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Books on Trial: Banned Books Week

Elizabeth Graney, Librarian, Literature & Fiction Department,
Illustration shows a person reading a book with their fist up

"Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Ammendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States. " - American Library Association 


The following list includes a very small selection of books whose presence in a school or public library has been challenged or banned.

What?Why?When and where?
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, Sherman AlexieAnti-family, profanity, sexually explicit, portrays drug and alcohol use.  Consistently challenged in high school libraries. It has been removed from multiple school curriculums and was one of 2015’s most challenged books.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark TwainStreet vernacular, racist aspects, racial slurs. Challenged from the beginning.Banned from a few public libraries as early as 1902 for indecent language, but has seen challenges from 1957 to modern day for racial depictions and slurs.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan DoyleReferences to the occult. Banned in the USSR in 1929.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark TwainVulgar language, racist depictions. Banned in some libraries due to language in 1876. From 1985 through current day, it is often challenged for racist and sexist themes.
All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria RemarqueAnti-war, anti-socialist, obscenity, profanity.Banned and burned in Germany in the 1930s. Censored by the publisher in 1929. Despite the censoring, the books was still banned in Boston the same year. 
American Heritage DictionaryObscenity, profanity. Challenged multiple times in school libraries in the United States in 1976.
Another Country, James BaldwinInterracial and homosexual sexual scenes, obscenity, sexual perversionIn New Orleans in 1963, the public library banned this title and a bookseller was arrested for selling it in his shop. The FBI opened a file on the book, in order to examine the possibly inflammatory themes. 
The BibleViolent, obscene, profane. Various translations have been considered heresy. Controversy over various translations and interpretations has led to the arrest of publishers, the burning and banishing of certain translations and the censoring of its contents from the 16th through the 19th century. More recently, the Bible has faced challenges in multiple high school libraries across the nation.
The Bluest Eye, Toni MorrisonSexually explicit, vulgar. Challenged in multiple high school libraries in 1994.
Brave New World, Aldous HuxleyObscenity, immorality, sexual promiscuity, drug use.Banned in Ireland in 1932. At least two American teachers were fired due to assignments related to the novel. The novel was challenged in schools several times throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. SalingerObscene, vulgar language, promotion of rebellious viewsThe most frequently banned book between the years of 1966 and 1975. This novel has seen multiple challenges in school libraries from 1957 through the present day. 
Catch-22, Joseph HellerObscenity, violence, vulgar languageWithdrawn from the school library and banned from assignment in Strongsville, Ohio in 1972. This led to a class action suit that made its way to the United States Supreme Court. The book was reinstated in the school library. 
The Color Purple, Alice WalkerObscene, incest, sexually explicitChallenged in school libraries and curriculums from the 1980s through present day. 
 
A Farewell to Arms, Ernest HemingwayProfanity, immoral, obscene.Censored prior to publication. The publisher removed several instances of profanity. Banned in Italy in 1929 for its portrayal of the Italian Army. Banned and burned in Germany in 1933. Challenged in multiple school libraries throughout the 1970s and 1980s. 
Flowers for Algernon, Daniel KeyesProfanity, sexually explicit.  Banned from several United States high schools from 1976-1984.
From Here to Eternity, James JonesProfanity, sexually explicit. Banned from paperback sales in New Jersey and Michigan in the 1950s.
Go Ask Alice, AnonymousDrug use, sexual violence, promiscuityChallenged and banned from school libraries across the country from 1975 through the 1990s. 
The Grapes of Wrath, John SteinbeckIndecency, obscenity, vulgar words, immoralChallenged and sometimes banned in both public and school from 1939 through present day. 
The Harry Potter series, J.K. RowlingPortrays witchcraft in a good light, promotes the occult, Satanism and anti-family themes. Challenged in school libraries in the United States from 1999-2003.
In the Night Kitchen, Maurice SendakNudityRemoved from multiple school and public libraries in the 1970s and 1980s due to the full frontal nudity of the main character. The book continues to be challenged in school libraries to this day. 
Jude the Obscure, Thomas HardyObscene, overly/overtly sexual, immoral. This work was removed from circulating libraries and burnt by Bishop How of Wakefield upon its publication in 1895.
The Kite Runner, Khaled HosseiniHomosexuality, profanity, graphic sexual violence.  Challenged in multiple high schools and removed from a few curriculums. It consistently makes it on the American Library Association’s list of top ten challenged books. 
Leaves of Grass, Walt WhitmanObscene, too sensual, immoral, discussed sex and sexuality openlyLibraries would not buy the book upon publication and Whitman was fired from his job when he was discovered to be the author. Continued to be challenged throughout the 1880s.
Lord of the Flies,  William GoldingViolent, immoral, profanity.Challenged in multiple school libraries from 1974 through 1992.
Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. TolkienSatanic. Burned outside a New Mexico Church in 2001. 
Lolita, Vladimir NabokovDescribed as pornographic, obscene, sexually explicit. Banned in France from 1956-1958. Banned in England in 1955. Banned in Argentina in 1959. Banned in New Zealand in 1960. Banned in South Africa from 1974-1982.
Madame Bovary, Gustave FlaubertSexually explicit, obscene, indecent. Flaubert was brought to court for obscenity upon publication and the book was censored in 1857.
Native Son, Richard WrightSexually explicit, graphic language. Challenged in school libraries in the United States in 1978, 1981, 1988, 1996 and 1998.
1984, George OrwellProfanity, sexually explicit, obscene, communist, immoral.Challenged in school libraries from 1963 through present day. 
Of Mice and Men, John SteinbeckObscene, profanity, violent. Banned in Ireland in 1953. Subsequently banned in various cities across the United States throughout the 1970s. From the 1980s through modern day, the school is challenged in school libraries. 
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen ChboskySuicide, profanity, drug use, sexually explicit. Challenged in school libraries in the United States multiple times from 2003 - present day.
Rights of Man, Thomas PaineLibelous, seditiousUpon publication, Paine was brought to court on charges of seditious libel. He was convicted of libel and high treason and banished from England. 
Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel HawthornePromotes bad morals, obscene, vulgarFaced stern opposition when first published in the 1850s by preachers who considered it immoral. It also faced challenges in high school libraries across the United States from 1960 until the 1980s.
Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt VonnegutProfanity, violence, immoral, unpatrioticThis novel elicited the first case of school censorship to reach the Supreme Court with the Pico v. Board of Education suit. Challenged continually in school libraries from 1965 through the present day.  
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale HurstonSexually explicit. Challenged in United States high school libraries in 1997.
To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper LeeRacist language and depictionsConsistently challenged in school libraries from the time of its publication through modern day. 
Ulysses, James JoyceObscene, pornographic. The United States Post Office burned copies when the book was imported in 1922. It was then declared obscene by U.S. customs in 1930. By 1932, it was settled by various courts that the book was not obscene and could be published in the United States.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher StoweUndermined religious ideas, racist depictionsDuring the 1850s, Stowe’s novel was censored in Italy due to its criticism of the church and in Russia due to its support of social equality.  In modern times, the work has faced a few challenges due to the language and racist content. 

Sources

  •  Literature Suppressed on Political Grounds, Nicholas J. Karolides.
  •  Literature Suppressed on Social Grounds, Dawn B. Sova.
  •  Literature Suppressed on Sexual Grounds, Dawn B. Sova.
  •  Literature Suppressed on Religious Grounds, Margaret Bald
  • 100 Banned Books: Censorship Histories of World Literature, Nicholas J. Carolides, Margaret Bald, Dawn B. Sova.

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