September 16, 2016
Banned on the run
by Nora Grubb
I can clearly recall the day my local librarian handed me Judy Blume’s Forever…, a twinkle in her eye. Published in 1975, the novel charts a high school girl’s coming of age—or, more accurately, her sexual awakening—and was, according to the American Library Association, among the books most frequently targeted to be banned in the 1990s. For me, a gangly and curly-haired thirteen-year-old, it was an incitement to consider the pleasure of skin-on-skin contact and the power of banned books. Not every reader shares my enthusiasm, however: it has continued to be challenged and banned well into the twenty-first century.
Forever…, of course, is far from the only case. As Kevin Harden writes in the Portland Tribune, Chuck Palahniuk’s 2015 short story collection Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread came under fire last February when a concerned citizen in Portland, Oregon, the author’s longtime home, came across the book on the local library’s “Lucky Day” shelf and grew concerned about “Red Sultan’s Big Boy,” a story involving bestiality. The complainant—who has remained anonymous—urged that the book be given an X rating, which would see it removed from the “Lucky Day” shelf, and available only in sections of the library inaccessible to children.
Library staff defended the book’s positioning, with director Vailey Oehlke explaining in a letter that reducing the book’s visibility would be “at odds with the library’s commitment” to intellectual freedom.
The incident is one of several enumerated in an annual report released this summer by the Oregon Intellectual Freedom Clearinghouse. Ire was also directed at Mark Millar’s Chrononaut, which a complaint said “unfairly celebrates black men, and celebrates a left-wing agenda,” and Little Bill by Bill Cosby, who has been cast in, let us say, an unsavory light by recent revelations. An insert in the Portland Mercury titled “Oregon Cannabis Guide” was also met with criticism because, well, drugs.
On a national level, John Green’s Looking for Alaska and E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey crowned the ALA’s “Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2015” list, which also featured Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing, and a little something called The Holy Bible.
I, for one, plan on checking out a couple of these later this month during Banned Books Week, which begins September 25.
Nora Grubb is an intern at Melville House.