This is the first day of Banned Books week. It’s a celebration of the right to read. Books are constantly challenged in the context of the right to read them, the right to sell them, the right for teachers and libraries to include specific books in their curricula and libraries. Book challenges and book bans take place far more often than people realize, and often, the books are challenged by adults who haven’t read the books in question, but want to make sure that others can’t.
Most challenges are made by parents who not only want to stop their children from reading a particular book, they want to stop all children. The second largest group in terms of book challenges in 2016 were challenges made by library patrons who wanted to have a book removed from a library’s collection.
The First Amendment is generally seen as the primary protection regarding the right to read. The First amendment to the Constitution reads:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Increasingly, as you can see from these top ten lists of challenged books, books are challenged (and subsequently removed from school curricula and library collections) because of concerns about reference to sex, or because they include LGBT characters.
Large numbers of books that some people don’t want you to read are classics. Many are children’s books. Increasingly, the challenged and banned books are YA books or books challenged because they feature diverse content, that is:
the work is about people and issues others would prefer not to consider. Often, content addresses concerns of groups who have suffered historic and ongoing discrimination.
The challenged books (and they become banned when schools or libraries remove them from shelves) include books like Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.
Look at the lists of challenged and banned books, to see if a book that’s meaningful to you, or that you loved reading is there; I’m pretty sure you’ll find an old friend or three there, as well as lots of new friends. Consider participating in the Rebel Reader Twitter Tournament, or Absolute Write’s own local contest described here.
You’ll notice a lot of canon novels are considered worth banning; here are just a few. The books on this list are books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century that have been the target of ban attempts.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby.
- J.D. Salinger. The Catcher in the Rye.
- John Steinbeck. The Grapes of Wrath.
- Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird.
- Alice Walker. The Color Purple.
- James Joyce. Ulysses.
- Toni Morrison. Beloved.
- William Golding. The Lord of the Flies.
- George Orwell. 1984.
- Joseph Heller. Catch-22.
- Aldous Huxley. Brave New World.
- George Orwell. Animal Farm.
- Ernest Hemingway. The Sun Also Rises.
- William Faulkner. As I Lay Dying.
- Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms.
- Zora Neale Hurston. Their Eyes Were Watching God.
- Ralph Ellison. Invisible Man.
- Toni Morrison. Song of Solomon.
- Margaret Mitchell. Gone with the Wind.
- Richard Wright. Native Son.
- Ken Kesey. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
- Kurt Vonnegut. Slaughterhouse-Five.
- Ernest Hemingway. For Whom the Bell Tolls.
- Jack London. The Call of the Wild.
- James Baldwin. Go Tell it on the Mountain.
- Robert Penn Warren. All the King’s Men.
- J.R.R. Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings.
- Upton Sinclair. The Jungle.
- D.H. Lawrence. Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
- Anthony Burgess. A Clockwork Orange.
- Kate Chopin. The Awakening.
- Truman Capote. In Cold Blood.
- Salman Rushdie. The Satanic Verses.
- William Styron. Sophie’s Choice.
- D.H. Lawrence. Sons and Lovers.
- William S. Burroughs. Naked Lunch.
- Evelyn Waugh. Brideshead Revisited.
- D.H. Lawrence. Women in Love.
- Norman Mailer. The Naked and the Dead.
- Henry Miller. Tropic of Cancer.
- Theodore Dreiser. An American Tragedy.
- John Updike. Rabbit, Run.
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