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‘Filthy, trashy’: Banned books

8 October, 2008

In 1980, a New York school district considered whether To Kill a Mockingbird was a ‘filthy, trashy novel’. Are you as surprised as I am that modern classics are still being challenged and banned?

The American Library Association provides an annual list of the most frequently banned or challenged authors as part of its Banned Books Week. The aim of the week is to celebrate freedom of expression and support books with ‘unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints’  being freely available. The ALA also tells how individuals can fight censorship. Examples:

  • Help your local school or library undertake an event around the theme of the freedom to read without censorship.
  • Write letters to relevant people, supporting the freedom to read.
  • Keep banned books in circulation:  borrow them from your library; give them as gifts; read them in in your book club/ reading group.

For more details about individual books, go to the ALA website.

Most frequently challenged authors of 2007

  1. Robert Cormier, The Chocolate War. Reason: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Violence.
  2. Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, And Tango Makes Three. Reasons: Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group.
  3. Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Reason: Racism.
  4. Toni Morrison, Beloved, Bluest Eyes. Reasons: Racism, sex content.
  5. Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass. Reasons: Religious Viewpoint.
  6. Kevin Henkes, Olive’s Ocean. Reasons: Sexually Explicit and Offensive Language.
  7. Lois Lowry, The Giver. Reasons: Violence, Drugs.
  8. Chris Crutcher, Whale Talk. Reasons: Offensive Language.
  9. Lauren Myracle. TTYL. Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group.
  10. Joann Sfar. (Couldn’t find details but probably Sexually Explicit, Violence, Unsuited to Age Group.)

And from the 20th Century

The site also includes details about 42 banned or challenged books from the Radcliff Publishing Course’s top 100 books of the 20th century. I’ve picked out a few of the interesting details for some of the books.

Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger.
In 1960, a teacher in Oklahoma was fired for assigning the book to a class.
In 1963, parents of high school students in an Ohio town complained that the novel was ‘anti white’.

Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck.
Banned in some US libraries on the grounds of its ‘vulgar words’.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee.
Challenged in a New York school district, in 1980, as a ‘filthy, trashy novel’.

he Color Purple, Alice Walker.
Removed from the shelves of a Virginia school library in 1986, available only to students who were over the age of 18 or who had written permission from a parent.

Ulysses, James Joyce.
Burned in the USA, Ireland, Canada and England.

Beloved, Toni Morrison.

Lord of the Flies, William Golding.

1984, George Orwell.
Challenged in Florida in 1981 for being ‘pro-communist’.

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov.
Banned as obscene in France, England, Argentina and New Zealand.

Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck.

Catch-22, Joseph Heller.

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley.
Removed from a classroom in Missouri in 1980 because it made promiscuous sex ‘look like fun’.

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway.
Burned in Nazi bonfires, 1933.

As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner.
Banned at a Kentucky high school in 1994 because the books ‘uses profanity and questions the existence of God’.

A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway.
Burned by the Nazis.

Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston.

Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison.

Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell.

Native Son, Richard Wright.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey.

Parents in a California school district complained in 2000 that teachers ‘can choose the best books, but they keep choosing this garbage over and over again’.

Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut.

For Whom The Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway.
In 1940, the US Post Office declared it ‘non-mailable’.

Call of the Wild, Jack London.
Burned in Nazi bonfires.

Go Tell It on the Mountain, James Baldwin.

All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren.

29.  Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien.
In 2001, this and his other novels were burned outside the Christ Community Church in New Mexico because they were deemed satanic.

The Jungle, Upton Sinclair.
Burned in the Nazi bonfires because of Sinclair’s socialist views.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D.H. Lawrence.

A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess.
In 1973 a book seller in Orem, Utah, was arrested for selling the novel. Charges were later dropped, but the book seller was forced to close the store and relocate to another city.

In Cold Blood, Truman Capote.

Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie.
Banned in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Somalia, Sudan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Quatar, Indonesia, South Africa, and India because of its criticism of Islam.
Ayatollah Khomeni issued a fatwa or edict, stating, ‘…the author of the Satanic Verses, which is against Islam, the prophet, and the Koran, and all those involved in its publication who were aware of its content, have been sentenced to death.’
In Venezuela, owning or reading it was declared a crime under penalty of 15 months’ imprisonment.
In 1991, in separate incidents, the novel’s Japanese translator was stabbed to death and its Italian translator was seriously wounded. In 1993, its Norwegian publisher was shot and seriously wounded.

Sons and Lovers, DH Lawrence.

Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut.

A Separate Peace, John Knowles.

Naked Lunch, William S. Burroughs.

Women in Love, DH Lawrence.

The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer.

Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller.
Banned from U.S. Customs in 1934. Thirty years later, the U.S. Supreme Court deemed the novel not obscene.

An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser.
Burned the Nazis because it ‘deals with low love affairs’.

Rabbit, Run, John Updike.
Banned from sales in Ireland in 1962 because it was deemed ‘obscene’ and ‘indecent’.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Curtislops permalink
    30 March, 2017 2:44 pm



  2. Marsha permalink
    16 October, 2008 6:25 am

    I usually hate the word ‘awesome’–but if it’s describing me, that’s a different story! I’ll email you, Marsha


  3. Jonathan Bell permalink
    16 October, 2008 2:36 am

    Hello Marsha — I am excited not only to find you but also to see what an incredible Energy you are. You were impressive; now you ought surely to earn an ‘awesome’ from Sarah–dubious Parthenon? We’re both ex-pats as I live in France, and have for 23 years. I’m a blogless persona lost in crisis. J


  4. 12 October, 2008 9:21 pm

    Hi Marsha,
    Dropped in to say thanks very much for your informative site & also for your kind words about my e-novel. I was thrilled to get my first comment.
    Best wishes,


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