Banned Books Week’s Wednesday Word: Smut

noun \ˈsmət\
obscene language or matter

Most books are challenged because someone finds something offensive about the story, language, or characters. Much of the time, it’s considered obscene. In the old days, we called that “smut”.

Listen to what Tom Lehrer thinks about banning smut, in all forms:

This was filmed in 1967, so there has been a faction of people speaking on behalf of intellectual freedom for decades. Lehrer uses the word “pornography”, the definition of which we have honed a bit in modern usage. In 1967, it was anything that may “arouse the prurient interests of the average person.” Today, it means more alone the lines of  anything that serves to “show or describe naked people or sex in a very open and direct way in order to cause sexual excitement”. So, we have upped it a notch in modern times.

2014 Books challenged because of “smut”:

  1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
  2. Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
  3. And Tango Makes Three, Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
  4. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
  5. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
  6. Saga, by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
  7. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
  9. A Stolen Life, Jaycee Dugard
  10. Drama, by Raina Telgemeier

Yes, that makes the entire top 10 list of 2014 Challenged Books, done so with SMUT being one of the chief reasons.

Your word for this day of Banned Books Week: SMUT!

Banned Books Week: This will make you laugh

The most challenged book of 2014 was a mere third in 2013. What was the most challenged book that year? I’m glad you asked!

Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence

No, I am not somehow mistaken. As a matter of fact, this was the most challenged book for two consecutive years, 2012 & 2013.

In 2013 alone, there were 307 attempts to remove or restrict books from school curricula and libraries. And that’s just the reported challenges. The ALA estimates that there are 5 actual challenges for every one made formal. And in 2012, Captain Underpants beat out 50 Shades of Grey! Go figure…

The author’s response is wonderful:

LOVE this response! Do me a favor, and buy the first book in the series of Captain Underpants, just to add to your collection!

Banned Books Week: The Most Challenged Book of 2014

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

Reasons: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying”.

Written in 2007, this is a coming-of-age story of a Native American teen. Although it is fiction, it draws on the author’s experiences as a Native American with ancestry of several tribes, growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation.

Challenged and removed from required reading as recently as 2014, it is an unapologetic look at the harsh side of how many  teens in this nation, and especially in Native American Reservations, are raised.

In 2010, the Arizona State House of Representatives actually passed a bill which outlines HOW to censor:



Unbelievable. The entire state of Arizona doesn’t want an entire collection of books taught in school. There is no reading, discussion, teaching, exchange of ideas, or freedom to read inside these schools.

In the United States of America.

…and 2014 Banned Books Week comes to an end…

The last thought on banned books week is this: don’t celebrate the books that are challenged. This is not about the books, the authors, those who challenge, or the issues. It’s about freedom. It’s about the freedom to read whatever you want to read, whenever you want to read it.

Have you heard the saying, “The more you read, the more you know”? It’s true. Some banned books are not worth my time. They were published simply to be shocking, and that’s not what I’m about.

However, the majority of challenged and banned books deal with difficult or taboo themes, and they need to be read to give perspective, the open eyes and to lift the veil of ignorance that we are under. Others give a raw and unflinching look at our past. That, too, is important to remember. To remember the mistakes of our past gives us a greater possibility that those mistakes won’t happen again. We all need to look life square in the face.

Read. That is the most important thing. Read.

Jeff Bridges reads "The Giver", a highly challenged book

Jeff Bridges participates in Banned Books Week Virtual ReadOut!

Since its release in 1993, The Giver has been one of the most controversial books in American schools. Between 1990 and 1999, The Giver ranked 11th on the list of the books most frequently requested for removal. In the 2000s it was 23rd, just two spots below To Kill a Mockingbird.

Barbara Jones is the director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF), which maintains a database of attempts to remove books from schools. There is no way of knowing the exact number of actual attempts, as the OIF can only track those reported in the media or submitted to them by individuals, but since 1990 they have recorded over 11,000 separate instances of what they call “challenges,” “attempt[s] to remove or restrict materials.”

For The Giver just under one-third of all challenges (for which the outcome was reported) resulted in a removal. The state that has seen the most attempts to remove The Giver is Texas, but the book has also been challenged in Massachusetts, Washington, and many other states all over the country.

In the last two decades, the most frequent reasons for a book being challenged in the United States have been categorized by the OIF as complaints that the book contains “Offensive Language” or is “Sexually Explicit.” But The Giver is not usually objected to for either of these reasons. The most frequently cited reasons to challenge The Giver have been “Violence” and claims that the book is “Unsuited to [the] Age Group”—or in other words that it’s too dark for children.


The chart below plots the top five most common reasons The Giver was challenged in red. The bars in blue represent how often that excuse was given for all book challenges the OIF has recorded.
But even if a few protective parents get their way in some districts, and the book is removed from a handful of libraries, it’s unlikely to stop the vast majority of young readers from finding it. The Giver has seen a surge in book sales ahead of the movie’s release, and on Amazon’s list of best-selling Teen & Young Adult Books, it currently ranks No. 2.

The Best Banned Books on Film

Thanks to Word & Film for the article:

Ah, Banned Books Week. It’s that week in Autumn that is welcomed into the open arms of readers everywhere, readers who cherish this celebration of freedom of speech — and freedom of the written word. Herewith, ten more great movie adaptations of banned books.

“Animal Farm” (1954)
The publication of George Orwell’s 1945 novel, Animal Farm, came at a time when Stalin was at the height of his reign in the Soviet Union. Orwell, clearly not a fan of Stalin’s leadership philosophy, had a difficult time finding a publisher for his book, whose content was divisive and transparent in its satirical criticism of Stalin. Finally (and luckily) it found a home with Secker and Warburg Publishers. Since publication, Animal Farm has been banned in the USSR, the United Arab Emirates, Cuba, and North Korea. Though adapted multiple times, the one to watch (after you read the book) is the 1954 animated version by Joy Batchelor. Though it deviated from the source material, it’s an interesting and entertaining addition to the world of book-to-film adaptations.

“The Da Vinci Code” (2006)The Da Vinci Code, the best-selling 2003 novel by Dan Brown, introduced us to Robert Langdon and the idea that there is so much more than meets the eye in the world of Christianity. The novel struck the Catholic Church as offensive and the powers-that-be in Lebanon went so far as to ban it in the country. Its publication inspired controversy among critics, historians, and theologians. Ron Howard directed the 2006 movie adaptation starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tatou. Critics were as divided about the film but, ultimately, no matter where you stand on its content, at its core it’s a nail-biter of an adventure.

“Gone with the Wind” (1939)
It didn’t take long for Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 Pulitzer- and National Book Award-winning novel, Gone with the Wind, to get snatched up by Hollywood. The epic tale was brought to the big screen by David O. Selznick and Victor Fleming. Its production was massive and often troubled, but following its release in 1939, the story, script, and star power (Clark Gable! Vivien Leigh!) earned it ten Academy Award wins. The book has been challenged on and off over the years because of its realistic depictions of slavery and race issues.

“Easy A” (Inspired by The Scarlet Letter) (2010)In 2010, screenwriter Bert V. Royal teamed up with director Will Gluck to bring a (very loose) adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel, The Scarlet Letter, to the big screen. Together, they created a film that would join “Clueless” and “10 Things I Hate About You” in the Best Classic to Teen Dramedy Club (and would, simultaneously, launch the career of Emma Stone). The themes in Hawthorne’s novel — illegitimacy, adultery — were quite risque for his time and led to its being challenged many times over the years.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962)
Harper Lee’s now-classic 1960 novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, takes place in the early 1930s in Alabama. Atticus Finch, respected attorney and father to Scout and Jem, takes on the defense of a black man named Tom Robinson. Tom has been accused of raping a white woman — and by defending him, Atticus is opening himself up to the scorn and threats of the locals in the predominantly racist Southern town. In spite of many efforts across the world to ban Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, most recently in 2013, it has sold more than thirty million copies. The 1962 movie adaptation, starring Gregory Peck, Brock Peters, and Robert Duvall, won three Academy Awards and was nominated for an additional five.

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975)
In 1962, Ken Kesey published the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, set in a psychiatric hospital in Oregon. Told from the perspective of Chief Bromdem, a Native American man assumed to be deaf and mute, his observations of and insights into the worlds of his fellow patients are thoughtful. They most often focus on Randle Patrick McMurphy, a man who feigned insanity in order to serve a jail sentence in the psych ward rather than prison. The book has been challenged and banned multiple times across the country, and has been called “pornographic” and “garbage.” Milos Forman brought the book to screen in 1975 with an adaptation starring Jack Nicholson, Will Sampson, and Louise Fletcher. It won five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Lead Actress, and Best Lead Actor.

“Where the Wild Things Are” (2009)
Spike Jonze’s 2009 adaptation of the Maurice Sendak classic Where the Wild Things Are had the perfect source material, the perfect Max (played by Max Roberts Records), and the perfect screenwriter (Dave Eggers). (And in this writer’s opinion, the perfect music.) However, in spite of its beautiful visuals and the aforementioned perfect pieces, the film didn’t fare particularly well in theaters or with the critics. The book has been challenged over the years because of its dark subject matter — though still remains a perennial favorite of so many parents.

“Of Mice and Men” (1939)
This writer’s last viewing of a Steinbeck adaptation took place in the theater earlier this year, with James Franco as George and Chris O’Dowd as Lennie. This is only the latest adaptation, though. The show on stage has since closed, and our recommendation is that you skip the Gary Sinise-helmed version from 1992 (starring Sinise as George and John Malkovich as Lennie) and reach further back to Lewis Milestone’s Oscar-nominated 1939 adaptation. The book has been challenged over the years because of its accurate depiction of slavery in the United States.

“Sophie’s Choice” (1982)
William Styron’s 1979 novel, Sophie’s Choice, is the story of three people sharing space in a Brooklyn boarding house in 1947. One of these three, Sophie, has survived the concentration camps that too often peppered the landscape of World War II and carries with her the guilt from a decision she made at that time. The novel has been challenged often, as recently as 2001, because of the explicit sexual content. This last attempt at banning, however, found students rightfully fighting back. In 1982 director Alan J. Pakula adapted Styron’s novel for film, starring Meryl Streep, who earned her second of three lifetime Oscars (thus far) for her performance.

“The Lord of the Rings” (2001)
J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1954 fantasy novel, The Lord of the Rings, which began an epic trilogy, has been adapted in numerous iterations since its publication. When Peter Jackson decided to direct a brand-new trilogy beginning in 2001, however, all previous iterations fell to the background as Jackson’s creative brilliance brought new life to the story while respecting Tolkien’s source material. The trilogy over the years has been challenged on grounds of being “irreligious.” Regardless, the first in the series is, to date, one of the best-selling novels of all time.