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Friday 20 October 2017
Commentary

The best banned books of 2017

Tomorrow is an important day because it marks the beginning of Banned Book Week in the US, which highlights the importance of freedom of speech.

Every year the American Library Association provides a list of banned and challenged books across the US and other places in the world. Many of these challenges involve award-winning books.

Librarians — including me — consider all the books on this list to be important and reputable literature. As librarians, we stand up for these books because we believe that no book should be judged by personal prejudices. Books are often banned or challenged because of language or content that is taken out of context. No book should be judged unfairly.

Here are some of my favourite books that made the latest list of banned or challenged books as reported in the Journal of Intellectual Freedom and Privacy, The Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom, The New York Times and other sources.

1. This Book Is Gay by Juno Dawson: After a complaint by a parent in the city of Wasilla, the Alaska Public Library moved its entire young adult nonfiction section to the adult stacks. Several Wasilla residents attacked the book, deemed an important book for gay teenagers’ issues.

At a city council meeting residents said “they didn’t want ‘gay books’ or books about gay people in the library at all.” For defending this book for gay teens, the library director was branded as a paedophile in the highly controversial public debates.

2. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran: You might remember Tom Hanks starring in the movie based on this book, which was removed from the Mattoon High School, Illinois, curriculum because of “its use of lewd and possibly offensive materials.” The novel’s narrator is a nine-year-old boy, Oskar Schell, who lost his father in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. He is convinced that his dad left a final message for him somewhere in the city.

The book was named to the New York Public Library’s Books to Remember list and to the American Library Association’s Notable Books for Adults in 2006.

3. Looking for Alaska by John Green: This 2006 Michael J Printz Award-winning young adult book was challenged for its “sexual content,” but kept in the New Jersey school that tried to ban it. Green’s novel tells the story of a socially awkward boy, Miles Halter, a misfit, Florida teenager who leaves the safety of home for a boarding school in Alabama.

Green’s novels consistently make all lists of teenagers’ favourite books.

4. The Disappearing Spoon: And Other Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Brown: The author views the periodic table as one of the great achievements of humankind, “an anthropological marvel,” but Brown’s book was challenged at a Florida school because “parts of the book are dark” and the material is “inappropriate for a 12 or 13-year-old.”

Nominated by the Royal Society in the United Kingdom as one of the top science books of 2010 and named an amazon.com “Top 5” science book of the year, this collection of stories highlights the people who discovered the elements. Brown’s book is on my AP (Advanced Placement) Biology book list.

Banned Book Week gives us all an opportunity to think about the price of censorship and the importance of freedom of expression.

I urge everyone to find a book on the American Library Association’s list of banned books and read to celebrate the freedom we have to read important literature.

Next week: More books from the 2017 Banned Book List.

Debbie Jacob writes a weekly column for Newsday

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