banned books and why censorship makes me laugh

“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”
—Harper Lee

The Pulitzer Prize winning novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” has been banned from school libraries and denounced for so-called racial slurs and profanity.

The American Library Association keeps a database of objectionable reads and publishes a ‘Most Frequently Challenged Books List’. The list is a melting pot of celebrated authors including Harper Lee, Judy Blume, JK Rowling, Roald Dahl and Toni Morrison.

The ALA have teamed up with Yahoo! to promote Banned Books Week and to encourage “free people to read freely”.

If you’d like to join the rebellion may I recommend one of my personal favourties, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”. Maya Angelou’s autobiographical masterpiece has been near the top of The list for over two decades.

If that doesn’t illicit a jaw-dropping ‘You’ve got to be kidding me’ response, maybe this will.

In no particular order
, a selection of the most controversial, most challenged and yes, pity upon pity, most banned books of the last ten years.

1. “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker
2. “Harry Potter” (the series) by JK Rowling
3. “Beloved” by Toni Morrison
4. “The Outsiders” by SE Hinton
5. “Lolita” by Vladmir Nabokov
6. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain
7. “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck
8. “How to Eat Fried Worms” by Thomas Rockwell
9. “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding
10. “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley

Go on. Knock yourself out.

*See More Challenged/Banned Classics. Also, for giggles check out the ALA. You’ll find Worms between “Girls and Sex” and “View from a Cherry Tree”.

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  • anne
    Sep 28, 2006 at 15:03

    How to Eat Fried Worms? Really? It is a kids book, recently made into a movie. If so controversial, why make it into a PG movie? Aside from the list acting as refernce for amazing writers and great literature, it is also a comedy.

  • Buffy
    Sep 28, 2006 at 15:19

    Anne, who knows. I’m with you on the funny though.

    For more giggles check out the full list at the ALA.

    You’ll find Worms between “Girls and Sex” and “View from a Cherry Tree”.

  • anne
    Sep 28, 2006 at 15:21

    Sorry for the typo. I guess I was so excited I hit send without proofing.

  • Buffy
    Sep 28, 2006 at 15:22

    Anne….didn’t even catch it.

  • Ken
    Sep 28, 2006 at 16:41

    Harry Potter? What the heck for?? Going to check that list.

  • Katherine
    Sep 28, 2006 at 17:21

    Are you kidding me?? Gah! Unreal. Thanks for the list, there are a couple I haven’t read so I will promptly be marching to the library to demand them. I hope the banned list gets a lot of attention so that kids will of course want to read those books. This is one of the craziest things I’ve ever heard. I guess we should tell people what to think and how to dress next.

  • themarina
    Sep 28, 2006 at 18:13

    This may sound a bit strange but the list of banned books is my favourite source of leads for reading material. I have yet to pick a bad one. The other interesting thing is that 5 of the books on your random list are required reading in our Highschool Provincial School system. Not sure what this says about us but it’s interesting.

  • Buffy
    Sep 28, 2006 at 18:27

    I can’t say that I disagree with any of the comments so far.

    Do have a read on the ALA website about what constitutes ‘challenged’. And remember, this is part of the list of the frequently challenged books. Not all the challenged books get banned. And when and if they do, it is not always wide spread banning.

    As far as high school curriculum goes…alot of these books were challenged for just that reason.

    The Angelou challenges are the ones I find interesting. That and James and the Giant Peach.

    I’d just love to meet the mother who called the school board on that one.

    Marina, the list isn’t entirely random. That is to say I didn’t just close my eyes and point. I selected ten books which I have read and were most surprised to see mentioned.

  • Misti
    Sep 28, 2006 at 19:01

    Most of my favorite books are on this list. I guess “some” people just prefer to read books that are boring and not thought provoking. Most of these people probably have never even read these books before. They just hear other people talk about them and then they jump on the bandwagon. So the books have a few bad words and are not edited to be “politically correct.” These books are real (I’m talking about the great books on this list – not Howard Stern or Madonna) and I would be ashamed if my children (if I ever have them) did not read these books.

  • Andrea
    Sep 28, 2006 at 19:41

    I love the banned books list. LOVE! They are the most thought provoking.

    I can’t help but be aggravated by banned books. I want to be able to determine for myself what is appropriate and inappropriate. (I talked about this last week with regards to movies and music.) If the school my son ends up attending bans any books, I’ll probably see what the hubub is about and if they’re okay in my eyes, I’ll just read them to him at home. My choice. And eventually his when he’s old enough to decide for himself.

  • Andrea
    Sep 28, 2006 at 19:42

    And I loved How To Eat Fried Worms. In fact, I think my class read that in 4th grade.

  • Buffy
    Sep 28, 2006 at 19:54


    You know what, that’s exactly what I was thinking. I bet this is the only ‘book list’ we’ll ever see that has Toni Morrison and Harper Lee coupled with Stern and Madonna. There’s not a thing wrong with the Radio DJ or the Pop Diva but I don’t see either of them spitting out Nobel prize winning literature any time soon. I think it just demonstrates the ridiculousness of the whole thing.

  • Amy K
    Sep 28, 2006 at 20:32

    We are highlighting banned book week in my English Department. Thankfully, many of the “banned books” are on our reading lists!

  • Liz
    Sep 28, 2006 at 21:03

    Why in the hell would anyone ban “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings”? Are you freakin kidding me. Those books made me love reading when I was “coming of age.”

  • Buffy
    Sep 28, 2006 at 21:22

    Liz, my sentiments exactly.

  • Emily
    Sep 28, 2006 at 21:34

    Harry Potter? I can see why! Some women at my college took the book so seriously that they played Quidditch (sp?) on the lawn, with capes and brooms.

    It was a little hard to explain to prospective students when giving them tours.

  • n!ta
    Sep 29, 2006 at 0:05

    i, too, use the challenged book list to make sure i’ve read everything important. thoughtful of the thought police to provide me with reminders TO CELEBRATE GENIUS!


    i’m going to go teach my kid about fascism now…

  • sage
    Sep 29, 2006 at 1:47

    isn’t it odd that you have a book with mice, worm and flies in the titles of banned books #7-9…

  • Buffy
    Sep 29, 2006 at 1:50

    Sage, maybe some folk are squeamish. 🙂

  • brooke alexandra
    Sep 29, 2006 at 2:52

    I am going to the university library tomorrow, they have a huge display up for Banned book Week…I’m so freaking excited. The fact that they are “banned” makes me want to read them more.

  • kenju
    Sep 29, 2006 at 4:42

    I am happy to report that I have read all but 2 of those!

  • better safe than sorry
    Sep 29, 2006 at 10:31

    i’ve read the majority of those books, some were required reading when i was in highschool (back when the dinasours roamed the earth). my oldest daughter, who is currently in university, read the colour purple when she was in grade 10 and lord of the flies in grade 9 and my youngest daughter read harry potter in grade 3 (actually her teacher read it to the class) sooooooooo, i guess my schools aren’t following the ALA list.

  • Jenny
    Sep 29, 2006 at 13:19

    Holy crap.

    Other than “Beloved” I own all of these. Who knew I was such a rebel?

    (Of course if there was such a thing as banned blogs I’m sure I would be on that list too. At least I’d be in good company.)

  • Ã…sa
    Sep 29, 2006 at 13:47

    What a great source of good reading! Banning always makes me HAVE TO read it. I’m glad there aren’t actual book-burnings now a day though. Imagine what kind of literature would be left…

  • Melissa
    Sep 29, 2006 at 21:58

    This makes me feel sick.

  • Tyra
    Sep 29, 2006 at 23:50

    And, if kids read them in New York City, where the Trans Fat Prohibition is about to begin, I think they can be jailed. Forever.

  • Jean
    Sep 30, 2006 at 0:43

    Huck Finn?!? Are you SERIOUS?? Insane. I don’t think there was such a thing as a “banned book list” when I was growing up and it really wasn’t THAT long ago (or so it seems). 😉

  • gary
    Sep 30, 2006 at 11:06

    The one that always hits me when I read those lists is Huckleberry Finn. It is hard to think of a better, more enlightened book. I think there is such a thing as oversensitivity, and I don’t think it should be catered to.

    Hope you have a nice weekend.

  • trouble
    Sep 30, 2006 at 12:55

    One thing that just kills me about censorship is that its proponents always think they’re doing it for our “best interests,” whether they are religious conservatives protecting us from sex and magic, or the politically correct crowd protecting us from racial slurs and self-esteem damage.

  • one girl
    Sep 30, 2006 at 18:19

    It’s so disgusting that all those books are considered “objectionable”- especially because they are all so amazing! Did you hear that they’re making a moive of “How to Eat Fried Worms”?

    I think that there’s something seriously wrong with the way America “sensors” things. Books, news, you name it and someone’s trying to keep it from the general public.

    I like to think that something’s got to give eventually but who knows…

  • hattigrace
    Sep 30, 2006 at 22:15

    Can tell they never read the Bible, b/c for sure that is full of every sort of imaginable offense!!!

  • Tyra
    Sep 30, 2006 at 22:38

    True, but I believe the Bible is also banned.

  • singlemuslimah
    Oct 1, 2006 at 0:40

    Freshman year of college I learned that “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret?” was banned. That is a great book and I loved it. I couldn’t believe it was banned and for the first time, I was really glad I was home-schooled. This is why kids don’t want to read, everything interesting is banned. It’s a real shame.

  • Bethany
    Oct 2, 2006 at 2:52

    Politically Correct and protecting the feelings and self-esteem of others is turning the world into a bunch of whiny crybabies.
    These books are good. These books are important. These books make kids WANT to read. It’s freakin’ outrageous!

  • Stick
    Oct 2, 2006 at 5:05

    Is this coming from the same group that quit using red pen to mark students exams because it may hurt their feelings?

    At least they have the internet and violent video games.

  • Janet
    Oct 2, 2006 at 5:29

    I pity those who cannot see these books for what they are. But they haven’t a right to deny everyone else of their genius. When I went to high school, you had to read these to pass your English classes. What would replace them? Good Night Moon?

  • LisaBinDaCity
    Oct 2, 2006 at 11:27

    “To Kill a Mockingbird” is on the list? Give me a freaking break. That book is a classic! Plus it teaches kids about racial intolerance.

    And I loved Judy Blume as a kid. She explained the things no one else would.

    AWESOME post!!!

  • Jodi
    Oct 2, 2006 at 18:17

    out country has no sense of metaphor, no understanding of art, it’s embarrassing. the fact that they would ban a book for profanity or racial slurs or sexual content is beyond me. if anything, the book (which is not on your list) BLACK BOY by Richard A. Wright which is filled with the ‘N’ word, taught me the horrors of growing up black in America in the earlier part of the 20th century. It was enlightening. Same goes for COLOR PURPLE. what about anais nin? i love her erotica, why isn’t THAT on the list? thank you for this post!

  • Dawn (webmiztris)
    Oct 2, 2006 at 18:22

    I swear this is a conspiracy to get people to read books. Everyone knows that putting them on a ‘taboo list’ is going to make people want to read them!

  • Bre
    Oct 2, 2006 at 20:01

    It makes me quite happy to know that a large majority of those books sit on my shelf!

  • kerrianne
    Oct 3, 2006 at 9:43

    I think Le BookBanningNustos need to be punched in the ovaries, right in the babymakers. Amen.

  • kerrianne
    Oct 3, 2006 at 9:44

    Also: “As I Lay Dying” is one of THE GREATEST BOOKS, of all time. Amen.

  • Jane
    Oct 3, 2006 at 14:07

    I take pride in the great number of banned books I’ve read. I’m such a rebel that way.

  • Teri
    Oct 4, 2006 at 7:35

    I am so pleased to read this column. “To Kill…” is my favorite book and my favorite movie of all time. I have long been frustrated with the banning of books, and cited to friends and associates much of what you cover here…I also add that Nancy Drew Books wer banned in school libraries as well. ARGHHH!

    Excellent post! Ciao for now…

  • ChickyBabe
    Oct 4, 2006 at 8:30

    PC has gone too far! What next? Thought control?

  • Erin
    Oct 4, 2006 at 12:56

    My roommate just wrote a blog about this very thing. I found it absurd that “To Kill a Mockingbird” was included in a list with Madonna’s “Sex”.

    I don’t find them quite on the same literary level.

  • m
    Oct 5, 2006 at 3:15

    Other than The Color Purple, Harry Potter, and How to Eat Fried Worms, I’ve read and enjoyed all these books. As with other commenters, some of these were taught at my school–some I even taught myself when I was a teacher.

    It never surprises me the books that get banned, but as I think a few of your readers have mentioned, those are some of the best books to read.

    One reason so many great classics are banned is just that they are classics and are therefore popular, well known, and taught in schools. Introduce anything in a public school and some parents will have an objection to it.

  • Alan
    Oct 7, 2006 at 17:33

    It may be an apocryphal tale, but being South African and knowing how the apartheid regime banned so much for the weirdest reasons, I can believe that ‘Black Beauty’ was banned because the censors thought it was extolling the virtues of beautiful blacks rather than a great story about a horse. 🙂

  • Aidan
    Oct 8, 2006 at 15:33

    Oh, that’s just lovely – cheers, I can see myself coming back to the ALA list over and over again!

    Poor old Hubert Selby Jr, what more did he have to pour into Last Exit To Brooklyn to get it into that must-have top 100…?

    Is the top 100 ranked in order of alleged offensiveness? I hope so. I like the thinking that rates James And The Giant Peach as slightly more corrupting than American Psycho…
    And notice how “What’s Happening To My Body? Book For Girls” is 21 places more worrying than the equivalent volume for boys.
    A brave new world indeed…