In honour of Banned Books Week, we’re taking a look at some of the most controversial writing ever published.
Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of objections to books in schools, bookstores, and libraries. Since then, says the American Library Association, more than 11,300 books have been challenged – some for reasons that might surprise you.
If you believe in the right to read, these are the contentious tales that belong on your bookshelf.
Before Christian Bale brought him to life, Patrick Bateman was ruffling feathers in novel form. The story of the businessman-slash-serial-killer contains highly detailed and disturbing depictions of violence and murder, as well as graphic sexual content. Because Bateman’s victims are primarily women, American Psycho has also be called extremely misogynistic.
Brave New World
Brave New World may be less cited than George Orwell’s 1984 when it comes to dystopian literature, but it seems to have aggravated a greater number of readers. Ireland yanked it from shelves for its controversial themes around child birth, religion, and the traditional family. Some critics in the US also felt it was unfit for schools and libraries.
The Catcher in the Rye
Young Holden Caulfield has challenged censors for decades. The Catcher In The Rye is frequently removed from classrooms and school libraries for being “unacceptable,” “obscene,” “blasphemous,” “negative,” “foul,” “filthy,” and “undermining morality.” Oddly enough, it’s both the most banned and the second most taught book in American schools.
The Color Purple
Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning story about a courageous black woman’s struggle for empowerment features rape, spousal abuse, and homosexuality. The book has repeatedly been challenged for its depictions of sexuality and violence. Other censors have cited offensive language, “troubling ideas about race relations,” and unsuitability for a younger age group as reasons for banning.
The Grapes of Wrath
Kern County, California, is both the setting of Steinbeck’s novel and the first place where it was banned (1939). Detractors faulted the author’s sympathy for the poor, socialist tendencies, use of profanity, and sexual references. Objections continued well into the 1990s, both in the United States and abroad.
The Harry Potter Series
The beloved boy wizard isn’t beloved by all. Some religious groups take offense to the witchcraft portrayed in the explosively popular series. Of particular concern to them is the positive portrayal of witchcraft in literature aimed at children. The Harry Potter books have consistently appeared on most challenged books lists since 2000.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The first ban of Mark Twain’s American classic called it “trash and suitable only for the slums.” The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn is one of the most challenged books in history, with today’s critics calling it “racially insensitive” and “oppressive,” and expressing concern that it “perpetuates racism.”
A book about a man who becomes obsessed with, then embarks upon a ‘relationship’ with, a 12-year-old girl is bound to be controversial. Nabokov’s novel was called “the filthiest book I have ever read” by the editor of the Sunday Express, banned in various countries, and labeled pornography by a variety of authority figures over the years.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Stephen Chbosky’s cult-favourite coming of age story is a haunting modern classic in the vein of The Catcher in the Rye. Like that novel, it was met with hefty critiques for vivid descriptions of sex, abuse, and drugs. The book has been removed from library shelves in some places and regularly makes the American Library Association’s top 10 most challenged books list.
The Satanic Verses
It’s not exactly the shocker of the century that something called The Satanic Verses would spark controversy. Many in the Islamic community saw the book’s portrayal of Islam as blasphemous. The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa ordering Muslims to kill Salman Rushdie, forcing the author into hiding for a decade. Copies of the book were burned at rallies and several people associated with its publication were attacked.
Tropic of Cancer
Miller’s largely autobiographical book focuses on expats living abroad in France, particularly the lives of a struggling writer and his friends and colleagues. Turns out expat writers have all kinds of salacious sexual encounters, and not all readers are ok with that. A Pennsylvania judge called it, “a cesspool, an open sewer, a pit of putrefaction, a slimy gathering of all that is rotten in the debris of human depravity.” Orwell called it “the most important book of the mid-1930s.”
Many tremble in fear at the thought of reading this inscrutable novel, which the author himself said he hoped would “keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant.” Early critics who managed to get past the challenging prose banned the book in Ireland, Great Britain, and the United States for colourful depictions of sexual acts and bodily functions. Despite the severe disapproval from some, Ulysses is considered one of the greatest works of English literature.