Banned Books

Guide to Banned Books in America – Online Sociology Degree Resources

Here is some information on banned book in America, which goes back a long ways.  This will help you understand some of the controversial topics that came up when deciding on whether or not to ban a certain book.  Take a look at our valuable resources as your continue your sociology research and studies.

Banning books has been in the Americas before there was an America. 1650 is historically known as the first time a book was banned on this continent. A book, or a pamphlet really, of religious opinions by William Pynchon was banned, burned actually, but the effect was the same. Burning the book prevented people from reading it. Anthony Comstock is probably the father of modern book-banning habits and thinking in the United States; he instigated a law preventing the mailing of “lewd, indecent, filthy or obscene” material. The Comstock Law, as the law is commonly known, was written in 1873 and in 30 years 120 tons of material was confiscated in 30 years and 3,500 people were prosecuted, though only about 350 were convicted. Some of the “lewd, indecent, filthy or obscene” materials that were seized included works by Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Victor Hugo, and John Steinbeck. It was famous writers that would help repeal the Comstock Law.

Legal cases were brought up in the 1920s as part of enforcing the Comstock Law. The works of writers now thought to be classic American authors began to split the law into what was acceptable and what was not. As more people disagreed on what was obscene or not, the law began to be less applicable. Ironically, the Nazi propaganda, influence, and eventual war in Europe helped to kill the law. As people in America saw Nazi book burnings in newsreels, they became adamant about not burning or even banning books in America. But there is still a Victorian kind of thinking in America’s view of books.

Paul Boyer, in his book Purity in Print: Book Censorship in America from the Gilded Age to the Computer Age, claims that in the late 1800s and early 1900s book publishers followed a very conservative publishing rule. They did not publish anything that could be seen as vulgar, sexually arousing, or emotionally disturbing. Books now are banned based on these tenets. Usually books are removed from public libraries or school libraries as a result of sex, violence, or disturbing imagery that might influence children. The people who remove these books are anyone from librarians to parents. Most books are banned as a result of a panel or board of members from a school district or employees of the school. They hear discussion on the removal of the book and vote on whether it should be removed or not. Some instances are just complaints by parents and the school librarian or principle will just remove the book from the shelf. Other covert banning also happens, usually when a parent or concerned citizen simply removes the book from the library for any of the reasons or new concerns.

Although sex, violence, and social disturbance (disrespect of authority, such as police officers) are common, other relatively new concerns are quite varied. Discussing or advocating homosexuality is a common problem, now. More open discussions of sex, having pre-marital sex, or underage sex are taking the place of mere admissions that people have sex. Concern over language is not as old, but new phrases beyond common swear words are cropping up, usually in the form of insults to various ethnicities and races. And as different religions become common in society religious viewpoints appear in books and are questioned and asked to be removed; it is possible that the advocacy of witchcraft in the Harry Potter books fell into this category. Interestingly, as recently as 2009 nudity in a book was a concern and reason to ban a book; it is possible that the complaint was relating to sexual descriptions but the word “nudity” appears in the American Library Association’s description of the stated reasons for wanting to ban several books. Racism is also a common concern; some of these reasons may overlap and perhaps offensive language was referring to racist language, but maybe not. Finally, the most common concern was a book is unsuited to an age group; besides being the most used concern it is also the least descriptive, as there is no explanation if being unsuited-to-an-age-group is the accumulation of the other concerns (no book is asked to be banned based solely on being unsuitable for an age group) or if this concern is another problem isolated from the others.

It could be said that there is no banning of books in America. Technically, that might be true, as no federal group prevents the book from being seen by everyone. A person, usually a parent of a child “challenges” a book, which is making a complaint to a school board, librarian, or other official somehow in charge of the library. Some other group, board, or head librarian makes a decision and if it is decided to remove the book, the book just does not appear in the library’s records. But by definition, removing a book from access, even from an impressionable youth, is banning it. Preventing any one person from reading a book is limiting their rights of free speech. This was the point of the Pico decision in 1975 when books like The Fixer, by Bernard Malamud; Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.; The Naked Ape, by Desmond Morris were banned by school board members in Long Island, New York. Steven Pico and other claimants said their rights and the students right were being ignored by restricting their access to these and other books. The case went to district court, court of appeals, and finally to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Pico’s view was upheld. Justice William Brennan in writing for the majority of the 5-4 decision wrote that in being free to express an idea there was an implied right to receive that idea. And so, there are hundreds of challenged books some of which are removed from library shelves around the U.S. every year. But there is also a Banned Book Week, every year, held in the last week of September, to call attention to books that people have tried to ban, are banned, or were banned at one time, and to focus on the importance of America’s freedom of speech and to listen and read.

Most-Banned Books of 2005-2009

1.  ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle

2.  And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson

3.  The Perks of Being A Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

4.  To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

5.  Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer

6.  Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

7.  My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult

8.  The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler

9.  The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

10.  The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier

11.  His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman

12.  Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz

13.  Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya

14.  Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar

15.  Uncle Bobby’s Wedding, by Sarah S. Brannen

16.  The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

17.  Flashcards of My Life, by Charise Mericle Harper

18.  Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes

19.  The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman

20.  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

21.  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou

22.  It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris

23.  Alice (series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

24.  The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison

25.  Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz

26.  Athletic Shorts, by Chris Crutcher

27.  Beloved, by Toni Morrison

28.  It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health, by Robie H. Harris

29.  Forever, by Judy Blume

30.  Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher

31.  Detour for Emmy, by Marilyn Reynolds

32.  What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones

33.  Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey

34.  Crazy Lady!, by Jane Leslie Conly

35.  It’s So Amazing! A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families, by Robie H. Harris

Resources on Banned Books