The 35 Most Frequently Banned Books of the Past 5 Years

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The Netflix series 13 Reasons Why shocked viewers with its graphic portrayal of sensitive subjects like rape, bullying, and suicide. The book it was based on was equally controversial. Jay Asher’s 2007 young adult novel of the same name was the most challenged or banned book last year, according to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF). Using information from the media as well as challenge reports, each year the OIF compiles a list of the previous year's top 10 most challenged books.

Since most requests to remove books from schools or libraries go unreported, these lists are not definitive; instead, they offer a “snapshot” of book challenges, according to the OIF. In recognition of Banned Books Week, which runs from September 23 through September 29, we’ve compiled a list of the most banned and challenged books of the past five years (2013 to 2017), including the years they were challenged and the reasons why.

1. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Year(s): 2017
Reason: Discussion of suicide

2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Year(s): 2013, 2014, 2017
Reason: Anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, violence, and “depictions of bullying”

3. Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Year(s): 2014, 2016, 2017
Reason: LGBT characters

4. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Year(s): 2014, 2017
Reason: Sexual violence, unsuited to age group; was thought to “promote Islam”

5. George by Alex Gino
Year(s): 2016, 2017
Reason: Transgender child character

6. Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth
Year(s): 2017
Reason: Addresses sex education; was thought to lead children to “want to have sex or ask questions about sex”

7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Year(s): 2017
Reason: Violence and use of the N-word

8. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Year(s): 2017
Reason: Drug use, profanity, offensive language

9. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell, Justin Richardson, and Henry Cole
Year(s): 2014, 2017
Reason:Anti-family, homosexuality, political and religious viewpoints

10. I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel, Jazz Jennings, and Shelagh McNicholas
Year(s): 2015, 2016, 2017
Reason: Addresses gender identity, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group

11. This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
Year(s): 2016
Reason: LGBT characters, drug use, profanity, sexually explicit content

12. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Year(s): 2015, 2016
Reason: LGBT and sexually explicit content

13. Looking for Alaska by John Green
Year(s): 2013, 2015, 2016
Reason: Sexually explicit scene, unsuited to age group; was thought to lead students to “sexual experimentation”

14. Big Hard Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
Year(s): 2016
Reason: Sexually explicit content

15. Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread by Chuck Palahniuk
Year(s): 2016
Reason: Profanity and sexually explicit content; was called “disgusting and all around offensive”

16. Little Bill (series) by Bill Cosby and Varnette P. Honeywood
Year(s): 2016
Reason: Criminal sexual allegations against Bill Cosby

17. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Year(s): 2016
Reason: Offensive language

18. Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James
Year(s): 2013, 2015
Reason: Sexually explicit content, unsuited to age group; was also called “poorly written”

19. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
Year(s): 2015
Reason: Offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political and religious viewpoints, anti-family, unsuited to age group

20. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Year(s): 2015
Reason: Profanity, religious viewpoint (atheism), unsuited to age group

21. The Holy Bible
Year(s): 2015
Reason: Religious viewpoint

22. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Year(s): 2015
Reason: Violence and graphic images

23. Habibi by Craig Thompson
Year(s): 2015
Reason: Nudity, sexually explicit content, unsuited to age group

24. Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter
Year(s): 2015
Reason: Religious viewpoint, violence, unsuited to age group

25. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
Year(s): 2014
Reason: Gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint, graphic depictions; was called “politically, racially, and socially offensive”

26. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Year(s): 2013, 2014
Reason: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group; was said to “contain controversial issues”

27. It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris and Michael Emberley
Year(s): 2014
Reason: Nudity, sex education, sexually explicit

28. Saga by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Year(s): 2014
Reason: Anti-family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

29. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Year(s): 2013, 2014
Reason: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit

30. A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard
Year(s): 2014
Reason: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

31. Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey
Year(s): 2013
Reason: Offensive language, violence, unsuited to age group

32. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Year(s): 2013
Reason: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group

33. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl by Tanya Lee Stone
Year(s): 2013
Reason: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit content

34. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
Year(s): 2013
Reason: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit content, unsuited to age group

35. Bone (series) by Jeff Smith
Year(s): 2013
Reason: Political viewpoint, racism, violence

5 Facts About Shirley Jackson

Photo illustration: Shaunacy Ferro. Images: Penguin Random House
Photo illustration: Shaunacy Ferro. Images: Penguin Random House

Midcentury American writer Shirley Jackson has long been known for her spooky short story "The Lottery," which caused widespread controversy when it came out in The New Yorker in 1948 and continues to appear in short story anthologies today. Her equally haunted novels are less widely read. But now that her 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House has been turned into a hit Netflix series, her work is on its way to a critical and popular revival more than 50 years after her death. (A well-reviewed 2017 biography as well as new releases of some of her short stories and previously unpublished writings in the last few years have no doubt helped.)

If you’re just catching on to Shirley Jackson mania, here are five things to know about the master of gothic horror.

1. Many modern writers cite her as an inspiration.

Shirley Jackson has a number of fans among modern writers. Stephen King has called The Haunting of Hill House one of the two "great novels of the supernatural in the last hundred years,” and he has said he wrote The Shining with Jackson’s The Sundial in mind. Writers like Neil Gaiman and Joyce Carol Oates sing her praises, and Donna Tartt has called her stories “among the most terrifying ever written.” Sylvia Plath was a fan, too, and hoped to interview her during summer internship at Mademoiselle in 1953. It didn’t work out, but Plath would go on to write works with plenty of parallels to Jackson’s.

2. Shirley Jackson was her family's chief breadwinner.

Jackson’s husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman, was a writer, too. A literary critic who taught literature at Bennington College, it was his job that brought the couple to the small Vermont city, where Jackson often chafed at being placed in the role of faculty wife. Yet it was Jackson’s work that supported the family. (Like many wives of her day, she also did all the cooking, cleaning, taking care of their four kids, and driving the family around town—as one of Hyman’s former students wrote of him, “Stanley never did anything practical if he could help it.”)

In addition to the fees she earned selling short stories and novels, Jackson had a lucrative career writing lighthearted essays on motherhood and family life for women’s magazines, which she eventually parlayed two successful memoirs.

3. She claimed to be a witch.

In keeping with the haunted themes in her writing, Jackson studied the history of witchcraft and the occult, and often told people she was a witch—though that may have been in part a publicity tactic. As Ruth Franklin writes in her 2017 Jackson biography Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life:

"During her lifetime, she fascinated critics and readers by playing up her interest in magic: The biographical information on her first novel identifies her as ‘perhaps the only contemporary writer who is a practicing amateur witch, specializing in small-scale black magic and fortune-telling with a tarot deck.’ To interviewers, she expounded on her alleged abilities, even claiming that she used magic to break the leg of publisher Alfred A. Knopf, with whom her husband was involved in a dispute. Reviewers found those stories irresistible, extrapolating freely from her interest in witchcraft to her writing, which often takes a turn into the uncanny. ‘Miss Jackson writes not with a pen but a broomstick’ was an oft-quoted line."

It’s not clear whether she actually performed any magic rituals, but she referenced them often, usually in a tongue-in-cheek way. She often joked with her editors about bringing about victories for her favorite baseball team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, through her magical abilities.

Her interest was definitely real, though. She started studying witchcraft while writing a paper as a student at the University of Rochester, and later took up tarot reading. Her personal library was filled with hundreds of books about witchcraft, and in 1956, she wrote a children’s book, The Witchcraft of Salem Village, about the history of the Salem witch trials.

4. She considered becoming a professional cartoonist.

Jackson wasn’t just good with words. She loved to draw, and even considered becoming a professional cartoonist at one point, according to Franklin. While her favorite subjects were cats, she regularly made minimalist, humorous sketches of herself and the people around her (particularly her husband), keeping a kind of cartoon diary of her life.

“They’re Thurber-esque in style, but they’re kind of edgy, too,” her son, Laurence Jackson Hyman, told The Guardian of the drawings in 2016. “There’s one in which she is trudging up a hill carrying bags of groceries, and my father is sitting in his chair, reading. ‘Dear,’ he says, without bothering to get up. ‘You know you’re not supposed to carry heavy things when you’re pregnant!’” Some of these drawings are held with Jackson’s papers in the Library of Congress, including sketches she made of how she imagined the layout of Hill House. Her unpublished illustrated ABC book for kids, The Child's Garden of New Hampshire, is also held there.

5. She died before finishing her last two books.

Jackson died unexpectedly from heart failure in 1965 at the age of 48. (At the time, newspapers listed her as 45, as she often lied about her age, perhaps to minimize the age difference between her and her husband, who was two years younger than she.)

A significant chunk of her work has been published since her death, though. When she died, she was in the midst of writing a novel, Come Along With Me, which was published in its incomplete format by her husband in 1968. In 1996, Laurence Jackson Hyman found a crate of unpublished stories by his mother, and, with his sister, Sarah Hyman Dewitt, turned them into a collection called Just an Ordinary Day. In 2015, they edited and released Let Me Tell You, a collection of stories, essays and lectures from her archive that were mostly unfinished or unpublished at the time of her death.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Almost Had a Different Title

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a favorite for fans of both the Harry Potter book series and its film franchise. In addition to offering readers a more mature outing for Harry and the gang, the stakes are far more dangerous—and the characters’ hormones are all over the place.

The name Goblet of Fire is a pretty literal title, as that’s how Harry is forced into the Triwizard Tournament. In addition to being accurate, the title has a nice ring to it, but it was previously revealed that JK Rowling had some other names in the running.

In JK Rowling: A Bibliography 1997-2013, author Philip W. Errington reveals tons of unknown details about the Harry Potter series, so much so that Rowling herself described it as "slavishly thorough and somewhat mind-boggling." In it, Errington revealed that Goblet of Fire had at least three alternate titles: Harry Potter and the Death Eaters, Harry Potter and the Fire Goblet, and Harry Potter and the Three Champions were all working titles before the final decision was made.

While Death Eaters sounds far too depressing and scary to market as a children’s book, Fire Goblet just doesn’t have the elegance of Goblet of Fire. As for Three Champions? It's as boring as it is vague. So kudos to Rowling and her editor for definitely making the correct choice here.

It's not the only time a Harry Potter title led to a larger discussion—and some confusion. In 1998, readers around the world were introduced to Harry through the first book in the series: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. But elsewhere around the world, it was known as Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

As Errington explains in his book, the book's publisher wanted “a title that said ‘magic’ more overtly to American readers." They were concerned that Philosopher's Stone would feel "arcane," and proposed some alternatives. While Rowling agreed to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, she later admitted that she regretted the decision.

"To be honest, I wish I hadn't agreed now," she explained. "But it was my first book, and I was so grateful that anyone was publishing me I wanted to keep them happy."

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