September 28, 2020
Ten years of covering Banned Books Week, a fresh and exciting blog retrospective
by Athena Bryan
Every year, as the leaves turn goldenrod and the kiddos go back to school, the American Library Association rolls out a list of the books most challenged by libraries and schools in honor of Banned Books Week. This year, while the weather remains pitched at a torporous tropical heat and the concept of “going to school” is fraught with confusion, delays, and dread, the ALA changed things up and put together a list of the top 10 most challenged books of the decade. Incidentally, we’ve also been covering this list for about a decade. You can see some of that coverage here, here, here, here, here, and here.
I know what you’re thinking: MobyLives, how on earth are you going to come up with a new and creative way of covering banned books?
The short answer is that we are absolutely not going to do anything of the sort, but you know what? Neither is the ALA, to be totally fair. They just crunched the numbers and did all those lists they’ve been doing for years all over again in one big list.
So, taking a page from their book, I’m just going to do a round-up of all the best coverage we’ve done on banned books in the past.
- In 2014, someone discovered that a school district in Texas (where else) took the term “Banned Books Week” to mean the week when you ban all the books you’ve been meaning to unshelve.
- You probably won’t remember this all, but shortly before his fall-from-grace in predicting the 2016 presidential election outcome, human algorithm Nate Silver got his dander up at the ALA because they wouldn’t share the data behind their much publicized yearly lists. (I wonder if he is hounding them for the data in the year of our lord 2020. I’m thinking probably not, due to the apocalypse deal or failed state thing or whatever we’re calling it.)
- We rounded up the cited reasons for challenging or banning books a couple times. Everyone’s always looking for that absurd gem, but sometimes you just have to sit back and chuckle with 2020 hindsight (PUN ABSOLUTELY INTENDED) about the phrase “homosexual agenda.” I guess it feels nice to realize a once-ubiquitous bigoted phrase sound suddenly tinny and quaint, part of another era.
- One time we interviewed author Amy Sonnie, who succinctly summarized the phenomenon of the banned books list with this: “People either love or hate vampires and gays, especially those wayfaring penguins.”
- In 2010, we actually got our hands on a list that was curated to be some of the most absurd objections to books. The Diary of Anne Frank was challenged for being “a real downer”, and somebody apparently heard somewhere that One Thousand and One Nights “caused a wave of rapes.” They also didn’t like that Little Red Riding Hood was carrying a bottle of wine. Ha, ha, HA. Ahhh, it’s good to laugh again. It’s good to laugh…
So with that, I hope you’ve had a side-splitting time thinking about banned books! This concludes Banned Books Week! See you in another ten years!
Athena Bryan is an editor at Melville House.