Banned Books Week champions challenged literature

Updated 4:03 PM EDT, Tue September 29, 2015

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A library group says books featuring diverse characters are increasingly targeted for bans

Three of the 10 most-challenged books are graphic novels

Editor’s Note: This article has been modified since its original publication in April.

(CNN) —  

Upwards of 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982 for content that some consider to be offensive, according to the American Library Association.

During Banned Books Week, celebrated this year from September 27 to October 3, book lovers unite to fight what they call censorship of literature by promoting books that have landed on the challenged list.

Publishers, bookstores and libraries are hosting events countrywide such as panel discussions, symposiums and “read outs,” or live readings, to draw attention to these books and “celebrate the freedom to read.”

“Of course, not every book is right for each reader, but everyone should have an opportunity to choose for themselves,” said ALA President Sari Feldman. “Librarians, booklovers and First Amendment supporters understand the importance of our freedom to read, and continue to work diligently to protect it and inform the public of its value.”

The list of last year’s most challenged books was released in April. Books featuring Native Americans, on-the-run alien lovers, gay penguins and middle school theater geeks topped the ALA’s 2014 list.

The list, released as part of the association’s “State of America’s Libraries” report, finds that a disproportionate share of the books feature non-white, gay or otherwise diverse characters.

The organization cited analysis by author Malinda Lo showing that 52% of books challenged in the past decade could be classified as “diverse.”

“It’s clear to me that books that fall outside the white, straight, abled mainstream are challenged more often than books that do not destabilize the status quo,” Lo wrote on her website. “This isn’t surprising, but the extent to which diverse books are represented on these lists – as a majority – is quite disheartening.”

In all, the association said, it received notice of 311 formal written complaints in 2014 questioning the availability of books for myriad reasons: sex, drug use, homosexual themes, politics and offensive language, mostly.

The list is topped by “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie, which tells the story of a Native American youth born with disabilities attending a predominantly white high school.

The American Library Association said the book, which has appeared on the list for four years running, is frequently challenged as being anti-family, culturally insensitive and sexually explicit, among other things.

Alexie tweeted that he is the “proud author of the most banned/challenged book of 2014!”

A sex-education book that includes cartoon depictions of naked bodies and sexual acts, “It’s Perfectly Normal,” also makes a repeat appearance on the list, as does “And Tango Makes Three,” an illustrated book about two gay penguins raising a baby.

The serial “Saga” was one of three graphic novels included in the 2014 list, the others being “Persepolis” and “Drama.”

“Persepolis” is an autobiographical tale of life in Iran during the Islamic revolution. “Drama” depicts middle school from the vantage point of the student leader of the school theater’s tech crew.

“Saga” was frequently described as being “anti-family,” the American Library Association reported, a stance that amused some fans. The book “depicts two lovers from long-warring extraterrestrial races … fleeing authorities from both sides of a galactic war as they struggle to care for their newborn daughter,” according to its publisher, Image Comics.

Charles Brownstein, executive director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, told the Washington Post that the presence of three graphic novels on the list shows that “comics are clearly a vital aspect of the current culture,” shining a spotlight all the things dividing us.

“The books on this list address issues of race, sexuality, sexual preference, religion, substance abuse and many other concerns related to contemporary life,” he told the Post. “That’s the job we charge our authors with: using art to provide a safe place for audiences to engage with topics of substance in a way that allows them to make their own conclusions.”

“Unfortunately, many (people) would prefer to remove those discussions altogether rather than trust that each individual is capable of making the best decisions possible for themselves or their children,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.

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