What Was the Most Complained-About Library Book of 2012?

It's not 'Fifty Shades of Grey'

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Image: Captain Underpants
Scholastic Inc.

Which is more objectionable, kinky sex or giant underwear?

By one measure at least, undies are the bigger offender. As Reuters reports, there’s a new leader atop the American Library Association’s (ALA) annual list of the most complained-about books: the Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey. A children’s-adventure series with an alarming focus on bathroom humor, Captain Underpants has been on the list before, but in 2012, it  led all other books in requests to be removed from library shelves.

The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, on the other hand, which is about a BDSM relationship, made its first appearance on the list at the No. 4 position. The Association reported an increase of about 142%—to 464—in the number of formal complaints lodged, versus the previous year; the tally includes both public and school libraries.

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But the way the numbers are tallied, give the underwear books an unfair advantage.

The most recent Captain Underpants installment—Captain Underpants and the Revolting Revenge of the Radioactive Robo-Boxers—came out in January, missing the deadline for 2012 complaints, but it joined more than a dozen other related titles. Fifty Shades, on the other hand, is a measly trilogy. People offended by the idea of Bionic Booger Boy have several times more opportunity to complain about it. Plus, there’s the fact that Captain Underpants is (clearly) for kids, who may well love Underpants, but have parents to complain on their behalf. Adults who don’t like erotica can just choose not to read it. (And, as the ALA pointed out in their State of America’s Libraries report, of which the list is just a small part, libraries that chose not to stock Fifty Shades whether due to content or quality often faced the wrath of angry would-be readers.)

As for the rest of the list, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher were second and third on the list. The rest of the top ten included: And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Looking for Alaska by John Green, the Scary Stories series by Alvin Schwartz, The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and Beloved by Toni Morrison.

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