12 Banned Books that are Important to Read Today

The fourth week of September is Banned Books Week. It was started by the Banned Books Week Coalition, a national alliance of organizations committed to promoting the freedom to read.

The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom publishes an annual Top Ten Challenged Books List. In 2016, there was a disturbing 17 percent increase in book censorship complaints. Another concerning fact is that half of the most frequently challenged books were actually banned last year. Normally, the majority of complaints don’t result in a ban.

You can turn this trend around by supporting books and literacy in your community. The following are some important books that have faced bans and challenges up until today. Get a copy of one or more of these books from your local library or bookstore and see what makes them worth defending.

1. Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller (1934)

Banned in many countries due to its sexual content, Tropic of Cancer was once described by a Pennsylvania judge as “an open sewer, a pit of putrefaction, a slimy gathering of all that is rotten in the debris of human depravity”. The novel was critically acclaimed, but the bans were only lifted in the 1960s. This was considered a major turning point for freedom of speech in literature, especially for writing openly about sex.

2. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson (2005)

An award-winning children’s picture book that tells the true story of two male chinstrap penguins in New York City’s Central Park Zoo named Roy and Silo. When they were seen trying to hatch an egg-shaped rock, zookeepers brought them an extra egg from another couple. Their new daughter Tango became the first penguin chick at the zoo to have two daddies. Despite being about penguins, the story faced widespread bans because it related to same-sex parenting and homosexuality.

3. Beloved, by Toni Morrison (1987)

Beloved won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize in fiction. It’s a story about a former slave in the years following the Civil War, whose Ohio home is haunted by the spirit of a murdered child. Objections have been raised about the book’s mention of bestiality, sex, the supernatural and infanticide.

4. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin (1899)

Set in the American South, The Awakening centers on Edna Pontellier. She is a wife and mother who is struggling with her desires for personal freedom and self-actualization that go against the prevailing social attitudes at the time. The novel was criticized for being immoral and scandalous when it was first published, but today it’s regarded as an important work of early feminism.

5. Call of the Wild, by Jack London (1903)

This novel is about a dog named Buck who is taken from his home in California and sent to work as a sled dog in the Yukon during the Klondike gold rush. Over time, he connects with a primal strength buried inside him, and he changes from a domesticated dog to a fierce pack leader who decides to live in the wilderness permanently. Jack London’s message is that humans may have also lost an essential part of our inner nature that we need to regain to be whole. The book was banned in Yugoslavia and Italy, and burned by the Nazis in the early 1930s because the concepts were considered “too radical.”

6. A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck (1972)

This semi-autobiographical novel follows a boy named Rob Peck as he grows up on an impoverished Vermont farm. The graphic depictions of farm life, including animals giving birth, mating and dying, have often led to demands for the book to be banned.

7. The Well of Loneliness, by Radclyffe Hall (1928)

This novel describes the life of Stephen Gordon, a young lesbian Englishwoman. She finds love with another woman, but their relationship is overshadowed by the social rejection of homosexuality. A British court judged it as obscene, despite the fact it contained no erotic scenes whatsoever. The only possibly sexual reference in the book were the words “and that night, they were not divided.” The mere fact it was written by a lesbian and featured lesbian characters was enough to deem the book too obscene for publication.

8. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle (1963)

A Wrinkle in Time is an award-winning science fantasy novel. It’s about thirteen-year-old Meg Murray, who goes on an adventure through time and space to rescue her father from evil beings holding him prisoner on another planet. Madeleine L’Engle was one of the first authors to deal with many real issues young people face, such as death, social conformity and spirituality. The book came under fire for supposed religiously objectionable content, including references to crystal balls, demons and witches. This is despite the fact that L’Engle herself was an active Christian.

9. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee (1960)

Considered by many to be one of the greatest works of American fiction. This novel tells the story of young Scout Finch and her father Atticus, who is a lawyer defending a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. It’s open discussion of rape and depiction of racist society have made the book a target for controversy.

10. The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie (1988)

The Satanic Verses is about two men of Indian Muslim background who live in England. The story includes a series of dream sequences that deal with concepts around religious faith and divine revelation. Some of these passages in the novel were considered blasphemous by many in the international Muslim community.

Out of all books banned in history, The Satanic Verses is the only one that led to its author having to go into hiding for an entire decade for his own safety. Soon after the book was published, Iran’s Ayatollah issued a fatwa calling for the death of Salman Rushdie and his publishers, which eventually led to the death of Rushdie’s Japanese translator and attacks on others involved with the book.

11. The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, by Daniel Defoe (1722)

As the title suggests, this novel follows the desperate life of Moll Flanders. She was born into poverty, which essentially forced her into a life of crime, prostitution and thievery for her own survival. This is an important message, as poverty still causes similar social problems today. The book faced bans because it included adultery and prostitution.

12. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley (1932)

Set in London in the year 2540 AD, Brave New World is a satire that paints a disturbing picture of what our future society could look like. All aspects of life are controlled by the World State, which maintains control by gratifying every citizen’s desire for food, sex, drugs, nice clothes and other consumer items. People feel so superficially fulfilled they don’t care about their personal freedom. Aldous Huxley points to how this results in a loss of personal connection, love, dignity and what makes us human. The book has been previously banned and continues to be challenged today because it includes drug use, promiscuous sex and offensive language.

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