Freedom to Read Week: Five Challenged Books

February 25, 2018 | Wendy B.

Comments (0)

It's Freedom to Read Week!
The last week of each February, libraries everywhere celebrate their defence of people's right to read whatever they want.
And in honour of the occasion, we've gathered some quotes from books that have been challenged, at Toronto Public Library (TPL) and elsewhere. (A "challenge" is when a library user makes a formal request to have a book removed from the library.) 
"My feeling is, if you're not self-obsessed you're probably boring." - Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
In 2015, a patron issued a challenge against upstart publisher and novelist Dave Eggers' 2000 memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, on the grounds that it contained profanity and poor grammar. The patron requested that the book be removed from the collection.
"We take every complaint seriously and carefully consider the customer's point of view," says TPL manager of Collection Development and Membership Services Michele Melady. "But A Heartbreaking Work... was critically hailed, tremendously popular and was nominated for a Pulitzer. There's still a certain amount of demand for the book now, eighteen years after it was published." 
The book was retained in the adult collection. 
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
As readers, it can be easy to feel that a book that offends our personal sensibilities is somehow fundamentally wrong, and ought to be removed from the library.
But the library begs to differ.
Intellectual freedom – "guaranteeing and facilitating the free exchange of information and ideas in a democratic society, protecting intellectual freedom and respecting individuals' rights to privacy and choice" – is one of the library's fundamental values.
"Unless a sign tells you not to, you may make a right turn at a red light." - The Official MTO Driver's Handbook
One common type of challenge concerns matters of fact. In 2016, a patron was concerned that the The Official MTO Driver's Handbook contained incorrect information that could endanger the lives of drivers, i.e. that a driver could turn right on a red light.
"This is one case where we would consider removing a book – if the information was, in fact, false," Melady says.
Librarians routinely check their collections to make sure the books are current and accurate, but sometimes a book slips through. For example, the library withdrew a children's book on dairy farming a few years ago, after a patron pointed out that the information in it was no longer true. 
Having said all that, in Ontario, it is legal to make a right turn on a red. The book was retained in the adult collection.
The Official MTO Drivers' Handbook
Borrow The Official MTO Driver's Handbook
"My dad said there should be a class where they put us in a cage until we're twenty." - Mariko Tamaki, This One Summer
It wasn't challenged in Toronto. But the coming-of-age graphic novel This One Summer, by Toronto author/illustrator duo Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, was challenged and banned by multiple school districts in the United States, because it includes LGBT characters, drug use and profanity, and it was considered sexually explicit with mature themes. 
"This book was widely celebrated for its sensitive portrayal of young girls coming to grips with the adult world," Melady says. 
The removals from libraries were challenged in their turn by the National Coalition Against Censorship. Some schools restored the book to their shelves.
Jillian Tamaki discusses challenges to her book on Wednesday, February 28, at two different library locations.
This One Summer  by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
 Borrow This One Summer, by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
"The problem with resolutions is they're only as strong as the person making them." - Ellen Hopkins, Crank

The 2004 novel Crank, by Ellen Hopkins, was challenged by a parent who was concerned that the book, which was about a teenager addicted to methamphetamine, promoted the use of the drug. 
After doing some research, the library's Materials Review Committee determined that "...[r]ather than promoting the use of methamphetamine, the book shows its devastating impact. It is not only well-written but deals with themes of interest to youth and is popular even with reluctant readers."
The book was retained in the teen collection. 
Crank  by Ellen Hopkins
Borrow Crank, by Ellen Hopkins
  "Sometimes our own needs and desires must be expressed, even at the expense of shattering the image others have created of us." - Sean Wolfe, Hard and Fast

Hard and Fast, a collection of gay erotica by Sean Wolfe, was challenged in 2012 by a patron who complained that it was pornographic, and requested that it be removed from the collection. 
"We wouldn't deny that the book in question is sexually explicit. The fact is, people read erotica, from classics like Lady Chatterley's Lover, to massively popular titles like Fifty Shades of Grey. And they should be able to access those books through their public library."
The book was retained in the adult collection.
  Hard and Fast  by Sean Wolfe
Borrow Hard and Fast, by Sean Wolfe