Every September the American Library Association celebrates the freedom to read with Banned Books Week, happening now, conveniently timed with our next category for the 2018 MMD Reading Challenge: “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.
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.
Scan the list, load up your TBR, and tell us what you are reading for this category in comments.
Welcome to the "ideal" future, where a perfect society embraces Sameness. But something sinister lurks beneath the surface of this tightly controlled community. At a much-anticipated ceremony, the resident twelve-year-olds are sorted into vocational assignments, Harry Potter-style. Jonas is skipped over, and the Chief Elder soon reveals why: instead of receiving a typical assignment, Jonas has been chosen to be the next receiver of memory. When he begins his training with the old man known as The Giver, he discovers books, colors, snow, and love—and he begins to understand what his people lost when they gave away their memories. More info →
In her debut, Angelou tells the haunting story of her childhood in the American South in the 1930s. The prose is incredible, and the story is by turns heartwarming ("I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare") and utterly heartbreaking. Though considered a modern classic by many, this novel has been repeatedly banned since its 1969 publication, primarily for sexual content. More info →
After dismissing this novel for years, it's re-earned a place on my TBR, because so many great readers I know admire it as a testament to the power of the written word. (I have my eye on the audio edition, narrated by Jeremy Irons, because I keep hearing Nabokov's superbly-crafted prose is even better when read aloud.) Some critics argue that Humbert Humbert is the best example of the unreliable narrator in literature; others argue that he's not unreliable, just painfully honest. More info →
John Green's 2005 novel and Printz Award winner 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 →
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. I abandoned this one because an early scene made me queasy, but I think I need to try again. Despite the mature themes, many of you call this the best book you ever read. More info →
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. I'd been meaning to read this classic for years, and after hearing good things about Claire Danes's narration, I gave this a try on audio. SO GOOD (although definitely hard in places, because of the nature of the content. The understated narration made the story compulsively listenable (is that a word?) and extra-creepy. More info →
The story, again set in Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, is narrated by 15 different characters over 59 chapters. The backstory on this slim novel is truly astounding. Faulkner claimed that he wrote it in 6 weeks, working from midnight to 4:00 a.m., and that he didn't change a word. Consistently cited as one of the best novels of the 20th century, both for its own sake and for the great influence it had over subsequent fiction, and banned numerous times for profanity, sexuality, and religious elements. More info →
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. Through this story of a man who sets out on a journey to find his lost son, Paton vividly portrays what it is like for those of any race to live in a starkly divided society. More info →
This novel, originally published—and banned—in 1932, has been banned 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 World discussion fodder delighted English teachers. While it's been removed from many libraries and reading lists, it still makes frequent appearances on others. More info →
Salinger's 1951 novel introduced us to Holden Caulfield, who has served as the prime symbol of adolescent angst ever since. 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. This American classic has remained on the American Library Association's "most challenged works" list for years. 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 →
This book has been repeatedly banned over the years, which is ironic, given that the book itself is about book-banning. 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. 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 →
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 →
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 →
Jake Barnes and Brett Ashley are two of Hemingway's most well-known characters. The novel examines the disenchantment of the post-war generation as it follows the expatriates through Spanish bullfights to Paris jazz clubs. Hemingway's classic story of the Lost Generation has been banned around the US, and Hemingway's works were burned in Germany in the 1930s, for being "monuments to modern decadence." More info →
Irony alert: The author who brought us the term "thought police" has had multiple books of his own find their way onto banned books lists. Animal Farm is his satirical allegory of the Russian revolution as told through the eyes of farm animals. But some of the text of the animals' manifestos got Orwell himself labled as a communist. More info →
This has been called "the Black Lives Matter novel," for good reason. Thomas seamlessly blends current events with lower-stakes themes common to teens everywhere, with great success. At age 16, Starr Carter has lost two close friends to gun violence: one in a drive-by; one shot by a cop. The latter is the focus of this novel: Starr is in the passenger seat when her friend Khalil is fatally shot by a police officer. She is the sole witness. Fun fact: the title comes from a Tupac lyric. Despite being showered with awards and nominations, including the Edgar (YA) and Odyssey Award (Audiobook), this YA novel was banned in some schools and libraries because it was considered "vulgar" and because of drug use, profanity, and offensive language. More info →
This isn't an easy book to read (and if you struggle through the first half, you're not alone), but persevering readers will be rewarded with one of the most important and beautifully written historical novels in the American canon. Reasons it's been banned: sexually explicit, religion, violence. More info →
I'm a sucker for a good first line, and Ellison delivers: "I am an invisible man." Not because he's not made out of flesh and blood, but because no one has much interest in seeing Ellison's protagonist, an African-American man in 1950s Harlem, for who he actually is. Published in the 1952, this book has been challenged in the 70s, 90s, and as recently as 2013 for concerns about language, violence, and sex. More info →
Marjane Satrapi, in her graphic memoir, tells her bittersweet tale woven together with the history of Iran. The clash between her life in public and her home life comes as a perplexing change to childhood as she had known it. Persepolis introduces us to the cost of the Islamic Revolution through her own eyes. Reasons it's been banned: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint. More info →
Beloved, bestselling, and still making frequent appearances on the American Library Association's list of most challenged books. Orphaned Harry Potter has no idea how famous he is until he turns 11 and receives his invitation to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which is exactly like any other British boarding school, but for the subject matter. When the series opens Harry and friends are young and innocent, and the reader delights in leaving the muggle world to learn about this strange reality occupied by witches and wizards. But as the series progresses the plots escalate, drawing us into an overarching battle of good versus evil. More info →
Any surprises on this list? Which banned book are YOU choosing for your reading challenge?