the National Book Award in 2007. About a boy who leaves his school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all-white high school, Alexie’s young adult novel has been attacked for reasons including “sexual references, profanity, violence, gambling, and underage drinking, and for its religious viewpoint”.
EL James’s Fifty Shades of Grey series, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series and Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell’s picture book about two male penguins raising a chick together, And Tango Makes Three, also make the top 10.
Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is in 15th place, Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men 28th, and Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn 33rd. Lee’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel was challenged over the violence it contains and its use of the N-word; Of Mice and Men drew protests over “offensive language, racism [and] violence”, and Twain’s story has long been criticised over its use of racial slurs.
Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is in 31st place. The acclaimed graphic memoir about the author’s coming out has recently been removed from a Nevada high school’s reading list, with free-speech organisations currently calling for it to be reinstated.
The ALA said that the list included books challenged for reasons such as LGBTQ+ content, sexual references, religious viewpoints, content that addresses racism and police brutality, and profanity.
“Although the reasons differ, the censorship of literature in libraries shares a common result: the violation of our first amendment rights,” said the organisation, whose Office for Intellectual Freedom has been documenting attempts to ban books in libraries and schools for the last 30 years. The OIF estimates that about 82-97% of challenges remain unreported, meaning the list only provides a “snapshot” of book challenges.
Banned Books Week was launched in the US in 1982, with libraries and bookshops holding a series of events celebrating the right to read – mostly virtually this year – over the next seven days. Events are also being held in the UK, from a British Library discussion featuring authors including Elif Shafak and Jacqueline Woodson taking on “what ‘freedom’ means in the culture of traditional publishing, and how writers today can change the future of literature”, to a Royal Society of Literature look at whose voices are still being censored today.
The ALA’s top 20 most-challenged books of the decade
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Looking for Alaska by John Green
George by Alex Gino
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James
Internet Girls (series) by Lauren Myracle
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I Am Jazz by Jazz Jennings and Jessica Herthel
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Bone (series) by Jeff Smith
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss
Sex Is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg