20 of the century’s most banned books

20 of the century’s most banned books

It’s a new month, and a new category for the 2016 MMD Reading Challenge! This month we’re tackling “a book that was banned at some point.”

First off, what do we mean by “banned?” We’re talking a book that was removed from circulation at a library or school because somebody complained about it.

For this category, I’ve chosen twenty books that have been banned at some point for your TBR consideration. As you can see, these books have been banned—and continue to be removed from the shelves—for a wide variety of reasons. The American Library Association compiles these each year, and the accumulated stats make for very interesting reading.

Every year the American Library Association celebrates the freedom to read with Banned Books Week, coming in September. Get a jump on it by choosing your title now.

The ALA isn’t saying these books are for everyone, or that everyone should read them. They are saying readers and their families should have the opportunity to decide for themselves.

Series: A book that was banned at some point
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time: A Novel

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time: A Novel

The story is narrated by a 15-year-old British boy with autism, who is also a math genius, and adores puzzles. When his neighbor's dog is found dead in the backyard, impaled by a pitchfork, the boy is determined to get to the bottom of the crime. After a teacher tells him he should write something he'd like to read himself, he decides to write about this mystery, which is the book presented to us readers. When this book was pulled from school reading lists for concerns about profanity, the author responded "My suspicion is that more people will read it." More info →
Looking for Alaska

Looking for Alaska

Author:
John Green's 2005 novel was the most challenged book of 2015; according to the American Library Association, the most frequently cited reasons for the requests to remove it from a school or library were "offensive language and "sexually explicit descriptions." John Green responded, "What usually happens with Looking for Alaska is that a parent chooses one page of the novel to send to an administrator and then the book gets banned without anyone who objects to it having read more than that one particular page.” More info →
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Author:
I'm reading this for the banned books category of the 2016 Reading Challenge. From the publisher: "Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot." More info →
The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner

Author:
Hosseini's critically acclaimed, bestselling novel is about an unlikely friendship between two boys growing up in Afghanistan: one from a privileged family, one the son of that family's servant. It's been frequently challenged since its 2003 publication for violence, including sexual violence, mature themes. More info →
Cry, the Beloved Country

Cry, the Beloved Country

Author:
This novel has been called the most famous and important novel in South Africa's history, and was an Oprah Book Club selection. It was an immediate international bestseller when it was first published in 1948. It was banned in Paton's home country of South Africa due to its "politically dangerous" material. More info →
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Author:
In her debut, Angelou tells the haunting story of her childhood in the American South in the 1930s. Though considered a modern classic by many, this novel has been repeatedly banned since its 1969 publication, primarily for sexual content. More info →
Bridge to Terabithia

Bridge to Terabithia

Paterson's moving, multi-layered story about the beauty of childhood and the searing pain of loss has been repeatedly challenged over the years: it sits at #9 on the American Library Association's list of most frequently banned books from 1990-2000, despite its 1977 publication date. Why the challenge? Paterson explains, "Initially, it was challenged because it deals with a boy who lives in rural Virginia, and he uses the word 'Lord' a lot, and it's not in prayer. Then there are more complicated reasons. The children build an imaginary kingdom, and there was the feeling that I was promoting the religion of secular humanism, and then New Age religion." More info →
The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale

Author:
This dystopian novel, set in a future where women have no control over their bodies, is a staple of high school reading lists ... and banned books list. It's made the list of the American Library Association's most frequently banned and challenged books for the past few decades. Reasons for censoring the novel include profanity, violence, sexual content, and suicide. More info →
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret

Author:
In her 1970 novel, Judy Blume takes on the topic of puberty through the eyes of her 12-year-old protagonist. Margaret's two main concerns at this point in her life are menstruation and religion, and piles of parents over the years have objected to either taking up space in their children's reading material. (I read this as a kid, but these days I can't think of this book without picturing Sawyer reading it on Lost.) More info →
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Author:
Beloved, bestselling, and still making frequent appearances on the American Library Association's list of most challenged books. More info →
A Separate Peace

A Separate Peace

I read this 1959 novel in high school English class, but it's been removed from school reading lists for profanity, difficult subject matter, and implied sexual content. Set at a boys' boarding school during the early years of WWI, this book portrays the dark side of adolescence, showing two young friends waking up to the jaded reality of the adult world as the nation likewise was waking up to the reality of its deeply troubled era. It remains a classic today, and a staple of required reading lists. More info →
A Brave New World

A Brave New World

This novel, originally published—and banned—in 1932, has been repeatedly over the years, right up to the present time, for sexual content, offensive language, and insensitivity. Irony alert: the problem with banning a dystopian novel that envisions a totalitarian future world where literary content is strictly regulated is that it provides even more Brave New Worlddiscussion fodder delighted English teachers. While it's been removed from many libraries and reading lists, it still makes frequent appearances on others. More info →
The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye

This American classic has remained on the American Library Association's "most challenged works" list for years. In 1960, a Tulsa high school teacher was fired for assigning the work: his job was reinstated, but the book stayed off the reading list. Salinger's 1951 novel introduced us to Holden Caulfield, who has served as the prime symbol of adolescent angst ever since. The work has been banned for a variety of reasons, including sexual content, language, inappropriate slang, moral issues, and references to occult practices. More info →
Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury's slim sci-fi/fantasy novel revolves around a fireman who hates his job set in the saddest of dystopian settings: a future with no books. Firemen start the fires in Bradbury's future, to burn any and all books as they are found. One of these books is the Bible, which is what most often triggers the censorship. The book has been repeatedly banned over the years, which is ironic, given that the book itself is about book-banning. When it was published, Bradbury was outspoken about the fact that he in fact had the growing influence of television over Americans in mind when he wrote it. More info →
Catch-22

Catch-22

This classic 1961 war novel was banned for "indecent" language. This is the story of a WWII bomber named Yossarian who is desperate to evade the war but trapped by the military rule from which the novel takes its title: a pilot is believed to be insane if he continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he requests to be excused because they're dangerous then he's obviously sane enough to fly. This title frequently appears on "best of the century" reading lists. More info →
Huck Finn

Huck Finn

Author:
Hemingway had strong words for this novel, saying, "It's the best book we've had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since." And yet it was banned just one month after its publication, and the American Library Association says it continues to be one of the most challenged books in U. S. schools because of its charged use of the "n" word to engage slavery. More info →
Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men

If you're thinking what I'm thinking, you're picturing Landry and Tim Riggins discussing this novel on the Dillon High School bleachers. This is Steinbeck's story of two friends searching for work and the American Dream, and it's been repeatedly banned and continues to be challenged today for a wide variety of reasons: profanity, vulgarity, sexual themes, racism, an "anti-business attitude," and euthanasia. More info →
Sons and Lovers

Sons and Lovers

Since Lawrence published his first work, his novels have been censored early and often. Sons and Lovers was banned immediately upon publication and frequently thereafter for sex, and lots of it, with frequent nods to Freud and Oedipus. This novel currently sits at #64 on the American Library Association's list of the most challenged books of the 20th century. More info →
To Kill A Mockingbird

To Kill A Mockingbird

Author:
In this 1960 classic, small-town attorney Atticus Finch attempts a hopeless defense of a black man unjustly accused of rape, and to teach his children, Scout and Jem, about the evils of racism. It's been a staple on high school reading lists for years (and I talked about my significant high school experience with Mockingbird here), but it enjoyed a fresh burst of publicity when its companion Go Set a Watchman was published this summer. (I'd love to be in the course that reads both, together.) More info →
The Color Purple

The Color Purple

Author:
In this epistolary novel, a young woman living in the South in the 1930s describes her life in a series of heartbreaking letters. Walker's novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983, and it's been showing up on banned books lists ever since for its mature themes, offensive language, and sexual content. More info →

What are you reading for this category? I’ve marked my choice below. I can’t wait to hear what YOU pick. 

20 of the century's most banned books

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61 comments

  1. Joanne says:

    What an interesting list! I’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale at least 15 years ago, and I’ll admit it was not my favorite either as one other reader commented. The Kite Runner was excellent – recommended reading. I’m finishing up A Tale of Two Cities then Great Expectations (from your ‘what I should have read in high school’ blog – kinda like Dickens), then I’ll check out the Curious Incident of the Dog – I’m enticed!

  2. Christine Weir, Australia says:

    For me the definition of a ‘banned book’ is one which a government has not allowed to be read/sold/imported/printed at all within its boundaries. Merely removing a book from US school library shelves (highly variable across the country anyway) doesn’t ban it – any interested family can still buy it off Amazon or in a bookstore.
    So I have been looking for books that were at some point prohibited by a national government- there is a list on Wikipedia, though it may not be very accurate or complete. My choice is Nadine Gordimer’s ‘July’s People’, written 1981 and banned under the South African apartheid regime. Very powerful and thought-provoking.

  3. Jo Yates says:

    I read Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich, for my banned book. Some people thought it was too “political” and had some drug use and language. I read it in April for my personal 2016 Dewey Decimal Reading Challenge (its call number is 305.56909).

      • Jo Yates says:

        One Reading Challenge wasn’t enough for me! I’m a librarian and I love narrative nonfiction. I’m currently reading Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finley, which is really good. Next year I’m thinking of giving myself a Fiction Genre challenge to broaden myself.

      • Jo Yates says:

        I just set it up for myself; it’s not a “thing.” I read a different Dewey Decimal range each month: 000s in January, 100s in February, 200s in March, 300s in April, 400s in May, 500s in June, 600s in July, 700s in August, 800s in September, 900s in October. For November I will read Biographies, and Fiction in December. Of course I read other things in each month also.I have it on Pinterest under Dewey Decimal Challenge if you want to see what the Dewey numbers stand for and what I’ve read for the challenge.

        • Debbie D says:

          Oh I’m very familiar with Dewey and I love this idea!! I’m always interested in different kinds of reading challenges. Very cool, thanks for sharing! Yes, I would love to see it on Pinterest. I tried searching but it pulled up too many results to adequately check.

  4. Dianne says:

    I just discovered this site and I’m ready for the challenge. I went to school in the forties and fifties and escaped “reading lists”. We had book reports assigned but were free to choose our own books. Now, I wish that I had required reading as I regret not having the experience of reading these books earlier. I have read many of them in later life but have not read Catch 22. Then I’ll read To Kill A Mockingbird as a book that I have been meaning to read. Thanks for your ideas.

  5. Kerry Seiwert says:

    I am a librarian in a parochial school, grades K-8. I refused the purchase a book a student requested for the library on the basis of low quality and low morals. She accused me of banning the book. It took a long time to explain to her that while I was technically banning the book from the library, in no way was I telling her not to read it. I just was not going to use my (pitifully small) budget to buy that book. I rarely tell a student that he or she shouldn’t read a certain book, but that I simply won’t provide it to them. Does this mean that I am banning books?

    On another end of that is a question I would throw out there: A third-grade boy in our school read Tom Sawyer. (He is a very sheltered child.) He didn’t like it. Should I have allowed him to read that book at his age? He will enjoy that book when he is older, if he chooses to read it again.

  6. Jamie says:

    Reading your list made me realize there must be a bit of rebel in me. I had no idea I had read so many banned books! Also, Judy Blume as a banned author?!?! Who is next, Margaret Wise Brown? 🙂

  7. Jan says:

    I have read many of these books and enjoyed them. I just saw “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” on stage and would be interested to read the book as well.

  8. Bijoux says:

    I’ve read the majority of these books and enjoyed most. However, ‘The Curious Incident . . .’ and ‘. . . Part-Time Indian’ should be banned just for their stereotypes of autism and native Americans.

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