Banned Books Week is September 18-24, 2022. This is an opportunity for Americans to reflect on the dangers of censorship and support efforts to bolster free speech and expression. It’s also an event librarians take very seriously. With a recent rise in attempted and realized book bans, librarians have stepped into the frontlines of a bitter culture war. A recent New York Times article details some of the struggles librarians have faced in recent days. By rebuking efforts to remove certain books from library shelves, especially those by and about LGBTQIA+ people and people of color, they have been harassed, bullied, reported to the police as criminals, and called out by local politicians. Some have lost their jobs, while others have resigned out of fear for their personal safety. Challenging book banning has always been a cornerstone of librarianship, and the fight continues. The American Library Association, which tracks banned and challenged books, reported 1,597 titles were challenged in 2021 — the highest number since the ALA started tracking bans in 2001.
The Muse Law Library and its librarians actively support the efforts of the ALA and libraries across the country in fighting censorship and book banning. We will have an interactive display set up in the library lobby though the week where students can learn more about book bans, with the ability to access these books digitally through our library.
We encourage the reading of banned books. As author Stephen Chbosky writes, “Banning books gives us silence when we need speech. It closes our ears when we need to listen. It makes us blind when we need to see.” Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower has been the victim of a number of bans since its 1999 publication.
In an effort to narrow down your banned book reading list, the library has enlisted our faculty to provide suggestions for their favorite banned books. Read them. Enjoy them. Fight for them.
Tara Casey, Professor of Law
I had not seen before a children’s book that addressed trans identity and wanted to share it with my children, who were both 7 and 5 years old when it was released. The authors describe Ms. Jennings’s experience of realizing when she was a toddler that she has “a girl brain but a boy body”. With story-telling and illustrations that children could appreciate and understand, the book shares how the understanding, love, and support from family, friends, and the community that surrounds them can be transformational for the life of a trans child. This book was ranked by the American Library Association one of the Top Ten most challenged books in 2019 for its LGBTQIA+ content, for having a transgender character, and for confronting a topic that is “sensitive, controversial, and politically charged”.
Jim Gibson, Professor of Law
One of the greatest novels of the twentieth century, Catch-22 tells the story of an American bomber squadron based in Italy during WW2. Along with books by Kurt Vonnegut and Thomas Pynchon, it helped usher in a postmodern, postwar genre of literature that played with reality and narrative in strikingly new ways. But unlike a lot of other Great Works of Literature, Catch-22 is eminently readable and consistently hilarious — not to mention irreverent, horrifying, uplifting, depressing, and ultimately hopeful.
Christopher Corts, Professor of Law
The Holy Bible is my favorite banned book. We don’t read it; it reads us. Murder, adultery, incest, violence, pedophilia, war, treachery, family drama, climate change, poetry, love letters, ethno-nationalism, ethno-centrism, anti-semitism, tribalism, homophobia, misogyny, rape, pedophilia, patriarchy, empire, liberation, human sacrifice—there is something to repulse, confuse, and offend everyone. Does anyone really know who wrote it? Year after year, it is a bestseller—and a staple on banned book lists. For centuries, it has sown dissension, inspired fanatical devotion, sparked maniacal opposition. Long may it be a scandal to us all!
Kristen Osenga, Professor of Law
Banned because -gasp- it discusses puberty and menstruation. Growing up before the Internet, this book was a primary source of information on all the things that no one talked about.
Alex Clay Hutchings, Student Services Librarian
Lolita is one of the most controversial, yet beautiful, books ever written. It’s the story of an older man’s love (passion? lust? obsession?) for a young girl. Lolita is the most touching, witty, seductive, challenging, and heartbreaking novel I’ve read. Despite being an international best-seller and propelling Nabokov to a Nobel Prize in Literature, the book’s controversial themes caused it to be banned in France from 1956-1959, and challenged as recently as 2006 in Florida.
Alex Sklut, Associate Dean of Students
The Hate U Give is a YA novel featuring Starr, a Black teen girl who splits her time between the poor neighborhood she lives in and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend at the hands of police, and his death makes national headlines. What Starr says – or doesn’t say – about the shooting could upend her community, or even endanger her life. On top of the book’s important topical message, its strength lies in it’s authenticity, nuanced characters, beautiful narrative storytelling, and spotlight on the amazing power of the teen girl.
The Hate U Give has been banned in various school districts in Texas and Pennsylvania since its publication, and continues to be banned in some school districts today. In addition to complaints about violence and profanity, those seeking to ban the book argue that it promotes an anti-police message and the indoctrination of a social agenda.
Kathy Greenier, Director of Career Development for Emerging Careers
My Dad is the kind of guy who keeps stacks on stacks of books, newspapers, and magazines precariously piled high around his endearingly jumbled apartment. He’s an artist and musician, and it’s not an exaggeration to say his entire apartment is his art and music studio. Growing up, I loved weekend visits with him, our time spent filled by museums, concerts, book stores, and permission to rummage through his art supplies and bookshelves. I relished being allowed and included in a grown up’s world of art and culture. Visit after visit I’d ask my Dad to read me his copy of Maus, a graphic novel by cartoonist Art Spiegelman. Maus tells the story of the author, Spiegelman, interviewing his own father about his experiences as a Holocaust survivor. I’d learned about the Holocaust from my parents and in my Hebrew School classes, but the novel’s depictions of mice as Jewish people and cats as Nazis captivated my little kid imagination and pulled me in to what is, yes, a dark story, but a story that’s critical to ensuring the the Holocaust is never forgotten. It’s no surprise then that schools frequently teach the Pulitzer-prize winning graphic novel, but in January of this year a Tennessee school district voted to ban Maus from their curriculum.
Roger Skalbeck, Library Director
The Paris Bookseller is a story of an American in Paris who fights for free expression to get the book Ulysses by James Joyce published in 1922. No American or British publishers would support the book, and a United States trial court held that it violated the Comstock Act, finding it obscene. Sylvia Beach prevails, and The Paris Bookseller provides a compelling reflection on topics of identity, expression and governmental censorship.