September 30 – October 6 2012 marks the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week, and at Hypable we are celebrating the freedom to read. Breaking down the reasons they were challenged, here are 10 of our favourite banned and frequently challenged books, and some reasons why we think you should read them anyway.
Like everything, banned books go in and out of style. For a few years, everyone was so concerned with keeping Harry Potter (reasons: anti-family, occult/Satanism, religious viewpoint, violence) and Twilight (reasons: religious viewpoint, sexually explicit), off the shelves, that the classics were neglected.
However, there are certainly some stalwarts that continue to make the most frequently challenged lists again, and again. These books are generally classics, and are amongst the favourite books of many readers (including this author). Yet have we become so accustomed to seeing these novels topping the banned book lists that we accept it?
Maybe you have never given these books a try, or maybe you’re just looking for an excuse to re-read. Either way, here is your next reading list. If someone telling you not to do something isn’t enough of an incentive, try out our excuses to pick up any (or all) of these books.
The Catcher in the Rye
A favourite for censors everywhere. Despite being published in 1951, it was the 10th most challenged book from 1990-1999, and the 19th most challenged betwen 2000-2009. Additionally, it made the list of 10 Most Challenged Books in 2009, 2005, 2001.
Reasons: Anti-white, obscene, blasphemous, filthy, undermines morality, sexual references, profanity, and many more.
Read it because: It arguably laid the foundations for the YA genre we all love today. Salinger showed that teenagers are not lesser people, but have emotions just as deep, and experiences just as wide as adults. Plus Holden is kind of the first emo.
To Kill a Mockingbird
Another favourite of the censor. It it wasn’t so serious, the reasons for banning this would be laughable. On the Top 10 list in 2011 and 2009, and ranked 40th on the list of challengd books between 1990-1999, then moving up to 21st between 2000-2010.
Reasons: Profanity, filthy, racist, racial themes, racial slurs, adult themes, promotes white supremacy.
Read it because: Despite the reasons for censoring, To Kill a Mockingbird absolutely argues against racism. And did we mention that it won a Pulitzer Prize, the highest literary honour? But mainly because it gives us one the most loved characters in all of literature – Atticus Finch.
The Lord of the Flies
Often featured on school reading lists, this book has been challenged in classrooms, and in both school and public libraries. It also has staying power, as Lord of the Flies was the 68th most challenged book between 1990-1999.
Reasons: Demoralizing, excessive violence, profanity, racial slurs, racist, sexual references, slurs on minorities.
Read it because: It is an early Hunger Games, featuring children stranded alone and turning on each other. And just to raise the stakes, it won a Nobel Prize, which is kind of a big deal.
A satirical and absurd story masquerading as a historical novel. It has been challenged primarily on the basis of language, although we are sure the sexuality of the lead character, the questioning of religion, and the anti-government sentiment haven’t helped it in the eyes of the censor.
Reasons: Profanity, dangerous, objectionable language.
Read it because: You will never find another book like it, probably ever. Both the style of the book and the characters you will encounter are truly unique. Also, its message and critique is as relevant now as it was when published in 1961.
As a general rule, people who censor things don’t like books that deal with censorship. Orwell’s dystopian society struck a little too close to home for many, and while it was being challenged in America, it was banned outright in the U.S.S.R. The fact that we are long passed the year 1984 makes this book no less relevant to today.
Reasons: Pro-communist, sexually explicit.
Read it because: The language and ideas from Nineteen Eighty-Four have entered our language, and yet many people don’t know their origin. Ever wondered where ‘Big Brother’ came from? Enough said.
Another controversial book which has always been on banned book lists. Between 1990-1999 it was the 67th most banned book, however during 2000-2009 it rose to 46th.
Reasons: Sexually explicit, violence, obscene language, references to religion, depictions of torture, ethnic slurs, depictions of women – basically any reason under the sun.
Read it because: It’s a wonderful example of weird satirical science-fiction. As far as literary merit goes, it appears on all the lists of Top 100 english classics. And really, don’t you want to know what all the fuss is about?
Lord of the Rings
Once again, those eager censors have completely missed the mark with the anti-religion critique. Hint: “satanic” generally translates to “someone does magic”. Of course, Tolkien was devoutly religious, and these ideas are very present in his works (although we would say closer to the Harry Potter level of subtely, rather than Narnia-esque style similar to hitting you repeatedly with a brick).
Reasons: Satanic, irreligious, anti-Christian.
Read it because: If you haven’t read this by now, it’s time to quietly sneak off and do it, and stop pretending you have. This is one of the greatest epics in history, and, seriously – did we mention someone does magic?
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
You may be surprised to find Huck Finn ranking higher than Catcher in the Rye, or even Slaughterhouse-Five. Well think again, because it was one of the Top 10 challenged books in 2007 and 2002. Not only that, but from 1990-1999 it was the 5th most challenged book, and between 2000-2009 had only dropped nine places to 14th.
Reasons: Obscenity, atheist, racist, profanity, racial slurs.
Read it because: It is an iconic classic, telling a wonderful story of adventure. And when you do read it, make sure you seek out the original, because recently more and more attempts have been made to “clean up” the text, which is just as bad (and ridiculous) as banning it.
Orwell strikes again on our list, he must have done something right. Attempting to publish an anti-U.S.S.R novel during World War Two was no easy feat, so give the man some credit for getting it done. He was working against the British government’s own self-censorship, as well as Soviet spies (yes, real spies).
Reasons: Communist, objectionable language, anti-religious.
Read it because: It is short, easy, and you will be better for having read it. It is an anti-fairy tale, the kind of bedtime story your parents certainly wouldn’t have read you at night.
Censors were trickier when it came to Fahrenheit 451, often choosing to use editions where objectionable language had been removed, or simply black it out in individual copies. Although it was published in 1951, the novel was still the 69th most challenged book between 2000-2009.
Reasons: Profanity, anti-religious.
Read it because: It is a wonderfully detailed character study. Whether intended or not, the book can be read as a critique of censorship, and particularly the burning of books. You can read it and make up your own mind, but absolutely read it.
Banned Books Week 2012:
If you are interested in learning more about Banned Books Week, have a look at the American Library Association’s website, which is where we took our statistics from. If you’re curious about more recent challenges, you can check out the ten most challenged books of 2011. And remember, Hypable is bringing you Banned Books coverage all week.
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