It’s easy to take the 1st Amendment for granted.
Enter Banned Books Week, the annual nation-wide event “celebrating the freedom to read,” which kicked off on Saturday. TIME has been writing about controversial books since the magazine’s very first year—in 1923, it seems, a superintendent “banned the Red Cross text-book on hygiene and home care of the sick because it advises that alcohol and whiskey be kept in the home medicine chest for emergency purposes”—but if you think the days of censorship are behind us, it’s time to revisit the American Library Association’s “Top 10 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2009.”
The list, which encompasses works that were either objected to or actually banned, includes old standbys like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye (banned books, it may come as no surprise, tend to overlap with those you were probably “forced to read in high school”)—as well as 21st century phenomena: the Twilight series and Lauren Myracle’s ttyl, ttfn, and l8r, g8r.
The top 10, however, are just the beginning. For a good read, check out the more complete bibliography of books challenged and/or banned in 2009-2010. Vampires, Kurt Cobain, and sex (all sorts) are just some of the subjects of the challenged volumes. The bibliography makes for some odd juxtapositions: Anne Frank’s diary and Hitler’s Mein Kampf appear on the same page.
Even more striking, though, is the listing of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. Apparently a California parent wasn’t happy when a child found within its orderly pages the term “oral sex,” and so a local committee would be convening to discuss a ban.
Come on! It’s not 1938.
It doesn’t take a librarian to conclude that if dictionaries get thrown out of classrooms, we’re in trouble. How else will we define “freedom”?