Celebrate Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week, Sept. 24 – Oct. 1 is our only national celebration of the freedom to read.  The event was founded by the American Library Association in 1982, in the face of a surge in “challenges” to books in libraries, bookstores, and schools.  The ALA reports more than 11,000 challenges since then, and estimates that 70% are never reported.  At least 348 books were challenged in 2010.  http://www.bannedbooksweek.org/.  In whatever ways we find suitable, this is a wonderful occasion to celebrate books that somebody, somewhere, did not want us to read.

Huckleberry Finn was banned by the Concord Public Library in 1885 as “trash suitable only for the slums.”

In addition to “sexually offensive” passages in Anne Frank’s diary, some readers complained that the book was “a real downer.”

The Arabian Nights, was banned both by Arab governments and the US, under the Comstock law of 1873.  (Hint – get hold of an unexpurgated edition of Burton’s translation).

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.  It “centers on negative activity.”

When I found Catcher in the Rye at sixteen, I was no longer alone.  More than one generation had this experience.  The most widely banned American book between 1966 and 1975, people complained it had “an excess of vulgar language, sexual scenes, and things concerning moral issues.”

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Parents in Kansas objected to “vulgar language, sexual explicitness, and violent imagery,” in this autobiography.  The author mentions being raped as a girl.

A Light in the Attic supposedly,”glorified Satan, suicide and cannibalism, and also encouraged children to be disobedient.”

Of Mice and Men A second winner for Steinbeck.

The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, a Nobel Laureate.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle. This award winning favorite was on the ALA most challenged list from 1990-2000 for, “offensive language and religiously objectionable content (for references to crystal balls, demons and witches).”

Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner.

Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.

Ulysses by James Joyce. The US Post office burned 500 copies in 1922.

This book has frequently been banned for the abuse James suffers. “Others have claimed that the book promotes alcohol and drug use, that it contains inappropriate language, and that it encourages disobedience to parents.”


I find it easy to roll my eyes and assume that the bad old days of suppressing Mark Twain are behind us.

Unlike the good people in the American Library Association, I’m not on the front lines, seeing the constant attempts to limit what we can read and think.  Banned Books Week is a perfect time to reflect on our freedoms and pass the word of this celebration to others.  And read or reread a book that someone, somewhere, tried to keep out of our hands!

4 thoughts on “Celebrate Banned Books Week

  1. I used to teach several of the books you mentioned and a couple more that have been banned in various places. You might want to add Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya and Kindred by Octavia Butler to your list for next year. Wonderful books that have brought great joy and taught important lessons to many. My students could never understand why anyone would want these marvelous books suppressed. Me either! Thanks for this reiminder.


  2. It’s always interesting to see the lists of banned books as well as some of the reasons given as to why they were banned. Reading through your list I was actually surprised at the number of classics on the list, it’s also interesting to see children’s books that have been banned. James and the Giant Peach, really?

    I also have to repeat a comment that I’ve seen before when talking about banning books. There’s a certain humorous irony in seeing Fahrenheit 451 as a banned book, and it really makes you wonder if the people banning it even bothered to read the book and think about it at all.


    • The reason given for banning Fahrenheit 451 was Bradbury’s use of the words, “hell,” and “damn.” Hard for us to believe these days, but I always remember the story that Clark Gable threatened to walk off the set when the makers of “Gone With the Wind,” tried to get him to say, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a darn.”

      But yes, with this particular book, the irony is huge. What stops me from any comfortable assumption that this is all past tense is the story of a prominent presidential candidate passing muster after a long Q&A by leaders of the religious right. One of the tabs on the website I included has a google map of the country, with pins showing the location and reasons for recently incidents.


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