The 10 most controversial books in America

The reasons you should read the books some people want to see off the shelves

Niraj Chokshi
Wednesday 13 April 2016 08:09 BST
Common objections to books were on grounds of religion or sexuality
Common objections to books were on grounds of religion or sexuality

Explicit sexuality, offensive language, homosexuality, a religious viewpoint: Those are a few of the common objections to the 10 most-challenged books of 2015, according to the American Library Association’s latest “State of America’s Libraries” report.

The list, published Monday, includes some well-known titles — the Holy Bible ranked sixth — along with some lesser-known ones.

Some deal with discovering sexuality; “Fifty Shades of Grey” ranked second.

Others deal with discovering culture. All are the subject of a fair amount of controversy.

The Top 10 is based on 275 challenges recorded by the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom last year, and the list includes a brief description of the reasons individuals gave in asking libraries to remove the books.

As fans of the written word, though, we wanted to know the opposite: What makes each worth reading?

So we turned to the crowd.

Here’s a look at each of the 10 most-challenged books, the reasons cited for their removal — and an excerpt from Amazon’s top positive review for each:

1. “Looking for Alaska,” by John Green

Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.

The case for reading it: “Be aware that the kids in this story do what kids actually do (smoke, drink, and have sex). If that bothers you, read it anyway,” writes Richard Hurley. “There are more important things in life than observing proprieties and pretending that bright kids aren’t exploratory. You don’t have to approve of these characters. It is enough to love them and learn from them.”

2. “Fifty Shades of Grey,” by E. L. James

Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”).

The case for reading it: “You’ll be swept away with a force that is impossible to escape, not that you’d want to escape,” writes P.A. Lupton. “You’ll savor every moment, every word, and when it’s over you’ll want to pick it up and start again from the beginning.”

3. “I Am Jazz,” by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings

Reasons: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.

The case for reading it: “I would have liked to see more of Jazz the soccer star, Jazz doing a science project, Jazz doing art, and the emphasis on what made her transgender placed upon her sense of self, not her love of dresses and mermaids,” writes ks. “Still, many thanks to young Jazz for bravely sharing her story with other children.”

4. “Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out,” by Susan Kuklin

Reasons: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).

The case for reading it: “I was fascinated from cover to cover, chapter one all the way through the sources and footnotes. I would recommend this to parents, children with supervision, co-workers and friends. Anyone who stands to gain a little understanding,” writes sawyer. “As with every other awareness movement in the past we are coming to find more and more that these people are our friends, our teachers, they are all around us and they are people who need to be understood and welcomed.”

5. “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” by Mark Haddon

Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“profanity and atheism”).

The case for reading it: “By necessity, the writing is simple and unadorned, but the language of details elevates it from the mundane,” writes Debbie Lee Wesselmann. “The insertion of mathematical puzzles and drawings add to the reader’s understanding of how Christopher’s mind works. Haddon’s real skill is an understatement that allows the reader to comprehend what is going on even if Christopher cannot.”

6. The Holy Bible

Reasons: Religious viewpoint.

The case for reading it: “A few slow sections where the author insists on discussing genealogies and laws at great length, but the overarching plot details a father’s epic quest to create the perfect, worship-able child, only to watch in agony as his child is brutally murdered, after which the father insists that the very world which took his son away learn to accept the ideas his perfect son stood for or suffer a fate worse than death,” writes Ashley Ann.

(Note: Many reviews focus on the style of the Bible — the size and color of the printing, the weight of the paper. For simplicity, we chose the first we found that dealt with its substance.)

7. “Fun Home,” by Alison Bechdel

Reasons: Violence and other (“graphic images”).

The case for reading it: “Bechdel’s clean, distinctive illustration style with its wry observations and amusing details is fun to read and examine, and drew this reader into her story quickly,” writes M. J. Lowe. “Indeed, it’s regrettable that this review can only include quotations and not excerpts of Bechdel’s drawings.”

8. “Habibi,” by Craig Thompson

Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.

The case for reading it: “The plot is complex and meandering and not succinctly summarized, in tone it has much in common with the magical-realism form of writing — it is compelling and it is likely that, despite the length of the story, most readers will finish the book in only a few days,” writes Kevin Taylor.

9. “Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan,” by Jeanette Winter

Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence.

The case for reading it: “A lovely book with much to recommend it and it will give the children who read it many things to think about,” writes Grandma Books.

10. “Two Boys Kissing,” by David Levithan

Reasons: Homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection”).

The case for reading it: “Two Boys Kissing may just be following a few days of a few people’s lives, but the way it’s addressed and presented is so ground shaking,” writes Melanie. “All in all, Two Boys Kissing is phenomenal. Beautiful. And I highly recommend it. Everything about this novel was authentic and moving.”

Copyright Washington Post

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