Forum Friday: What Banned Books Have You Read?

This Friday, my fellow readers, writers, and bloggers, let’s get our hands dirty.

Let’s talk contraband.

This week (September 30 to October 6) is Banned Books Week in the United States. For those of you unfamiliar with it, this is an annual event among the national book community that celebrates the ability to read freely and aims to fight censorship by drawing attention to banned and challenged titles.

My Forum Friday question for you, then, is this: what controversial titles have you read? (And which did you like best? Which are you hoping to read next?)

If you need some ideas check out the following resources:

  1. The ten most challenged titles of 2011, according to bannedbooksweek.org
  2. The 100 most frequently challenged books (1990-1999), as listed by the American Library Association
  3. The 100 most banned and challenged books (2000-2009), again by the American Library Association

Your favorite contraband might be popular titles– children’s, young adult, or adult fiction, anything is game!– like these, which are banned novels I have read:

  • The Hunger Games
  • To Kill a Mocking Bird
  • Brave New World
  • Harry Potter (series)
  • Catcher in the Rye
  • Killing Mr. Griffin
  • Bless Me, Ultima
  • Slaughterhouse-Five
  • The Kite Runner
  • Speak
  • Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes
  • The Handmaid’s Tale
  • Julie of the Wolves
  • Goosebumps (series)
  • The Outsiders
  • Flowers for Algernon
  • Lord of the Flies

And finally, the one that made me say “WHAT?”, #87:

  • Where’s Waldo?

(I kid you not.)

Of those– oh, how could I choose a favorite?– I grew up on Julie of the Wolves, and then the entire Harry Potter series; but Lord of the Flies, Brave New World, Flowers for Algernon and Catcher in the Rye are all literary gems and have haunted and stayed with me for many years (except in the case of Brave New World, which I am actually reading for the first time right now). I love them all.

One banned title that I really want to read (but I don’t even think has been released in the US– I read about it in The Guardian) is Julian Assange’s unauthorized autobiography.

How about you?

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6 thoughts on “Forum Friday: What Banned Books Have You Read?

  1. I love this post for number of reasons! Mostly because, believe it or not, I am writing (at this very moment) a post on banning books under the working title; ‘Fearing Words!’ … anyway, those books you listed seem to have been banned in the USA, because I read most of them (some in English some while still in my first country, translated in Croatian) and did not know they are banned. For instance; Harry Potter series or To Kill a Mocking Bird, or Catcher in the Rye? On the other hand, I read (in secret) Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s work that was, at the time, very much banned!
    Thank you for this lovely post!
    Kind Regards,
    Daniela

    • Hi Daniela!

      Let me clarify, just to be sure– the titles I’ve listed (and the lists I have linked to) refer to books that have been either regarded with controversy and challenged or banned (say, in a school district, or a library, or a certain chain of book shops) at one time or another. But I don’t know that any of them have ever been banned at the *national* level. Given First Amendment rights in the US (which cover free speech) I’m not sure that a national ban is possible.

      As always, thank you for your reading and thoughtful comments. What was the Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn you read?

      I look forward to your ‘Fearing Words’ post!! 🙂

  2. Oh I see, thanks for that! Did you notice what just happened – by the nature of our comments one can easily observe differences in our worlds; worlds we are bringing closer via our blogs! Because from where I originally came when one hears even the beginning of word ‘ban’, this is it! Library level never even occurred to me!
    One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich, and of course The Gulag Archipelago … those are true gems!
    Have a great weekend,
    Daniela

  3. You notice how many of those books which are in controversy or banned also happen to be either classics that are famous today or recent works that defy the norm? My aunt and uncle used to have Harry Potter banned from their household, until I and their son opened their eyes about it. Many people often take works as political statements, and while some works of fiction are specifically devised to make a political statement or can incite political issues, the majority of them are just things that come out of the author as they are writing the work. Often times, many authors will discover they didn’t even realize their book was promoting or destroying a particular value, because they had been so focused on actually writing the book. I can’t remember who said it, but it was something like: “I have no idea what my novel is about, I’m too busy writing it.”

    The main reason books get banned in the first place is because they present ideals. Nothing more. They simply present ideas. And Ideas are immensely dangerous when in the wrong minds. But they can also be absolutely incredible in the right minds.

    I believe Hunger Games was banned through-out multiple countries because they were afraid the ideals in it would incite rebellion in the country, (Not even because of the violence) which isn’t without precedence. The French Revolution was supposedly spurred on by a fictional work that made play at the King and stirred ideas in those who could and did read it to others. There was also a book I read at one point that had supposedly been the sole cause of a revolution in one of the South American countries I believe, I’d have to look for it again.

    • Jordan! Thank you for your comment– your responses are always so thoughtful and substantial!

      I like the quote you shared. It reminds me of something I read in The Oregonian recently enough– an article titled something like “On Seeing my Book Read by Someone on the Train” (actually, this is it here)– in which the author, Brian Doyle, talks about how interesting (and fun) it is when readers start telling you what your book is about. Often enough they are interpretations never intended, but perhaps not always inaccurate.

      Books do indeed present ideas, and I think you’re right: those are often frightening ideas. That’s why speculative and dystopian fiction is so often so good: it GETS to us! (I am currently reading Brave New World for the first time. It’s awesomely terrifying.)

      I had heard that about the French Revolution! I wonder what the book or material was. To the Google Mobile!

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