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Here Are The Banned Books You’ve Probably Read!


Banned Books Week!

To celebrate Banned Books Week 2018, and to champion freedom of speech, we’ve put together a list of banned books and books that received censorship challenges, ranging from the distant past up until only last year.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that banning or censoring books was the thing of the past, or at least no longer takes place in liberal democracies. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong. In researching this article I was shocked by the number of books which have undergone attempts at censorship or removal from school libraries and reading lists in the last few years.

The American Library Association (ALA) reported 417 books were banned or challenged in 2017, including, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, and the American classic, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Since the ALA’s founding, the top three most challenged authors are Toni Morrison, Stephen King, and Judy Blume.

Things have changed in recent years; instead of governments deciding what is and isn’t acceptable to enter the public domain, it’s people power, often in the form of conservative organisations and pressure groups pushing for books with certain themes to be censored, removed from public schools, or just outright banned.

Below we’re going to look at some of the books that have been subject to censorship (or the demand for censorship) as well as books that have been banned. All the books mentioned are available on hibooks.

Censored Books Aren’t a Thing of the Past

Attempts at censoring books is alive and well in the United States. According to the Guardian, Banned Books Week was founded by the (ALA) in 1982 in response to the unexpected surge in attempts to have books restricted or removed from schools, libraries, and bookshops. Since then, over 11,000 books have been “challenged”, including as recently as last year (2017).

The censored audiobooks below might surprise you, some spent months on the New York Times bestseller list, some have been adapted for the big screen; most are children’s audiobooks.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (published 2017)

The Themes:

  • African American experience
  • Black Lives Matter movement
  • Alleged police brutality
  • Drug use

The Reaction:

  • In July 2018 a South Carolina police union objected to the book’s inclusion in the summer reading list for ninth-grade students at Wando High School
  • The union described the inclusion of the book as ‘almost indoctrination of distrust of the police’

And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson (published 2005)

The Themes:

  • Gay relationships
  • Gay Adoption
  • Homosexuality in animals (specifically penguins)

The Reaction:

  • The ALA reported that And Tango Makes Three was the most challenged book of 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010
  • Illinois: some parents required parental permission before their children could read the book
  • Virginia: Loudoun County Public Schools removed the book following a complaint from a parent that the book, “promoted a gay agenda” and attacked “families headed by heterosexuals.”
  • Singapore: destroyed copies of books with pro-LGBT family themes, including And Tango Makes Three

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (published 2003)

The Themes:

  • Pedophilia
  • Nazism
  • Drug abuse
  • Rape
  • Depictions of Afghanistan and Afghans

The Reaction:

  • The ALA report that The Kite Runner was one of the most challenged books of 2008
  • Afghan Americans complained about the portrayal of Pashtuns and Hazaras
  • Two of the film’s child actors faced death threats and were forced to relocate to the United Arab Emirates

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (published 1999)

The Themes:

  • Sexual content
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Homosexuality

The Reaction:

  • Parents Against Bad Books in Schools (PABBIS) – catchy name –  worked to have the book moved to the adult section of public libraries
  • Parents raised concerns over the book’s sexual content and depiction of drug and alcohol use
  • A Chicago school board voted unanimously to reinstate the novel after a parent complained about the book

The Bible by various (exact publication date debated)

The Themes:

  • Seafood, menstruation etc.
  • God’s dealings with Israel
  • The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus
  • The Early Church

The Reaction:

  • Made it into the ALA’s top-ten most challenged books of 2015
  • Florida banned distribution of Bibles in public schools in 2014

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl (published 1961)

The Themes:

  • Erm…peaches.

The Reaction:

  • James and the Giant Peach made the ALA list in 1991, 1992, 1995, and 1999
  • Main complaints: the use of the word ‘ass’
  • References to wine, tobacco, snuff, and whiskey
  • A bookshop owner in Ohio claimed the book promoted communism
  • Wisconsin: the spider licking its lips could be read as sexual (lol)

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (published 2013)

The Themes:

  • Domestic abuse
  • Child abuse
  • Bullying
  • Body image

The Reaction:

  • The parents of a Minnesota high school student petitioned to have Eleanor and Park removed from a school, citing the book’s “vile profanity”
  • The Anoka County Library cancelled an invitation for Rowell to speak. Ironically, the author was due to talk during Banned Books Week

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (published 2005)

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The Themes:

  • Sexy vampires

The Reaction:

  • Twilight made it onto the ALA’s top ten most challenged books of 2010 for its “religious viewpoint” and “violence”
  • Other concerns were raised over the book’s sexual content and being unsuitable for certain ages groups
  • Surprisingly no-one complained about the quality of the writing or the film adaptation

List of banned books

Banned books are nothing new. Perhaps the most famous list was the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (List of Prohibited Books), a list of books deemed heretical or contrary to Roman Catholic Teachings. However, the Church wasn’t the only institution to ban books. Here’s a quick list of banned books, all of which are classic or important works in the literary canon:

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Ulysses by James Joyce

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Steve Partridge

Steve is from the UK and has lived in London, Bulgaria, and Berlin. He studied Christian theology at King’s College London and spent several years working in publishing. His articles, books reviews, interviews and essays have been published in a range of digital and print magazines. In 2012, he was shortlisted for the Brighton Fringe Festival Writers Prize. His obsession with books and writing led him to start his own ‘BookTube’ channel on YouTube (to which you should probably subscribe). You can find him talking nonsense on Twitter @StPartridge.

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