Every year, schools, bookstores and libraries are asked to remove books from their shelves, for being too violent, too religious, too occult — for really any reason you can think of. Fortunately, the American Library Association, American Bookseller’s Association, Freedom to Read Foundation and many other noteworthy organizations sponsor an event called Banned Books Week, calling attention to the books and materials that have, at one time in history or another, been challenged or banned from public consumption. You can learn more about Banned Books Week or view lists of books that are challenged every year here.
To celebrate the freedom to read anything and everything, we shared our favorite banned books below. Let us know your favorite banned book in the comments.
Banned for: “dark and disturbing” material aka too scary for kids
This was one of my favorite books growing up. The story follows the main character, Max, who dressed up in a wolf costume and like every young boy gets in trouble for being way too boisterous inside. He’s sent to bed and his room magically turns into another land populated with “Wild Things” (which look like big friendly-ish monsters). After being crowned the King of the Wild Things, Max decides he wants to go back to his bedroom and there’s some dinner in his bedroom waiting for him. There’s only around 350 words in this book, so make sure if you haven’t seen it to look at the awesome illustrations.
Banned for: all the cursing, lying, drinking, sex and communism.
This kid, Holden, worried about everything. His girls, other people’s girls, money, school, some ducks in Central Park, innocence. Kind of hate him. But the book about this kid’s life is shot with slangy, wonderful dialogue. And it happens around iconic NYC locations like Central Park, Rockefeller Center, Grand Central and the Museum of Natural History. Before I’d seen Wes Anderson, I’d loved the golden, vintagey sphere of Holden Caulfield’s New York. Always wanted to visit that world get a late breakfast (sans angst), ride the carousel. But the kids can fall off the cliff for all I care.
Banned for: profanity, nudity, violence and reference to religion
Slaughterhouse Five is the story of Billy Pilgrim, a soldier “unstuck in time”. He travels back and forth through his life, reliving past mistakes. This book grapples with the concept of free will and how we live our lives. I will say it is a critical interpretation of society and current events. This book keeps you on your toes. It’s surprising and at times difficult to follow, but instead of pushing hard and fast truths, this book specifically asks you to think for yourself. So it goes.
Banned for: discussion of being drunk, smoking cigarettes, violence, ‘dirty talk,’ references to the Bible and using God’s name in vain
This is probably super meta, but Fahrenheit 451 is my favorite banned book. There’s a scene in the book where the firefighters — who are nothing like today’s firefighters, they start fires to burn books and the homes they reside in because ideas are bad and independent thought is criminal — have discovered that a woman has been keeping a secret trove of books. The firemen arrive at her house to start incinerating her beloved novels and they find her standing on her front porch, surrounded by every book she owns. The books have been doused in gasoline and she’s holding up a match, refusing to leave her porch. After giving a speech, she strikes the match and she, and all of her books, go up in flames. I’m sure practically anyone who loves books relates to this scene, but as a person who views books as if they were beloved family members, this scene resonated with me.
Banned for: sexually explicit passages, profanity, treatment of mentally challenged individuals
Flowers for Algernon is a work that has affected me since I read it in high school. Told through the main character’s journal entries, Flowers is the story of Charlie Gordon, a mentally disabled man who undergoes an experimental procedure intended to increase his intelligence. The titular Algernon is a laboratory mouse who underwent the same procedure before Charlie, who soon shows unexpected effects from the operation. Charlie’s journal entries go from almost-indecipherable writing in the beginning to genius-level prose, and Charlie’s once optimistic outlook becomes cynical, as he learns that the people he once knew as friends ridiculed him for his disability. Even the reader goes through a shift in how they see Charlie, from a somewhat condescending view of a mentally-challenged person to an empathetic one for a tragic man who cannot reconcile his losses with what he’s gained in life.
Banned for: sex, basically
The Scarlet Letter is about a young woman living in a Puritan community in Boston, who is publicly disgraced after committing adultery. The main character, Hester Prynne, is forced to wear a scarlet “A” on her chest after her secret is revealed and she refuses to name the father of her illegitimate child. Things get interesting when her husband, who had been presumed lost at sea returns and insists she keep his identity a secret as well. To summarize, what follows are a lot of mind games between the two men and Hester, each of whom ends up wrestling with their own inner demons and guilt.
As a reader, I always felt a desire to protect Hester. The fallout of the scandal affects her in some really devastating ways, and she’s forced to carry a huge amount of private and public shame. Despite all the unfairness and hypocrisy, I felt Hester was able to redeem herself and make a decent life for herself and her daughter.
At the time of it’s publishing, adultery (and anything sexual for that matter) was an extremely risqué topic, but it’s interesting to note there is no actual mention of any sexual acts. We know about it only because of the pregnancy.
Banned for: objectionable language
On the surface Catch 22 is a novel about World War II. This is not however, a novel about heroism or patriotism, instead is focuses on the insanity of war. In the novel the phrase Catch 22, which Heller invented, referred to the no-win logic of military bureaucracy: A rational person would not want to fly dangerous missions, so you have to be crazy to fly them. However, the military doesn’t want crazy people flying. So, if you think you are crazy you can request to be excused. But if you do you are demonstrating rational behavior, so you have to fly. And so it goes, round and round.
I first read Catch-22 in 1972 as the Vietnam war raging in the background. The novel which is at turns humorous, tragic, violent and ultimately hopeful, seemed to be describing the crazy world in which I was living.
Banned for: promoting witchcraft, Satanism, anti-family themes, the occult, promoting violence, encouraging lying, cheating and stealing
The Harry Potter series has been banned in places all across the world. Lets use a severing charm (deffindo if you were curious) and cut to the heart of the matter. Parents want their kids to have positive role models and they feel that Harry Potter sets a bad example. He sneaks out after his curfew, he breaks rules, and he lies to teachers. Harry fights with other students, and sure everything might work out in the end but he is rewarded for everything that he did. I think its silly to ban this marvelous series. This series defined a generation and to think that it is banned in places is shocking to me.