Each year, Nashville Reads brings the entire city together to read great literature—broadening our literary horizons and sparking discussion.
2023 Season: Celebrating Freedom to Read
Guaranteed by The Constitution, for Us All
This year, we’re honoring the beauty of diverse voices, ideas, and perspectives: We invite you to Celebrate Freadom.
Through February 25, each of our locations is exploring a book which has faced repeated objections over time.
We warmly welcome you to join in at your local library location, or at more than one!
Find Your Home Library's Title
Main Library | Bellevue | Bordeaux | Donelson | East | Edgehill | Edmondson Pike | Goodlettsville | Green Hills | Hadley Park | Hermitage | Inglewood | Looby | Madison | North | Old Hickory | Pruitt | Richland Park | Southeast | Thompson Lane | Watkins Park
Poetry Contest for Teens
How would you feel if your favorite book were taken away from you and there was no hope of getting it back again? We asked middle and high school students to transform their thoughts and feelings about censorship into verse. We're pleased to announce our contest winners!
Middle School Winners
Basking in the adventure, I grin
Mysterious Benedict Society. Number Three.
Suddenly snatched, taken away to the dump bin
to no longer be free
I watch it get tossed into the pile
Devastated, I weep
Gasoline joins it, like oil tears while
Fire gobbles it all up, that heap
Why, I bawl, why?!
To halt rebellion before it begins, they inform me
There isn't a good reason, is there?! comes my reply
Lament, ululate, wail, they wouldn't leave them be
Books used to educate, to thrill
Books used to reveal truth, and much more
But to ban and burn, banish them to the hill?
Only to sadden us, deny an intelligent core
Stolen books strike us dumb. Send us back centuries
Back to nomads and ice
Pain, sorrow, lack of smarts bring us to our knees
This is the future I glimpse. And it won't suffice.
It is just like my candle
The books give me warmth, till they get withdrawn
The “Hate U Give” towards our finest writers
As one by one they lit their lighters
A candle burns, and so does my sorrow
Maybe one day the print will leave me, maybe tomorrow
Burning away the happy endings evolving into trash
And letting them crumble into heaps of ash
Who to “Speak”? Who to cry?
Letting our childhood memories “Fade” and die
No remorse you feel, nor regret
But if the books don’t last for another second, please don’t forget
You’re like my candle, you’re sweet and short
And provide no certainty of support
Young children’s eyes staring at books that have “Burned”
And their deceased curiosity that had once churned
A candle’s flame burns, but not for long
You will never see you were in the wrong
Blow out the fire, blow out the pain
Can the light of our books remain?
High School Winners
I ache all over.
Straining, reaching, almost
See, touch, hear,
So many words
Out of reach
I ache all over.
A piece of me,
Lost, gone, forbidden.
I reach for words,
For a life giving
If only I could
See, touch, hear, reach,
This is the final chapter of our fantasies,
Stitch in the adequate words with golden silk thread,
And let your sorrowful tears stain the paper,
This is the only way they will remember us book enthusiasts.
This was the final book in the vapid libraries,
Never have they seem
Bookshelves, instead of books, store memories,
Within their cherrywood finishes,
Children reaching for books full of livelihood,
Adults reaching for books to tell them about their lives,
Yet, the weal population,
Tends to and always find vile ways,
To drive them out of our hearts,
Escape from their antsy hands quickly.
Go off into the wooded forests,
Where the verdigris grasses grow,
To turn the final book into a tree
Where it will blossom in the spring,
But I will portend;
The weal will get rid of them too.
Selections by Location
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
A phenomenal #1 bestseller that appeared on the New York Times bestseller list for nearly three years, this memoir traces Maya Angelou's childhood in a small, rural community during the 1930s. Filled with images and recollections that point to the dignity and courage of Black men and women, Angelou paints a sometimes disquieting but always affecting picture of the people—and the times—that touched her life.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Named a Best Book of the Year by the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post Book World, Chicago Tribune, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Rocky Mountain News. Nine-year-old Oskar Schell has embarked on an urgent, secret mission that will take him through the five boroughs of New York. His goal is to find the lock that matches a mysterious key that belonged to his father who died in the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11. This seemingly impossible task will bring Oskar into contact with survivors of all sorts of an exhilarating, affecting, often hilarious, and ultimately healing journey.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
“I chose it because I remember reading it as a young person who was coming of age and identifying with some of the scenarios and life perspectives that the narrator, Holden Caulfield, presents. The stream-of-consciousness writing style, pithy language, and humorous takes on life — as experienced by a young adult — make this an easy go-to classic for someone wanting to read a banned book.” –Annie Herlocker, Bordeaux Branch Library Manager
1984 by George Orwell
Nineteen Eighty-Four revealed George Orwell as one of the twentieth century's greatest mythmakers. While the totalitarian system that provoked him into writing it has since passed into oblivion, his harrowing cautionary tale of a man trapped in a political nightmare has had the opposite fate: its relevance and power to disturb our complacency seem to grow decade by decade. In Winston Smith's desperate struggle to free himself from an all-encompassing, malevolent state, Orwell zeroed in on tendencies apparent in every modern society, and made vivid the universal predicament of the individual.
Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
(The #1 most challenged book of 2021)1
In 2014, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, thought that a comic of reading statistics would be the last autobiographical comic e would ever write. At the time, it was the only thing e felt comfortable with strangers knowing about em. Then e created Gender Queer. Maia's intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fan fiction, and facing the trauma and fundamental violation of pap smears. Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: It is a useful and touching guide on gender identity—what it means and how to think about it—for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
“Since its publishing in 1953, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury has been a literary reminder of the consequences of censorship on society. With the recent attacks on libraries and items in their collections, Bradbury’s book seems to be more relevant than ever before.” —Corey Frederick, Edgehill Branch Library Manager
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
“The reason I chose Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison is because it was one of the first books where I knew exactly what the Black main character was going through. I have been in situations where I don’t exist for people. I’ve worked in predominantly White spaces for long stretches where no one, including staff, ever learned my name or who I was as a person. It felt like I was a ghost in those spaces; I was set with a task and expected to disappear after the work was done.” —Sade Johnson, Adult Services Librarian, Edmondson Pike Branch Library
The Family Book by Todd Parr
“We selected this children’s picture book because it celebrates diversity, champions acceptance, and denounces bullying. This crucial message comes at a time when children encounter adults and peers who tell them it’s abnormal to have two moms or two dads, or don’t support who they truly are. The Family Book encourages children around the world by affirming that their family is incredible and filled with love.” —Emily Bland, Librarian, Goodlettsville Branch Library
The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman
“Green Hills staff chose The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman because we wanted to select a graphic novel to appeal to teens and younger adults and expose other patrons to something they might not typically read on their own. We selected The Sandman for the cultural significance of the series and its influence on graphic novels today in terms of early queer representation, art style, and storytelling. Also, Neil Gaiman is a well-known advocate for libraries and the freedom to read.” —Heidi Berg, Green Hills Branch Library Manager
Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
“Captain Underpants is a silly book that gives kids permission to think like a kid. As a kid, things are simpler. And the thought of a person wearing their underpants backwards with a cape is simply hilarious.” Deonta Ridley, Circulation Assistant, Hadley Park
1984 by George Orwell
“George Orwell’s 1984 was originally published in 1949, but the theme relates very much to today’s events — particularly in our current political climate throughout the world. This story revolves around omnipresent government surveillance, the Big Brother concept, and the elimination of personal privacy and freedom. With our real-life experiences revolving around the advent of technologies that allow people all over the world to instantly learn of events, closely follow the activities of others and openly project their thoughts, a rereading and discussion of 1984 should be a very interesting experience!” —Emily Talbot, Hermitage Library Branch Manager
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
“This book gives readers a sense of what the average soldier faced during the Vietnam War. Many books on this topic either focus on the politics, the military movements, or the atrocities, rather than experiences of the soldiers on the ground. This title is considered one of the best books about the Vietnam War, yet it is one that has been challenged on several occasions for its bold language and sexual content, with one Texas challenger labeling it ‘complete garbage trash.’” —Suzanne Robinson, Inglewood Branch Library Manager
The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter
"The Librarian of Basra saved many books from being forever lost. This is what our Banned Books initiative is all about. We chose this powerful story to echo the importance of keeping books safe and accessible to all." —Skye Moss, Program Specialist, Looby Branch Library
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
“I chose this book because it played a pivotal role in the development of our professional ethics as librarians. When it was published in 1939 it was banned, burned, and called “obscene” for its critical depiction of the agricultural industry. In response to this censorship, the American Library Association created the Library Bill of Rights, which outlines the rights that Americans have to freely access information and ideas. Read more on npr.org.” —Jessica Piper, Madison Branch Library Manager
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor
“We chose this title because of its poignant name; it evokes emotions that make you want to know and feel what the author must share. Yet we know this book and its subject are unwelcome in many of our schools. Growing up in similar circumstances in the rural, segregated South, we can readily identify with many of the experiences that Cassie and her family and friends endured. Although slavery and segregation have long been outlawed in the United States of America, they both continually rear their ugly heads under various names. People are still being judged and marginalized by the color of their skin and not by their character. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is a book that’s still crying out to be discussed and analyzed, comparing life to then and now. And still, it shall continue to cry out for justice and equity for all people. And yet, many people are uncomfortable discussing or hearing about it!” —North Branch Library Staff
Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
“Despite being released more than 20 years ago, Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed remains relevant and timely today given the current conditions millions of workers face in America. Due to its insights and stark descriptions of the realities of low wage jobs, Nickel and Dimed remains an important book that sheds light on economic inequality in the United States.” —Chad L’eplattenier, Old Hickory Branch Library Manager
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter is a series of seven fantasy novels written by British author J. K. Rowling. The novels chronicle the lives of a young wizard, Harry Potter, and his friends Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, all of whom are students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The main story arc concerns Harry's struggle against Lord Voldemort, a dark wizard who intends to become immortal, overthrow the wizard governing body known as the Ministry of Magic and subjugate all wizards and Muggles (non-magical people).2
Melissa by Alex Gino
When people look at Melissa, they think they see a boy named George. But she knows she's not a boy. She knows she's a girl. Melissa thinks she'll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte's Web. Melissa really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can't even try out for the part... because she's a boy. With the help of her best friend, Kelly, Melissa comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
“The Color Purple is a Pulitzer Prize winner (1983), was made into a film directed by Steven Spielberg (1985), and was nominated for 11 Academy Awards. It is also one of the most frequently challenged books, according to tracking by the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom. We invite our community to read this book with us. Afterward, join us for a screening of the film, followed by a discussion of the differences between book and movie.” —Angela Brady, Southeast Branch Library Manager
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
“We chose this book because many of us recalled reading it years ago, but no one could remember why it would so regularly appear on banned and challenged lists. Many staff liked the idea of revisiting this book about a neurodivergent narrator and we found that, interestingly, it’s been banned and challenged for offensive language and atheism, but not for the problematic depiction of the autistic main character (which the author has even acknowledged). As we’re re-reading, we realize this isn’t a perfect book, but reading and discussing the book’s issues through a critical lens is a much better option than erasing it from the record completely.” —Thompson Lane Branch Library Staff
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil's name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.