The best way to get authors and regular folks into a heated discussion, pro or con, is to start a discussion on banned books. Books are banned for a lot of reasons, from objectionable language to ideas well-meaning but clueless (and childless) adults think threatens children’s sense of reality, to an affronted sense of religious belief. Here are seven of the most notorious banned books of all time, and why they were banned from public libraries, schools, and even whole communities!
Although this novel won a Pulitzer Prize, it was also burned wholesale by many communities outraged at Steinbeck’s portrayal of the poor. The funniest part about this particular banning (and burning) was that Steinbeck later noted he had ‘sanitized’ his depiction considerably for publication. Today, of course, most high school kids would like nothing better than to burn this book, but their reasons have nothing to do with a sense of moral outrage. (Trust me on this one.)
Miller’s bold, frank, and graphic autobiographical effort prompted no less a luminary than a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice to revile the book in scathing terms. “It is a cesspool, an open sewer, a pit of putrefaction, a slimy gathering of all that is rotten in the debris of human depravity.” Despite these harsh words, few people today remember Justice Musmanno…but they recall Henry Miller!
Apparently the post-World War II sensibilities of Americans were more delicate than they are now. Vonnegut’s classic and chilling tale of American POWs captured prior to the American firebombing of Dresden, Germany reflects on the horror of war and the search for meaning in a life a young man believes, correctly, is about to end. This classic was banned because of a belief that children should not be exposed to such thematic material. The Slaughterhouse Five is a perennial listing on the American Library Association’s 100 Most Challenged Books.
This stunningly well-written “instant classic” got kids and adults all over the world interested in reading again, which was not entirely a good thing, according to fundamentalist Christian sects both in America and Australia, where the books were burned as being “violent and dangerous.” They called the books “Satanic” and charged that Rowling was attempting to indoctrinate children into witchcraft. Literary types got into the act too, accusing her work of being clichéd, too adult for kids and too childish for adults, and a host of other equally hostile and snide comments. www.bannedbooks.world.edu names the Harry Potter series as #7 on the most banned books in the world for the decade from 1990-2000. And, remarkably, the battle continues today.
In the case of The Satanic Verses, organized religion once again took exception to its portrayal in literature, but this time it was fundamentalist Muslims who were offended. Rushdie’s description of an Indian expatriate and Bollywood movie star surviving a plane crash and trying to reassemble his life took aim at the Islamic faith in a way that prompted retaliation against Rushdie, including death threats, banning, and even his forced flight to the United States, where he still resides. Two US bookstores refused to carry the book in the wake of death threats against them.
This chilling and shocking novel follows a hotshot Wall Street stockbroker whose hobbies include making himself and others a pile of money, torture, and murder. If you’re wondering if you saw the movie, it was Christian Bale’s big break. Germany restricted the sale of it to adults only, as did Australia, with the exception of Queensland, where it was outright banned. (There seems to be a pattern here, as with Harry Potter, above.) According to the Orlando Sentinel, the Canadian government considered banning American Psycho but determined it did not violate Canadian obscenity laws after reviewing the book.
In a curious twist, this novel about the erotic attraction of much older Humbert Humbert to twelve-year-old Lolita managed to get banned in Great Britain and France. The editor of the Sunday Express at the time of Lolita’s publication in 1955, John Gordon, blasted the book, calling it “the filthiest book I have ever read.” Oddly, Nabokov first attempted to publish Lolita in the US unsuccessfully. It would be three years later, in 1958, when Putnam published the first American version amidst both public acclaim and horror.
This guest post was provided by www.lovereading.co.uk.