Here at Bas Bleu, a banned-books list is more commonly known as a “to-be-read-immediately” list. Call it a remnant of teenaged rebellion, that phase in which we swiped our mother’s copy of Peyton Place or had our young minds blown by The Catcher in the Rye. Perhaps it’s borne of a democratic aversion to censorship. Or maybe it’s even simpler than that: We read controversial books because they often have the most to teach us.
Last week, the American Library Association released its annual list of “frequently challenged books.” Among the top ten titles that got people hot under the collar in 2012 were The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (homosexuality, religious viewpoint), The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (offensive language), Beloved by Toni Morrison (violence), and—surprise, surprise—Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (sexually explicit).
This revelation in the wake of our recent Tournament of Classics made us wonder: Which books that are considered literary staples today have been the targets of censorship efforts in the past? And which are still under fire in 2013? Here’s just a sampling of what we found, courtesy of the ALA:
The Catcher in the Rye: challenged by parents in Ohio (1963) for being “anti-white” and “obscene”; banned by a South Carolina school-district board member (2001) for being a “filthy, filthy book.”
The Grapes of Wrath: burned by the East St. Louis, Illinois, public library (1939); challenged in Vermont (1981) for “language and portrayal of a former minister who recounts how he took advantage of a young woman”; challenged by a North Carolina parent (1986) who said the “book is full of filth. My son is being raised in a Christian home and this book takes the Lord’s name in vain and has all kinds of profanity in it.”
To Kill a Mockingbird (Winner of our Tournament of Classics!): temporarily banned in Minnesota (1977) for usage of the words “damn” and “whore lady”; challenged in Indiana (1981) with claims that the book does “psychological damage to the positive integration process” and “represents institutionalized racism under the guise of good literature.”
The Color Purple: challenged in North Carolina (2008) because of portrayals of “homosexuality, rape, and incest.”
The Lord of the Flies: challenged in Iowa (1992) for “profanity, lurid passages about sex, and statements defamatory to minorities, God, women and the disabled”; challenged in North Carolina (1981) for being “demoralizing inasmuch as it implies that man is little more than an animal.”
1984: challenged in Florida (1981) for being “pro-communist.”
Of Mice and Men: challenged in Tennessee (1989) because “Steinbeck is known to have had an anti-business attitude” and because “he was very questionable as to his patriotism.”
Brave New World: removed from some Missouri classrooms (1980) because “it makes promiscuous sex ‘look like fun.’”
For Whom the Bell Tolls: considered non-mailable by the U.S. Post Office (1940).
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: challenged in California (2000) when parents complained that teachers “can choose the best books, but they keep choosing this garbage over and over again.”
The Lord of the Rings: burned in New Mexico (2001) for being “satanic.”
The Jungle: banned in Yugoslavia (1929), East Germany (1956), and South Korea (1985).
The Awakening: “First published in 1899, this novel so disturbed critics and the public that it was banished for decades afterward.”
Among the frequently challenged titles that were burned on Nazi bonfires in 1933: The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, The Jungle, and An American Tragedy.
For more information about frequently challenged books, check out the American Library Association’s website.