The most-banned books of 2015—and what they say about us

The American Library Association (ALA) reflects on common themes of challenged texts during its 34th annual Banned Books Week.

The ALA usually learns of challenges to books from librarians at schools or public or academic libraries, as well as local newspaper reports. The organization recorded 275 challenges in 2015.

 The most challenged books of 2015 are:

  1. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  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")
  3. I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
    Reasons: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group
  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")
  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")
  6. The Holy Bible
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint
  7. Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
    Reasons: Violence and other ("graphic images")
  8. Habibi, by Craig Thompson
    Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group
  9. Nasreen's Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence
  10. Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
    Reasons: Homosexuality and other ("condones public displays of affection")

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According to James LaRue, director of the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom, there has been a major shift from opposing  books for straightforward reasons such as language and sexual content to challenging books "focused on issues of diversity—things that are by or about people of color, or LGBT, or disabilities, or religious and cultural minorities."

However, opposition to texts such as The Holy Bible indicates that "people that are just questioning in a larger sense what is the appropriate role of religion in our society," LaRue says.

American Booksellers Association project manager Olusina Adebayo believes that the hostility toward texts by and about diverse people comes from a place of fear.

"Because the definition of diversity stems from what is considered to be outside the norm it has frightened parents who want to protect their children from overexposure," he says.

But that suspicion comes at a cost, Adebayo says.

"The banning and censorship of books stifles constructive dialogue and promotes division over understanding. Unfortunately, our society has characterized that which is different as being bad or off-putting" (Schaub, Los Angeles Times, 9/26; Begley, TIME, 9/25). 

Related: Three ways to optimize and reallocate library space

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