25 Banned Books That You Should Read Today
Mar 23, 2011
Almost since the dawn of publishing, books have been banned for one reason or another. Many notable banned books are also compelling reads from classic or contemporary literature. This list summarizes 25 of the most controversial banned books from throughout history.
#1 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Harper Lee's only novel is considered by many to be among the greatest works of fiction in American literature. Yet the story of young Scout Finch and her father, Atticus, has often been banned. Atticus is a lawyer defending a black man accused of raping a white woman. The novel's frank discussion of rape and central topic of racism have made the book a lightning rod for controversy.
#2 American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
Ellis is a frequent target for protests due to the nature of his writing, but none has faced the level of opposition of American Psycho. The story concerns Patrick Bateman, a businessman who may also be a serial killer. The novel contains highly detailed and disturbing depictions of violence, as well as graphic sexual content. Because most of Bateman's victims are women, the novel has most often been criticized as being violently misogynist.
#3 And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
This picture book tells the true story of Roy and Silo, two male penguins in New York City's Central Park Zoo. When the penguins were seen trying to hatch an egg-shaped rock, zookeepers gave them an actual egg. Roy and Silo then raised the chick, Tango. Despite the story concerning penguins, it stirred controversy about same-sex marriage and homosexuality, resulting in widespread bans.
#4 The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Chopin's story of Edna Pontellier asserting her independence was a pioneering work of feminism when it was published in 1899. Yet it faced challenges from the moment of its release. This was due in part to its treatment of gender roles, but also for its depiction of female sexuality, a highly taboo subject at the time. As recently as 2006, the book was still being challenged by conservatively-minded people for its progressive attitudes towards women.
#5 The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Tolkien's epic fantasy trilogy follows good and evil forces in pursuit of a magical ring. The book has been banned as 'satanic' in some areas and was even burned by members of a church in New Mexico in 2001. The controversy is ironic, though, as Tolkien was a devout Christian and many scholars note Christian themes in his work.
#6 Candide by Voltaire
Written in 1759, Candide is a satirical French novella that takes on a wide variety of targets, including religion, government and philosophers. Not surprisingly, the book was banned immediately upon publication in many parts of the world. It's been labeled blasphemous, seditious and immoral.
#7 Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
Like many Vonnegut novels, Cat's Cradle tackles numerous issues, such as the nuclear arms race and religion. In 1972, the Strongsville, Ohio School Board banned the book without stating an official reason. Notes from the meeting include references to the book as 'completely sick' and 'garbage.' However, this ban was overturned in 1976.
#8 Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
Fallen Angels is a young adult novel about U.S. soldiers in Vietnam. It was widely acclaimed upon its publication, winning the Coretta Scott King Award in 1989. Yet it has often faced bans due to its graphic war violence and profanity.
#9 Forever by Judy Blume
Judy Blume was one of the first authors to write candidly about a teenage girl who is sexually active, and she's been the subject of criticism ever since. Her book Forever is a constant target of religious and sexual abstinence groups who don't think teenagers should read about a girl who goes on 'the pill.' Defenders of the book note that the teenagers in the book approach sexual relationships with caution, planning and appropriate protection.
#10 Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley's classic 1818 book details a man obsessed with creating life through the reanimation of dead tissue. He succeeds, only to be haunted and tormented by his grotesque creation. Over the past two centuries, the book has been banned for being indecent, objectionable and obscene. Christian groups have protested the book, claiming that it's in conflict with the principles of their faith.
#11 Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
Christian groups find fault with the witchcraft portrayed in J.K. Rowlings' immensely popular series. They're particularly critical of the positive portrayal of witchcraft in literature aimed at children, and the series has been accused of supporting paganism. Additionally, some groups criticize the books for a perceived political agenda.
#12 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Angelou's 1969 autobiography is the first part of a six-volume series. It covers her early life and teenage years. Despite the book's powerful message of overcoming adversity, many schools and libraries have banned it. This is due to an intense scene of childhood rape, as well as other depictions of sexuality and racism.
#13 Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence
D. H. Lawrence's 1928 novel was the subject of numerous obscenity trials in the United Kingdom, United States and other countries as recently as the 1960s. Objections were raised about the book's explicit sex scenes and use of taboo four-letter words. The plot of the story centers on a woman named Constance who has an affair with the gamekeeper of her estate.
#14 Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Despite widespread acclaim and popularity, Lord of the Flies has been banned for a plethora of reasons. Many critics complain about violence, language, sexuality and racism. Others accuse the novel of attacks on religion, the disabled and women.
#15 Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Of Mice and Men has been a staple of high school reading lists for decades. In that time, it's found its place on banned books lists throughout the country. The most common complaint is the coarse language, though some consider it offensive to Christians, women, minorities and the disabled.
#16 The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Steinbeck's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1939 novel follows the Joads, a poor family from Oklahoma, during the Great Depression. Immediately upon its publication, the novel was banned in many places and even burned in some. It's detractors faulted Steinbeck's sympathy for the poor and socialist tendencies. Leaders in the farming industry also attacked the book for its portrayal of migrant workers receiving poor treatment.
#17 Beloved by Toni Morrison
Loosely based on a true story, Morrison's 1987 novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It tells the story of Sethe, an escaped slave, as she tries to build a life for her and her daughter, Denver. Many school districts have banned it for language, violence, sex and racism.
#18 A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
This coming of age story is one of the all-time most challenged books. Peck's 1972 novel depicts a boy and his pet pig Pinky. The boy's father is a butcher and the book portrays animal slaughter with graphic accuracy. This gruesome content has often led to calls for the book to be banned.
#19 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Mark Twain's classic tale, published in 1884, continues the adventures of Huckleberry Finn and his friend Tom Sawyer from Twain's earlier novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. There is a perpetual debate about whether the book is racist for its extensive use of a racial epithet. The book's supporters claim the book makes a statement against the racism that was prevalent when the book was published.
#20 The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The story of the frustrated and confused Holden Caulfield has been banned by many schools and libraries since its publication in 1951. The censorship primarily stems from the book's profanity and sexual references. It's also commonly under fire for its perceived immorality. Throughout the novel, the protagonist drinks, smokes and engages in many other forms of questionable behavior.
#21 The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Cormier's 1974 young adult novel focuses on Jerry Renault, a high school student who stands up to the vicious secret student society that controls his school. People have been objecting to and banning this book since its publication. Chief complaints involve the nearly 200 swear words that appear in the story and the scenes that depict violence and masturbation.
#22 The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Color Purple won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Through a series of diary entries and letters, the novel portrays the lives of black women in the South during the 1930s. The book has often been banned for being sexually explicit and violent.
#23 The Giver by Lois Lowry
Often referred to as 'the suicide book,' Lois Lowry's 1993 novel is among the most commonly banned book in middle school libraries. The book centers on Jonas, a 12-year-old boy living in a future society where only one person holds the collective memories of the civilization. The book's ending is ambiguous, but some question whether its possible portrayal of suicide is inappropriate for young readers.
#24 The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
Defoe's 1722 novel of an irrepressible woman leading a desperate life was banned for lewdness and indecency because it's a novel full of adultery and prostitution. What's ironic about this is that Defoe left out the dirtiest of details to make sure he would stay out of jail once Moll Flanders was published.
#25 Ulysses by James Joyce
Ulysses follows Leopold Bloom around Dublin on one day in 1904. The novel has been called the 20th century's best novel. It has also been called the most vulgar, obscene and blasphemous book ever to be banned in the U.S. For many years, copies of the novel were seized before they could enter the U.S.
Many notable banned books are among the works of classic American literature that are available as free audio books.