There are so many reasons why books are banned.
The most common reasons, overwhelmingly, are violence, offensive language, being sexually explicit, and containing LGBTQ+ content. There’s also a number of books banned for their religious or political viewpoints (including, hilariously, the Bible and the Quran, presumably by members of the opposing religion). While banning books in general is a ridiculous concept, the first three reasons for doing so at least make some kind of sense. People have been offended by all kinds of media for being too violent, too full of swear words, and too sexually explicit forever. It’s why movie ratings like PG-13 and R exist. But those movie ratings are simply warnings–suggestions–and no one is really stopping people from watching movies (even kids can watch higher-rated movies if their parents say it’s okay). Books don’t come with warning labels, so they tend to get banned instead.
But I’ve found in researching this blog that that’s pretty much where the “logical” reasons for banning books stops.
And so, I present you with the Most Ridiculous Reasons Books Have Been Banned!
Let’s start with LGBTQ+ content. Or go a step further and say Containing LGBTQ+ Characters.
This is by far one of the most common reasons books are banned. And while it’s no surprise that the very existence of queer people in media is offensive to some, as it is in real life, there’s something really sad about the fact that their mere presence is up there with violence as contender for the top reason why books get banned. Representation matters–a concept that has been proven over and over again. Banning books with queer characters tells every queer adolescent that they should be banned, too, which is so, so damaging. And is why the mere existence of queer characters tops our list for most ridiculous reason books have been banned.
Unsuited to Age Group is another very, very common reason. The solution? Let the kids read it when they’re older. Don’t ban it and forbid them to read it–that just makes it more appealing. Forbidden fruit and all that. But kids are more resilient than people think they are. They can probably handle most of the books on the list that claim they are “unsuitable.”
Promotes Sex Education. All right. I get it. There are a lot of places in this country that teach abstinence. I went to a high school where the backbone of sex ed was abstinence, followed by disgusting images of what STIs can do to a person. But that’s…not the only kind of sex ed. And if kids aren’t going to learn it in school, they need to be shown how to be safe by their parents…or by their books.
Supernatural Themes. To be quite honest, I’m not 100% positive what’s included under this heading. Harry Potter is on there, of course, and so is Lord of the Rings. Which sort of implies this means “fantasy violence” or even “inclusion of magic and elves.” But the Goosebumps series is also there, so maybe it means ghosts and creepy, Halloween-esque elements. Regardless, this broad tarring of the entire sci-fi/fantasy/horror supergenre seems a little…overzealous?
And now we get into my personal favorite individual reasons why three very specific books were banned.
The Diary of Anne Frank, for being–I kid you not–too depressing. Yes, the Holocaust is incredibly depressing. But it’s vitally important to learn about, read about, and know it happened so that it doesn’t happen again.
The Lord of the Flies, for “implying that man is nothing more than an animal.” Not only a scientifically accurate statement, but every English literature teacher is penciling in your A+ grade: congratulations, you’ve understood the basic theme and whole point of the book.
And by far, the best and most absurd reason a book has been banned ever:
Fifty Shades of Grey–not for being sexually explicit (though it was banned for being “semi-pornographic”), not for being unsuited to the age group, not for violence, no. No, Fifty Shades was banned for being poorly written.
Which sets kind of an ugly precedent, don’t you think?
You can find out more about Banned Book Week here.