Which Banned Book Should I Read From?

We will be conducting a Banned Books Week at my university. During the celebrations, members of the university community will go to our bookstore and read from our favorite banned or challenged book for up to 2 minutes as the bookstore workers videotape the reading. Here is the website of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) which is a founding sponsor of Banned Books Week.

I’m extremely excited about the event (and I’m not alone in my excitement), but I can’t decide which book I should read from.

Here are some possibilities but feel free to add your own suggestions:

1. John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath would make a lot of sense because it has been banned very close to where I am right now: Burned by the East St. Louis, IL Public Library (1939) and barred from the Buffalo, NY Public Library (1939) on the grounds that “vulgar words” were used. Banned in Kansas City,  MO (1939).

2. Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. This is simply a brilliant book that is a joy to read publicly in any context. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you about the history of the attempts to ban it.

3. John Knowles’s A Separate Peace again makes sense on geographic grounds. Look at the totally cute reasons our local prudes tried to ban it: “Challenged in Vernon-Verona-Sherill, NY School District (1980) as a “filthy, trashy sex novel.” Challenged at the Fannett-Metal High School in Shippensburg, PA (1985) because of its allegedly offensive language. Challenged as appropriate for high school reading lists in the Shelby County, TN school system (1989) because the novel contains “offensive language.”  Challenged, but retained in the Champaign, IL high school English classes (1991) despite claims that “unsuitable language” makes it inappropriate.  Challenged by the parent of a high school student in Troy, IL (1991) citing profanity and negative attitudes.”

Negative attitudes, how cute is that?

4. Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, my absolutely favorite American novel ever. “Banned in Boston, MA (1927) and burned by the Nazis in Germany (1933) because it “deals with low love affairs.”

Any other suggestions? I don’t want to read from either D.H. Lawrence or William Burroughs because their writing bores me (I don’t think they should be banned on those grounds, though.)


25 thoughts on “Which Banned Book Should I Read From?”

  1. Ooh! There’s Wild Bill Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying. Or Gore “Crusin” Vidal’s “Myra Breckenridge.” Or Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon.” Or you could send them home with everybody’s favorite bonfire fuel, “Ulysses.”


  2. Negative attitudes, haha. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was also nearly banned in Colorado, because it was thought to portray “a poor philosophy of life”. I read Grapes of Wrath in high school, and found it too plodding for my tastes, but I still think it was a rather important work. My teacher said it had even been challenged at my own school, because of the nudity within it. I asked him if the challengers thought so little of us that they believed we were still at the level of reading picture books. 😛 It was also apparently challenged for the “insulting” portrayal of Californians.
    For my banned books week, I’m going to read one classic banned book I haven’t gotten to yet, either Brave New World, Doctor Zhivago, or one of my readers’ suggestions.
    I’m also going to put the spotlight on YA literature that’s been challenged/banned in schools because of LGBTQ themes, because that’s obviously a subject close to my heart. 🙂


      1. I read that when I was in Catholic school. It was the perfect time to read it, considering the themes and the setting of the book. I got in considerably less trouble for supporting the chocolate sale at my school though, because one of the teachers agreed with me about Nestle. 🙂
        I remember it was the first book I read which showed teen male characters who were just as cunning, manipulative, cliquish, and power-hungry as teen female characters were in most YA lit. That was rather reassuring, strangely.


  3. Lots of choice. The Index Librorum Prohibitorum of the Roman Catholic church had over four thousand titles in 1948 including the works of Aldus Manutius, Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Victor Hugo, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, André Gide, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, René Descartes, Francis Bacon, John Milton, John Locke, Galileo Galilei, Blaise Pascal, Hugo Grotius, and Saint Faustina Kowalska.


  4. What exactly means banned in this context ?

    I mean if it would be really banned, how come you are allowed to organize a week around reading them ?


    1. In this context, any book that a government or organization has tried to ban or challenge (‘challenged’ means someone thought it shouldn’t be read and tried to have it removed from a library or a school) It usually focuses on ones banned/challenged in North America, but the event is worldwide.


        1. The First Amendment forbids the large scale banning of any book in the United States, so you’re not likely to find any that have been recently banned there. American Psycho is still banned in Australia, and I do believe The Satanic Verses is banned in in many countries, and The Diary of Anne Frank is banned in Lebanon.
          You can dig through history though and find ones that were historically banned in the US.


  5. I just took a look at the books that are banned (or just indexed) in Germany to see if I could find something to read too.

    The great majority of books on these lists are original naz propaganda, neo-nazi stuff or pseudoesoteric race purity theories. Among them were titles as wonderful as ‘expert testimony on the gaschamber’, ‘Hitler and the 3rd Reich’, ‘Who’s fault was WW2?’ and ’63 million foreigners are coming’. Also, aprox. 80% of the books in the A-section started with the word Auschwitz

    … and also a hell lot of cheap ‘romance’ titles, if you catch me drift.

    And truth be told, I don’t want to read any of them. Okay, maybe one of the romance novels. There was one called ‘bizarre perversions in rubber’ that caught my eye, but aside from that ? Bleh.


  6. “The Talmud” with tens of thousands of copies burned in the 1240s in France as a result of Nicholas Donin, a converso priest, who appealed to the Pope that it was heretical.

    “Candide, or Optimism” by Voltaire. One of my favorite books of all times. The skewering of Leibnitz as Dr. Pangloss is wonderful. Voltaire is a model for all cynics.

    Mark Twain, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. This will give you a superb understanding of the cultural traditions of the St. Louis area, your recently adopted home.

    “We”, by Yevgeny Zamyatin. You have the benefit of being able to read it in Russian. I can’t tell a Б from a В, which of course is consistent with my Spanish linguistic background.

    “Peter Rabbit” by Beatrix Potter was banned by the London Council in 1981 as the animals were not proletarian. Damn those bourgeois rabbits!

    “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown is banned in Lebanon as anti-Catholic. I am embarrassed to admit that I actually read that piece of garbage in 2004 after a friend gave it to me with a superb recommendation. After finishing it I couldn’t believe that I read the whole thing. I left if on a shelf for several months and then burnt in my fireplace (OMG!!!) because I couldn’t imagine allowing it to confuse any young mind as to the nature of literature.


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