Difficult books are not the same thing as “bad” books. There are books that explore the boundaries of taste and moral terpitude, but those qualities are subject to the culture in which they are being judged. There are children’s books that deal with “adult” issues, but how else do we educate our children about the world they are part of if not through discussions about those issues?
These are the ideas behind the celebration of Banned Books week.
The American Library Association has an Office for Intellectual Freedom. One of their tasks is to track the reports of book challenges and banning, and to compile an annual report. Here’s the report for 2016. From their site, “This year’s list explores a range of genres (young adult, fiction, memoir) and formats (novels, graphic novels, picture books), but they have one thing in common: each book was threatened with removal from spaces where diverse ideas and perspectives should be welcomed.”
The world is rife with discomfort, and so to is the literature and art which we create to share and process that difficulty that we all go through in our own way. When someone who is not familiar with the subject matter of a book takes personal offense and goes out of their way to ensure that no one can access those materials, the creative process is halted.
Lists of frequently challenged and banned books throughout history include many, many books that are now considered to be classics, and are ironically included in many “must read” lists. They are taught in classrooms, and now considered ubiquitous on any well-appointed bookshelf. Even Shakespeare’s First Folio had a few plays in it that were banned at the time of its printing! Here’s another example: this rather tongue-in-cheek bow to banned books: a 1953, first edition copy of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury bound in an asbestos cover listed by Whitmore Rare Books.
We’ve compiled a gallery of other oft-challenged books. You might be surprised at some of the titles included.