Hey, beach lovers! The sun is out, the waves are calling, and it’s time to pack your beach bag with some of the year's most frequently banned books!
Feeling naughty? Good!
Seven of the "top ten list of frequently challenged books" in 2014 released by the American Library Association include "sex" as the reason a book is banned. The list, based on reports of people trying to ban books from libraries and schools, is a perfect guide for a summer reading list.
The heartwarming true story of two penguins who create a nontraditional family…At the penguin house at the Central Park Zoo, two penguins named Roy and Silo were a little bit different from the others. But their desire for a family was the same. And with the help of a kindly zookeeper, Roy and Silo got the chance to welcome a baby penguin of their very own.
Full disclosure: I've always had a penchant for banned books. It started when my father designated one shelf in our house the "dirty book shelf" and warned us children to "stay away" from those books. Of course, we immediately sneaked the books—only to realize later that Dad had stocked the shelf with classics. Stealthily, I'd start reading in anticipation of finding the racy bits, only to become absorbed in The Three Musketeers, Don Quixote and Anna Karenina.
No doubt, my father's ruse is the reason that I'm on the lookout for banned books to add to my beach bag. While not all are classics, they often make for a good read.
In the mood for a little escapism? Be sure to pack the sci-fi graphic novel, Saga, written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples. According to Wikipedia, the novel "depicts a husband and wife from long-warring extraterrestrial races…fleeing authorities from both sides of a galactic war as they struggle to care for their daughter, Hazel." The website further describes the book as "Star Wars meets Game of Thrones," and compares it to both Lord of the Rings and Romeo & Juliet.
While I doubt that Saga ranks alongside Shakespeare, I'm still intrigued by the objections it raised, including that it contains "nudity, offensive language, [and is] sexually explicit." That's good enough for me! Into the beach bag!
Want to know what's trending? Check out books by and about people of color—which are challenged and banned more than any other genre. This includes Toni Morrison's novel, The Bluest Eye, which frequently is challenged by people who object that the book contains "controversial issues." Also on the list of frequently banned books is The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. It's the story of an Afghan boy and his father, set against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. According to the library association, the most common objection is that the book contains "offensive language" and "violence."
Whoa! Who'd imagine a book about a war-torn nation might portray violence? Moreover, given the amount of offensive language and violence on television—generally without a redeeming story line—you have to wonder what kind of nitwits think The Kite Runner should be banned. Presumably, folks who don't read. This book goes into my beach bag.
In the mood for a graphic novel? Be sure to pack Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, about her childhood and youth in Iran, during and after the Iranian Revolution. Ranked by Newsweek magazine on its list of the ten best fiction books of the decade, Persepolis was made into an Academy Award-nominated movie in 2007. Why did people try to ban it? According to the library association, the objections include: "gambling, offensive language, and political viewpoint." But my favorite objection to this graphic novel? It contains "graphic depictions." Um, right.
Maybe you're basking in the glow of victory following the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in favor of equal marriage for gay and lesbian families? If so, you'll want to include books that have been banned for having gay themes.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky, is on the list, ostensibly because it includes: "drugs, alcohol, smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, is sexually explicit" and mentions "masturbation." All good topics for a beach read!
Less enticing is the children's sex education book, It's Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris, which is one of the most banned books of the last two decades. I was so intrigued by the list of objections to the book—that it contains "full-color pictures of naked people," is "dirty" and "sexually explicit"—that I immediately took a sneak-peak. Imagine my disappointment. The illustrations are lovely but…well, they're didactic children's cartoons.
Traditionalists will want to bring some banned classics to the beach. Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five was banned in 1982 as "just plain filthy." Maya Angelou's, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was targeted because it "preaches hatred toward white people." California parents tried to ban Alice Walker's The Color Purple, because it contains "troubling ideas about race relations, man's relationship to God, African history, and human sexuality." Of course, Huckleberry Fin, Catcher in the Rye, and To Kill a Mockingbird also show up on the list of most-famous banned books.
No beach list would be complete without banned books for the kids. My favorite this year is: And Tango Makes Three, a true-life story of two gay penguins, which Amazon describes as:
At first, I figured objections came from animal-rights activists opposed to housing penguins at a zoo. Not so! It turns out, some knuckle-heads want to ban the book as "anti-family," arguing that it "promotes the homosexual agenda." That's ridiculous, of course. Stories don’t make anyone gay—as evidenced by the fact that these true-life penguins were gay and couldn't even read!
Finally, my beach bag includes the children's books, What Makes a Family and King & King, which parents in Lexington, Massachusetts, tried to have removed from the schools in 2008, on the grounds that the books encouraged tolerance toward gay people. Fortunately, the ACLU of Massachusetts intervened to keep the books on the library shelves. But I still keep copies in my book bag as a reminder that, even at the beach, intolerance can strike close to home.
Carol Rose is executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.