More times than not, when you tell someone not to do something…they are going to want to do it even more after that. This is definitely the case with my yearning to want to read banned books. Governments, school districts and churches (as well as the Office for Intellectual Freedom) are arguing back and forth over what books should be banned. In the past and in different parts of the world, books have been burned or removed completely based on the book’s differing religious or political views. While the Nazis even removed books strictly because they were not of German origin; most books in modern America are challenged by parents in a public or school library because of questionable themes, sexual content, offensive language, or topics that are unsuitable for that age group. Since the American Library Association began in 1990, Stephen King and Judy Blume have surprisingly had the most books challenged or banned.
With that being said, I am sharing with you the Top Cat’s Tuesday Top 10: Best Banned Books. This list is based on my favorites out of the banned books list.
10. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Reason for Censor: Offensive Language, Sexual Content, Anti-family Themes
Plot: The anti-utopian novel, Brave New World, was originally published in 1932. The novel itself follows the illegitimate son of a governor who, now in a future London, was raised in America and is not aware of the new empire. The book shows the culture-clash that he experiences living under the new set of rules and the author propounds that the economy and lack of jobs will create an atmosphere where the government controls the population through technology and psychological manipulation.
My take: Brave New World may have received mixed reviews early on but it is now ranked as one of the most most significant novels of the 20th century. I read Brave New World in college after reading 1984 and is in line with utopian novels like The Giver by Lois Lowry and Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy. The anticipated actions of the governments in this future environment are not far from the fears that many of us have today. For a mature reader, this novel is a great read.
9. Ulysses by James Joyce
Reason for Censor: Sexual Content
Plot: Ulysses is a modernist novel that chronicles the itinerant appointments and occurrences in the life of Leopold Bloom. The story takes place in Dublin but the novel parallels the life of Odysseus (the hero of Homer’s epic poem Odyssey) and Leopold Bloom. (Example: Joyce alludes the comparison between Bloom’s trip to Bella Cohen’s Brothel and Odysseus’s time with Circe.)
My Take: Despite a 1921 American obscenity trial while being banned and burned in both the US and England in the early 1900s; since its publication, Ulysses is regarded as one of the greatest literary works in history. The writer’s stream-of-consciousness writing technique and beautiful prose writing creates a rich and humorous book. The story definitely has adult themes and sexual content; but is a great read for the appropriate audience.
8. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Reason for Censor: Thematic Elements, Occult/Satanism
Plot: Harry Potter is a series of fantasy novels that chronicles the life of young wizard, Harry Potter and his friends. The story essentially centers around Harry’s growing in his wizardly knowledge and abilities while being threatened by the evil dark Wizard Lord Voldemort; who wishes to not only to rule the wizard and non-magic realms but wants to kill Harry based on his family lineage.
My Take: It took me a while to get on board with Harry Potter. I did think that the book series’s increasingly dark tones, gruesome violence, and occult practices were somewhat questionable early on; after I first read the story I realized that even though some more conservative groups could see the occult tones as questionable, the writer helps readers understand death, prejudice, corruption, and even mental illness. The book series are now a cultural phenomenon; leading to a successful movie series, amusement park attractions and endless amounts of memorabilia.
7. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Reason for Censorship: Offensive language, Racist Language, Violence, Thematic Elements
Plot: The 1937 novella tells the story of George Milton and Lennie Small traveling through California. The two displaced migrant ranch workers move place to place searching for new job opportunities during America’s Great Depression.
My Take: I read Of Mice and Men in school and it is taught in many school systems around the US, but the book is constantly targeted by the censors and is on the American Library Association‘s list of the Most Challenged Books of the 21st Century. Though the book’s events are somewhat tragic and most of the characters are truly depressing, it is a wonderful book that displays a sad reality of real life. The depressing nature of the book did lead one critic to challenge the book in one school because of the ‘depressing themes’…but this shouldn’t keep you from reading it.
6. Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
Reasons for Censorship: Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited for Age Group, Anti-Family
Plot: The Hunger Games trilogy center around teenagers: Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark. The novel is set in the dystopian setting of a the country of Panem. The country is made up of the wealthy Capitol and 12 specific districts that in different levels of poverty. Every year, children from the 12 districts are selected to participate in the Hunger Games. The Hunger Games, which are compulsory, are an annual televised death match.
My Take: The book was singled out for being overly religious, even though religion nor any deity was mentioned in any of the books. The books depiction of violence is very straight forward and graphically described; but it is tastefully done. The books are very well written and the writer does a good job at causing the reader to become emotionally involved in the story’s characters.
5. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Reasons for Censorship: Offensive Language, Sexual Content, Unsuited for Age Group
Plot: The novel centers around Holden Caulfield, a teenager from New York City, who is living in a southern California mental hospital (or sanatorium) near Hollywood, CA in the 1950s. Holden tells the story of his time at the Pencey Prepatory Academy in Agerstown, PA in which he flunked out of. After many altercations, he decides to leave to go home early and stay in a motel in New York City. The story continues as he interacts with different people and the teenage angst and alienation; before the end of the story where he decides to go to another school and is optimistic about his future.
My Take: There is no denying the impact that this novel has had on popular and literary culture; but the book is definitely not for the younger age groups. The book made Time’s 100 Best English-langauge novels written since 1923 list and is #15 on the BBC’s The Big Read list. While the novel tackles complex topics like losing your innocence, self identity, a sense of belonging, and dealing with loss; the Holden Caulfield character is a very relatable. Though many view the books protagonist as an icon for teenage rebellion; I view him as your average teenager trying to make it in our complex world.
4. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Reasons for Censorship: Drug/Alcohol Use
Plot: The books center around a girl named Alice who goes on an adventure. Alice falls through a rabbit hole and enters into a fantastic new world full of very peculiar humans and anthropomorphic creatures. Alice finds herself to hold a pivotal role in the future of world that she has fallen into.
My Take: Though many have hinted at a sexual or lustful relationship between Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) and Alice Pleasance Liddell (the little girl whom inspired the story); nothing has ever come to light. In fact, my young adult literature class in college spent about half of the semester dissecting the sexual and literal imagery found in the books. Since the tale was written to the girls, it is more commonly believed that Dodgson was writing it to warn the girls of the life that they will experience as they grow up; and the ‘drink me’ and ‘eat me’ portions of the book could be taken as a precautionary tale of the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Either way, the story (taken at face value) is considered to be one of the greatest examples of literary nonsense; and has long been celebrated in popular and literary culture.
3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons for Censorship: Sexual Content, Drugs/Alcohol Use, Unsuited for Age Group, Homosexual Themes
Plot: The epistolary novel is a modern day coming-of-age tale. The novel centers around an introverted teenager named Charlie, who is trying to journeying from the worlds of adolescence and adulthood. Charlie was encouraged to write the letters, of which the novel is comprised of, by his English teacher based on his passion for reading and writing. Charlie is struggling in his first year in high school. The novel takes place after two truly traumatic events take place in his life: the dead of his only middle-school friend and the death of his favorite aunt. Charlie is befriend by two seniors but is shunned by the group after a fallout with a girl. Charlie regains his friends but is anxious about losing his friends when they graduate. The novel explores and talks about many avenues of life, relationships and love.
My take: I first read The Perks of Being a Wallflower on the suggestion of a friend of mine in college (who was also in that Young Adult Literature class where we discussed the Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland books); and I don’t say this lightly but this book truly touched me. It was a life altering experience. The love and loss that Charlie experiences, along with the hurt and pain that happens to us all during our adolescent years causes an inexplicable bond to be made with the characters. The books themes are not appropriate for younger age groups. The book has been on the top 10 American Library Association banned book list 7 times since publication but I feel that older teenagers…especially we wallflowers, need to read this book.
2. Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Reason for Censorship: Violence, Offensive Language, Sexual Content, Thematic Elements
Plot: The story, which is told in nonlinear order with events (taking place via flashbacks or time travel experiences) ranging from his time in the war, to postwar, to his early years. The unreliable narrator, Billy Pilgrim, was an ill-trained, disoriented, and fatalistic American soldier; who refused to fight. The central events of the story is then Prisoner-of-war Pilgrim’s survival during the firebombing of Dresden and his experience with time travel to and from the war and his time spent in the ‘human exhibit’ in an alien zoo.
My Take: Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death is not only one of my favorite books that has been censored but it is one of my favorite books period. The science fiction-infused anti-war novel is a complicated but amazing read. What I find interesting is that the events of the firebombing of Dresden have been described by Vonnegut as semi-autobiographical. The book’s anti-war sentiment was immensely popular after its publication in 1969 amidst the ongoing Vietnam War, causing the novel to top the New York Times Best Seller list. The sexual acts that are described in the novel may be a bit much for younger readers but older teenagers may appreciate the style of writing.
1. The Holy Bible
Reason for Censorship: Religious Viewpoint, Sexual Content, Unsuited for Age Group, Incitement to Violence
Plot: A canonical collection of sacred texts or scriptures by many different authors that Jews and Christians view as a product of divine inspiration and a record of the relationship between the Judeo-Christian God and humans.
My Take: The United States is home to more Christians than anywhere else in the world but it is also home to more challenges to the book that the Christians view as the most holy. The Holy Bible is listed as the sixth most challenged book in America. The ALA, whom I have referenced many times in this report have been collecting information from the books that have been challenged, banned or censored from American schools or libraries since 1990. The ALA has listed many reasons why a book would be banned:
homosexuality, immigration, religious viewpoints, political viewpoint, occult/satanism, antiethnic, prostitution, suicide, evil, Islamic, Unsuited for Age group, Cultural Insensitivity, liberal propaganda, racism, sexual, slavery, gender non-conformity, glorification of criminals, alcohol, drugs, smoking, violence, anti-family, confuses children, promotes perversion, bisexuality, racist to whites, glorifies Islamic Jihad, Nudity, sex, anti-police, abortion, offensive, atheism, and mentions of Allah.
The ALA defines that any challenge is a ‘formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.’ Religious viewpoints is the fourth most common challenge recently, and the Holy Bible is one of the books that is receiving an increasing amount of challenge. Many people view a Bible being in a school library as a violation of the seperation of church and state, while some have complained that some of the topics and content is inappropriate to minors. I agree that some younger children needed to be guided through their reading of the Bible. As a Christian I view the Bible as an important historical, religious and sacred document but if it is just viewed as a piece of literature over an extended amount of time….it is amazing that that many writers could get their stories straight over thousands of years.
Whatever your feelings on censorship, we ultimately have to do what we feel as right; as long as what we feel as right doesn’t infringe on the rights of others. And my right to read something shouldn’t be infringed on because you don’t like something that is in my selected book. But with that being said, if something violates a viewpoint that I do not agree with; I do not want someone forcing my child (or me) to read that piece of text. It’s a complicated situation that we are in, in this day and time where the world around us is constantly changing.
Nazi Book burning in Berlin, May 1933, accredited to Unknown – United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Public Domain (PD-US-unpublished), https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1253020
Brave New World cover accredited to Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8103565
Ulysses cover, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=555052CC
Crowd outside a book store for the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince accredited to Source, (SA 3.0), https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=226679
Of Mice and Men cover by Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19545457
Hunger Games Trilogy Boxset cover accredited to Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49711016
The Catcher in the Rye cover accredited to Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1709640
Original Cover of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland accredited to source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47434658
The Perks of Being a Wallflower cover accredited to Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8206705
Slaughterhouse-Five cover accredited Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5481972
Holy Bible image by and accredited to Lyn Lomasi – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15744249
Book burning in Chile following the 1973 coup that installed the Pinochet regime accredited to Source, CIA Freedom of Information Act, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49711016