Justice for Literature: Book Bans Increase in the United States of America

Kathryn Vlaanderen, News Editor

The American Library Association held their annual celebration of Banned Books Week on Facebook during the week of Sept. 18-24, bringing awareness to the list of banned books that continues to grow every year.  

The week is supposed to advocate for the freedom of reading and open access to information.  Unfortunately, the number of books taken out of schools this year has reached an all-time high, with numbers that seem only to increase with each passing day.  

Most of the newly banned titles are authored by or include topics such as the LGBTQ and Black communities or feature content such as the Civil Rights Movement or the Holocaust.   

According to an article published on Sept. 16 by the Associated Press (AP) titled “Book ban efforts surging in 2022 library associated says,” the American Library Association (ALA) has recorded a record-breaking 681 challenges towards 1,651 different book titles. There are also many well-known “classics” on the banned list.   

For example, I read “The Outsiders” by SE Hinton as part of our required silent reading list when I was in the ninth grade at a Catholic private high school. “The Outsiders” is a book that was first banned in 1986 when a Wisconsin school district took it off their shelves because its pages contained “drugs and alcohol” and featured characters from “broken families.” The book was then challenged in my home state of Iowa by the Boone School District due to its content of smoking, drinking, etc. and other perceived obscenities in 1992.  

The most recent challenge to Hinton’s book was in West Virginia in 2000 for its focus on gangs. As a ninth grader with a pretty sheltered upbringing, I can’t say that reading the book made me want to join a gang or start smoking cigarettes. Students and young adults today are a lot smarter than what adults give them credit for. They don’t need protection from controversial topics that may make them feel uncomfortable.  

Literature, especially American literature, is a key part of our culture. Reading is a way to gain information and knowledge about a bigger and more diverse world that may differ significantly from our own neighborhoods and cultures. Iconic books such as “The Hunger Games,” “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter” have all been challenged by these groups.  

Many of the literary classics and beloved childhood books that were once required readings may now end up on the burn pile to be forever forgotten or forbidden.  

According to the American Library Association’s Top 10 Most Challenged Books, these titles include F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Great Gatsby,” John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” and J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher and the Rye.” If we deprive readers of these well-known classics, then we are censoring a part of our American culture, history and identity. 

According to a PBS article published on Sept. 6, titled “Ruby Bridges Civil Rights Icon, writes children’s book,” it was revealed that Civil Rights icon, Ruby Bridges’ book, “Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story” and other stories about the Civil Rights icon had to be taken off the shelves of a school district in Tennessee because of complaints by conservative viewpoints on race-related teachings.  

One of the most beautiful things about literature is the fact that it inspires and provokes different reactions from people from all walks of life. The art of creating, reading and sharing different ideas is a fundamental part of our American culture.  Books offer us safety within the confines of their pages to express our identity without the weight of the world on our shoulders.