We Asked. You Answered: Our Banned Books Survey

by    /  October 2, 2020  / Comments Off on We Asked. You Answered: Our Banned Books Survey


When thinking of banned books — like Lolita, Catcher in the Rye, or The Satanic Verses — it’s easy to assume that it’s the severity and shock value of content that may have stirred the mechanisms of censorship. We think of sexuality, violence, or profanity. Or we may think of anti-religious and extreme political ideologies arriving in front of an austere audience. But, of course, any close look at the journey of a banned book reveals a myriad of factors colliding together in time and place. 

When we took a closer look at the experiences of our audience — polling Sampsonia Way readers to hear their experiences with banned books — we found two surprising ingredients uniting our readers: Fangs … and prohibitive parents. 

In the lead-up to banned books week, Sampsonia Way took an informal poll of our readers to hear their experiences with censorship and found something a little bit different than the stereotypical censorship narrative. According to our survey, the most likely combinations of factors leading to a “banned-book experience” were helicopter parents who kept books away from their children and certain fantasy novels they chose to condemn.

What we discovered: 

According to the polling from our survey, the three most likely sources of reading prohibition came from our readers’ parents, their schools, or their religious leaders. Given the wide discrepancy of reasoning for books being banned, we asked our readers why their parents, schools, or religions prohibited their reading and what specific books were banned. Overwhelmingly, our respondents answered that books were banned from their enjoyment because they were too inappropriate.  

But what does “inappropriate” mean? Too inappropriate for your current age? Inappropriate because of ideals you don’t hold? Suggestive of alternative lifestyles? Yes — to all of the above. The most common of these preventive books were fictional: the Harry Potter series, The Stand, The Absolutely True Diary of a Half-Indian, Perks of Being a Wallflower

But the most overwhelmingly “banned book” was Twilight.  Yes — Twilight.  

If you’re unfamiliar with the Twilight saga, allow me to sum it up shortly: vampires, sex, Romeo-and-Juliet forbidden love, teenagers, angst, werewolves, love triangles, sex …  more angst, more vampires, cults, death, and more sex. 

While Twilight had a lot of critical acclaim and financial success right from the start — reaching the New York Times best seller list within its first month of publication — the novel really picked up steam in 2009 after the second movie was released. Especially to the “impressionable” youths; you guessed it — middle schoolers.

What our respondents said: 

On Twilight … 

Jennifer Kaplan, an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh, reflected on her experience disobeying her mother and reading Twilight as a middle-school girl. Kaplan borrowed the first novel from her friend at school, reading it secretly behind her mother’s back, and has regarded it as one of her favorite series to this day. She told Sampsonia Way she still does not understand why her mother wanted to prevent her from reading the series. When asked how she would handle banning a book for a younger reader, Kaplan responded: 

“I would never prevent someone from reading a banned book — the concept of banning introduces secrecy, [and] shame. There are age-appropriate ways to talk about any issue [with] children [or] teens and having a book to reference may help! Banning books seems like adults’ way of saying they’re afraid to talk about a topic/admit it exists/allow kids to read about experiences they haven’t had or may disagree with. Every “banned book” I’ve read has allowed me to expand my own thinking and creativity, while reminding me that I can’t have certain conversations [with] the adults who ban books because they’re uncomfortable.”

Sukriti Dhingra, another undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh, was also prevented from reading Twilight. Despite her shared background and age with Kaplan, she has a different stance on how her temptation to read Twilight affected her. Dhingra does not hold the series to be one of her favorite novels today, and understands why her parents attempted to prevent her from reading the saga at her age. 

When asked how she would handle a banned book today, Dhingra wrote:

“I think there are some books that are age inappropriate. To place a blanket term of “banned” over any book seems a bit extreme to me, but I believe parents should absolutely have the right to say they are uncomfortable with their children reading a certain book. For example, I personally don’t believe it’s appropriate to allow a middle schooler to read something like Fifty Shades of Grey, but I also believe that parents have a right to raise their kids any way they see fit. If they believe their child is mature enough for that kind of literature, that should be a decision between the parent and the child. If I had listened to my parents and not read Twilight, I honestly don’t think it would have made that much of a difference. I would have gotten around to reading it anyway, it just would have happened a few years later. And I know my parents would have been ok with me reading books like that in high school, so it really isn’t too big of a deal that they were upset when I read it in middle school.”

On other books…

One reader reported her mother’s attempt to prevent her from reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Half-Time Indian. Her mother’s attempt was unsuccessful as she snuck into her mother’s room and took the book from her library.

 “[Many] of the reasons these books are banned are because they are against things or ideas that people [have] issues [with] (i.e; gay teens, atheists) and not for actual issues (banning a book because of racism, [sexism, xenophiba]). There’s no better way to learn about those other “issues” than by reading, in my opinion, and banning them just brews confusion and disdain for the wrong ideals and people.”

Another anonymous reader who was raised in a conservative Christian home, reported her parents disapproval of reading books that questioned their religious dogma. The reader, however, disagreeing with her parents message read the novel anyway, and found that it has helped her in her time of need, even to this day: 

“I do think it affected me in that I saw no problems questioning religion at the time, which is a theme of the book. In general, I think allowing myself the freedom to read books that questioned a dogmatic form of faith helped me deal with a family that is more dogmatic (evangelical/ conservative Christians) and allowed me to practice Christianity in a way that is kind and understanding [and] empathetic. … I was going through a hard time emotionally so the freedom to read and explore new ideas in the safety of a book was important to me and comforting.”

Design and graphics by Elizabeth Johnson

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