In his book Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury imagines a future in which all books are banned and “firefighters” throw hidden literature into flames. Bradbury created this dystopian world in 1953, and according to American Library Association data, we’re closer to it becoming a reality than at any other time in modern history.
The ALA reported a 584% increase in the number of books challenged in 2021 (1,597 compared to 273 the year before). Of the 10 most banned books in 2021, nine are considered “sexually explicit” or contain sexual content, five deal with LGBTQ+ issues and four are by authors of color. This isn’t much different from previous years’ top 10 lists of banned books, said Elizabeth Kleinfield, PhD, professor in the Department of Books, but the increase in volume indicates that some of these ideas are beginning to enter the mainstream. English Language and Director of the Writing Center at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
“I think there is a lot of fear in the people who seek to ban those books about how much the world could be changed if the ideas in those books became mainstream,” Kleinfeld said.
The book ban is not limited to conservative states such as Texas and Florida. In Erie, librarian Brooky Parks was fired for allegedly containing a “Read Woke” book club. Denver author R. Alan Brooks received death threats on social media for announcing his plans to write an anti-white graphic novel. Everyone is affected by the consequences of the book ban, said Wendolyn Weber, PhD, professor of English at MSU Denver.
“We each diminish when anyone in our community decides they have the right to dictate what is or isn’t appropriate for anyone else to read,” Weber said. “When books are banned simply for conveying difference, for somehow questioning some perceived normative status, how does it not harm everyone’s ability to think flexible and critical on their own?”
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Weber said that by reading banned books, we’re rallying against censorship and celebrating bold ideas and appreciating their value in our society. In honor of Banned Books Week (Sunday-September 24), RED has collected expert recommendations on banned books from English and education faculty, as well as Auraria Library staff.
A history of the indigenous peoples of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz
Challenging Central York High School in Pennsylvania in 2021, Dunbar Ortiz’s book reframes US history, revealing colonial policies designed to displace or eliminate indigenous communities. Its bottom-up approach focuses on the indigenous experience and seeks to correct the lack of knowledge about the indigenous peoples of North America.
“Violet” by Alice Walker
Walker’s book was originally published in 1982, its ban began in 1984, and since then similar bans have gone strong. The novel depicts the sexual and physical abuse of a black girl by her father and then, when she was an adult, her abusive marriage and intimacy with a woman. The book won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, the first time a black woman had received these prestigious awards.
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
The heroine of this book, Emma Bovary, wanders miserably looking for solace in extramarital affairs and spending beyond her means. A realistic depiction of a woman completely dissatisfied with her marriage and life, “Madame Bovary” was banned when it was first released in 1856, and the writer was tried for indecency.
“Rubyfruit Jungle” by Rita Mae Brown
Published in 1973, “Rubyfruit Jungle” is a novel about coming of age that depicts Molly Bolt, the adopted daughter of a poor Southern family. Recognized as an early lesbian novel, the book has been banned by multiple schools for its sexual content.
Cory Seal, Ph.D., professor of elementary education at Michigan State University Denver, recommends the following:
The hate you give by Angie Thomas
Thomas’ young novel about black teen Star Williams, who witnesses the police shooting of an unarmed friend, has landed on the Top 10 Banned Books list almost every year since its publication in 2017 and is the fifth most challenging book. 2021. The book won several awards and was made into a movie in 2018.
“Sealed: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You” by Abram X Kennedy and Jason Reynolds
This best-selling book for middle grade readers follows five historical figures—Coton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, Webb Du Bois, and Angela Davis—to show the difference between racist, assimilative, and anti-racist views. The book’s competitors said the book contains an “eclectic novel” and does not show racism against all people.
Kelly A. McCusker, Head of Collection Development Program, Auraria Library, recommends:
“Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini
The Kite Runner, a New York Times bestseller, tells the story of an unexpected friendship during a turbulent period in 1970s Afghanistan. It has consistently featured on the Top 10 Banned Books list since its publication in 2003 and was made into a movie in 2007.
“I know why the caged bird sings” by Maya Angelou
Often seen as autobiographical fiction, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” depicts a black girl from ages 3 to 17 and chronicles her experiences with racism and trauma. Published in 1969 to critical acclaim, the book has been challenged in 15 states and is among the ten most banned books in school libraries and classrooms.
See Auraria’s full list of featured banned books.