Today kicks of Banned Books Week, which goes until Oct 1 this year. In support of the initiative, here’s 10 classics that are often banned/challenged that I highly recommend people read.
Instead of writing mini-reviews on each title, I’ve listed the most frequent overall reasons each book has been challenged/banned and some interesting facts about the challenges. Please note that what I have listed below is in no way comprehensive of all the reasons why the books have been challenged. Some (like “Catcher in the Rye”) have been challenged an absurd amount of times.
Also, a quick note on the difference between challenged and banned books. Challenged refers to books that were challenged but not banned. Banned refers to books that were challenged and removed from library shelves, reading lists, classes, etc.
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Challenge/Banned Reason: Sexual content
“The Awakening” was highly shocking when it was first published, which led to it being banned for decades. In 2006, it was challenged by a school board member in Illinois who objected to it due to their religious beliefs.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Challenge/Banned Reason: Themes regarding slavery and violence
Frequently challenged for reasons ranging from sex to profanity. The most absurd case I could find was the one where parents complained about the book because of its portrayal of racism and sex. The complaints led to school administration removing the book from the curriculum and replacing it with “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Can we talk about the fact that “The Scarlet Letter” was deemed appropriate while “Beloved” wasn’t?
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Challenge/Banned Reason: Themes homosexuality, alcoholism and infidelity
A representative in Alabama proposed a bill that would have prohibited the inclusion of any novels featuring gay protagonists in libraries, schools and universities. This bill would have decreed that books like “Brideshead Revisited”, which were already on library shelves, be removed and destroyed.
Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Challenge/Banned Reason: Profanity and being “anti-white”
This book has been frequently challenged/banned since the 60’s and has a long history of actually getting teachers fired for assigning it to their classes. It also has an odd connection to John Lennon’s murder and some other shootings that have been used by some people as leverage for the argument that the book is “dangerous”.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Challenge/Banned Reason: Sexual content, profanity and violence
“The Color Purple” also has a long list of challenges and bans. One school district banned the book because they stated it was “smut”. Another school in California challenged it because of its “troubling ideas about race relations, man’s relationship to God, African history and human sexuality.”
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Challenge/Banned Reason: Profanity and sexual references
Challenged at a college in South Carolina because of language and references to sex.
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Challenge/Banned Reason: Profanity, images of violence and sexuality
Challenged at a school in Washington when parents complained of its depiction of violence and sexuality. Certain excerpts of this book were banned in Butler, PA in the mid-70’s.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
Challenge/Banned Reason: Because it “glorifies violence, death and criminal behavior”
Five residents in Ohio sued a board of education in the mid-70’s because they believed the book was pornographic. In 1978, it was banned from a high school in Idaho and the teacher who had been teaching it in their classroom was fired. More recently, parents in a school district challenged it in 2000 for being “garbage”.
The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
Challenge/Banned Reason: Satanic
In 2001, this book was actually burned (along with other works of Tolkien) in New Mexico for being satanic.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Challenge/Banned Reason: Profanity and anti-religious
A little humorous that the novel about book banning has been banned/challenged multiple times. This one often gets challenged due to the fact that the Bible is one of the books that gets burned in the story.
Grendel by John Gardner
Challenge/Banned Reason: Obscenity and violence
A high school in Colorado challenged “Grendel” for foul language and violence in 1997.