This week marks Banned Books Week, and this year I got my thinking cap on and decided to talk about the banned books that I have both read and have not read but own a copy of. I’ve always been drawn to controversial things, like a lot of people tend to be, whether it’s movies, video games, music videos, or books. If it was banned for whatever reason at some point, I have no know why.
If it sounds like something I could possibly stomach, then I will more than likely see for myself why a book was banned and then assess if I think it was justified. 9/10 the answer is no because I don’t think that outright banning a book is right (my only exceptions are books that feature potentially dangerous contents, like the anarchist cookbook which has instructions on how to make explosives. jinkies.) Naturally, I can’t read every banned or challenged book that exists because I’m only one person and also, some of them just doesn’t really interest me that much, but they do still interest me in some way because the freedom to read is something that is very important to me.
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis – If you’ve ever read this book you’ll most likely understand why this book was banned in Australia for a period of time: American Psycho is an incredibly violent book, with most of the violence being towards women and at one point, towards a child. I did actually enjoy this book, it’s pretty clever once you get over the initial shock towards all the violence and sex, but for once this is a book that I can understand the controversy surrounding it but that doesn’t mean I think it was right to ban it.
Animal Farm by George Orwell – Books with inherently political undertones are often banned by governments that the book discusses, so it’s not really surprising that Animal Farm is banned in both North Korea (it’s actually easier to name books that haven’t been banned in north korea) and Vietnam and was banned in the USSR. However, it surprising is that the book had difficulty in finding a publisher back at home, due to Soviet Russia being an important ally of Britain during the Second World War.
The Bible – It’s the Bible, there’s not much to say about this one other than the fact that currently the Bible is banned in a number of countries due to a conflict of religion or suppression of religion altogether, which can be interpreted as a violation of human rights.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – In 1955, Frankenstein was banned in South Africa for supposedly containing “obscene” and “indecent” material. What exactly that means, I’m not sure but my guess is that there’s a religious reason. A man gathering together the parts of dead bodies to make his own living breathing person without any divine intervention can rub some people the wrong way. It actually makes me a little sad that this book banned, but at least it has been lifted because this is one of my favourite books.
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
– Raise your hand if you’re surprised that this book was banned. Now raise your hand if you’re surprised that it’s not banned in China. I can understand why this book has been banned in communist countries because it takes a pretty obvious anti-Stalinist, anti-totalitarian, and even anti-censorship stance but the novel was once challenged by a school in Florida for being “pro-communist” (source)
and also for containing explicit sexual content. The sexual content part I can understand, but “pro-communist”? Not exactly. Orwell was critical of Stalin’s regime, rather than communism as a whole as Orwell himself was a democratic socialist. Although Nineteen Eighty-Four
is one of my favourite books of all time, I won’t defend Orwell completely because the man was horrendously homophobic. Orwell had a lot of great thoughts, but his homophobia was not one of them
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – It’s been an eternity since I read The Great Gatsby and I likely will never read it ever again but I can’t really understand why it’s been challenged in schools when it is actually one that is studied in schools. According to the American Library Association (ALA), a school in South Carolina challenged it for “language and sexual references”. Sexual references I can understand because Daisy and Gatsby do have an affair, but language? I’m sure gendered slurs are used at times, but nothing as bad as most modern books use. If anything, the only thing that concerns me is that Daisy’s husband is a white supremacist who also holds extremely misogynistic views.
The Perks of a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – According to the ALA, this novel was removed from a high school’s English curriculum after a parent complained that the book contains references to “homosexuality, date rape, masturbation, and the glorification of alcohol use and drugs.” In my honest opinion, I don’t think it’s right to ban books like Perks because they can contain themes that can be important to know about when growing up, such as friendship, love, sexuality, body image, mental health, especially when they are discussed in an honest and non-romanticised manor. If we didn’t have books like these written for teenagers and every book for teens was all sparkles and rainbows, teens wouldn’t be able to handle things like these in their day-to-day lives or even once they reach adulthood.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – I studied this book when I was fourteen so British parents seem to be cool with teens reading it, but apparently, some parents in the US beg to differ. The ALA states that Of Mice and Men was challenged by parents in the US for its profanity (which doesn’t really go any further than ‘bastard’ and ‘goddamn’) and also for its subject matter being ‘too negative’. I don’t know about you, but stories that take place during times of widespread poverty don’t usually tend to be all sunshine and happiness. The time was called the Great Depression for a reason. Over in the UK, we don’t get taught a lot of US history other than the Civil Rights Movement, but even I can see that stories about disadvantaged people can be important. We got Dickens’ work out of that because he was appalled by how horrendous Victorian England really was.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – Here’s another one of my favourite books that has been challenged for reasons that are difficult for me to talk about because it’s not really my place. There have been instances where this book, and other books such as Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, has been removed for the use of racial slurs, specifically the N-word. While I do understand why parents wouldn’t want their children to be reading books that use racial slurs, I think it is important to understand that TKAM shows that these slurs are harmful, even though they were used far too often in the time period that the book takes place in. I don’t believe that racism is ever “fair for its time” because racism is always racism. However, because I am neither Black or American, it isn’t my place to make comments on whether it is acceptable for novels that use the N word should be censored.
Twilight by Stephanie Meyer – The controversy surrounding Twilight confuses me sometimes because while it has been criticised for being “occultist” and being sexually explicit. I can understand why religious groups would refer to the book as occultist because it is about vampires, who are undead and are even referred to as “the eternally damned” in the series itself. However, due to Meyer’s overt Mormon beliefs, pre-marital sex is pretty much condemned in the series and Edward and Bella don’t have sex until they’re married (which is not shown in any detail at all), and that results in them being parents, which is what religious groups argue sex is for.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – I haven’t read any dystopian books in a long, long long time because I’m still feeling the Great YA Dystopian Burnout of 2013, but I’ve had Brave New World on my shelves for years because at one point I made it a sort of goal to read as many classic dystopians as I could get my hands on, but obviously never got around to it. I don’t really know too much of what this book is about, but apparently, it’s been challenged in schools for having “anti-religion and anti-family themes” and also for sexual content. Huh. I shall have to see for myself.
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll – According to Wikipedia, this book was banned in Hunan province in China in the early 1930’s for its portrayal of anthropomorphised animals, which the censors believed was an insult to humans and that the book would teach children to regard humans and animals as equals. To me, this doesn’t seem like a problem at all because children these days are often taught to have respect for all living creatures, human or not, both in religious and non-religious contexts. The book has also been banned in schools for references to drugs, which I personally see as a bit of a stretch because this is a children’s book. I can only assume that this interpretation has come about because the Disney movie became a popular ‘trip movie’ (a movie people would watch while under the influence of LSD) in the 1960’s.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov – This is a book that I can understand parents and teachers not wanting to be in school libraries: a book about a paedophile kidnapping his twelve-year-old stepdaughter and raping her constantly is hardly suitable for anyone who isn’t an adult. Just thinking about it makes my skin crawl. However, I do own a copy myself and I do intend to read it because I have read that Nabakov wrote Humbert to be a repulsive character and insisted that Dolores is a child and not a young woman, however, I can’t find a source on this so I’m not sure how true that is. Although a quick Google search does show a disturbing about of critics who claim that Humbert is not a rapist because Dolores initiates sex with him. Dolores who is a twelve-year-old girl and therefore a child and therefore unable to consent. Yeah, I don’t think so.
Carrie by Stephen King – What has two thumbs and is going to be reading this book next week to gear up for Halloween? Me, that’s what. Horror books can be tricky things to put in school libraries because horror as a genre is usually for more adult audiences. When I was in school the only King book that I can remember seeing in the school library was The Green Mile, which still discusses a mature subject, but not to the extent of King’s horror books. I haven’t read this book yet so I can’t really comment on whether this book being challenged is reasonable, but if the reason was menstruation I will have to control my eyes from rolling back into my head. Here’s the thing: girls can start menstruating as early as nine years old. Carrie herself is sixteen so the idea that menstruation is an “unsuitable” topic for teenage girls to read about is just baffling to me.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess – I’ve had a special edition of this book on my shelves for about two years and I still haven’t read it. I have, however, seen the movie so any knowledge I have will be based on that. In this book alone, we have violence, sexual content, violence of a sexual nature, drug use, strong language, torture, and attempted suicide. Oh, and the main character is fifteen-years-old. Not all books that have teenage characters are not meant for teenage readers. I, however, am no longer a teenage reader (*sob*) and therefore will be reading it.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – How ironic is it that a book that discusses censorship has been banned and censored itself? Parents and teachers in some schools in the US have branded this book as “obscene” and in one instance, a school handed out censored versions with the stronger language blacked out. Another case had parents of a student demand that the book be banned because of depictions of the Bible being burnt. I haven’t read the book myself yet, but even I know that the book criticises the censorship of books, and since the Bible and other religious texts do count as books, it is also wrong to ban, censor, or burn them too.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling – How could a book as innocent as Harry Potter be banned and challenged in schools? Well, from the information I found, this book has been challenged for being “unsuited to age group”, themes of witchcraft, religious viewpoints, for being “anti-family”, darkness, scariness, violence, and for “setting bad examples”. I have not read Harry Potter in a long time, but here’s my take on this: witchcraft does exist in the real world, but not in the way it does in fiction. It’s more using natural resources and having respect for the natural world, than using wands and broomsticks and magic fights and killing each other. The “anti-family” stance I both do and don’t understand because what’s left of Harry’s blood family is horribly abusive and his friends at Hogwarts become his family. Darkness and scariness? Goosebumps was going strong for quite a while before Harry came along and those were way scarier. They were also challenged, too, but that’s not my point. As for “bad examples”? Yes, they break the school rules from time to time, but if they didn’t, everybody would be dead.
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher – I’ve owned a copy of this book for the longest time, but honestly, I’m tempted to take it off of my TBR because of the amount of controversy that the TV show has generated. Not the book, the TV show. Entertainment that discusses suicide can be incredibly risky, especially when written for teenagers because there are unfortunately some people who see things like this to be a how-to guide and can become inspired by them, as was the case with one girl who committed suicide and left a note in a similar way to Hannah does. Mental health is something that needs to be discussed not just with teenagers but with people of all ages because we are encouraged far too often to bottle things up, which never leads to anything good. From what I’ve read the book is nowhere near as graphic as the TV show, but that doesn’t make me any less wary.
What banned or challenged books have you read? What banned books do you want to read?