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Spotlight on English: Banned Books and the Freedom to Read

This week (September 26 – 30) is Banned Books Week – an annual event hosted by the American Library Association (ALA) to celebrate the freedom to seek and to express ideas through books - even those sometimes considered unorthodox or unpopular. To join the celebration, NMSI’s English team has pulled together a list of their favorite banned and challenged books to add to your reading list.

Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler was published in 1940 and is a critique of Stalin's police state. “It is one of my favorites for its sparse prose, gripping narrative and exposition of political philosophy,” said Samuel Weyand, NMSI’s English content editor. The novel influenced many intellectuals — among them George Orwell, who a few years later, wrote Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, two of the classics that have also landed on the frequently challenged list.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie was the banned pick of NMSI’s vice president of content, Michelle Stie.
This coming of age story of a young man caught between worlds spiritually, ethnically and culturally presents an excellent springboard to discussions that matter to students who appreciate the character’s journey as he finds his own path to adulthood. “This beautifully written and rich novel has won wide acclaim from critics and educators alike; however, the frank depictions of sexuality, racial and ethnic tensions, violence and spiritual questioning has made it a frequent addition to the American Library Association’s Frequently Challenged Books,” Michelle said. “I have worked in school settings in which I was able to present this novel to students. They found the text relevant, engaging and provocative.”

In The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, a totalitarian Christian theocracy has overthrown the United States government. Women’s rights are removed, and they are put into a class system based on the status of their husbands and reproductive abilities. This banned piece, a long-time favorite of Jennifer Fowler, NMSI’s English content specialist, has often been challenged for its graphic and dystopian commentary.

Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye sets a myriad of issues such as race, gender, self-perception and familial violence against the backdrop of small town Ohio. Aubrey Ludwig, NMSI’s English director reflected on what makes this novel challenging. “The centrality of Pecola Breedlove, a young girl whose victimization throughout the novel suggests that society, family and culture often do not protect those among us that are most innocent and most in need of protection. It is this central theme that also makes this novel important.”
No matter where you stand on issues presented in these selections, or the other 11,300 books banned since 1982, Banned  Books Week is a celebration of our right to access these books and the themes they explore. So grab your favorite banned  book and start reading!