Banned Books Week: My Top 15 Banned Books

Today marks the beginning of Banned Books Week; a time where the literary world encourages people to pick up a book that has, at one time or another, been deemed unsuitable for society. There are endless great books that have gone unpublished thanks to various concerns regarding their morality. Most often is is books that are seen to contain dangerous amounts of sexual content, violence, or anti-religious sentiments that keep parents up at night. I’ve always thought the act of banning books is a really stupid one, not least because the majority of criticism is missing the overall point of the novels themselves. Of course, the major issue with saying outright that a book is “dangerous”is that it only increases the reputation of that book. How many people, upon hearing that their parents don’t want them reading something will instantly want to go and read it? A quick way to get people talking about and reading your book is to get it banned. How many people picked up a copy of the god awful Da Vinci Code because of the controversy that surrounded Dan Brown’s novel? His first 3 novels were hardly making headlines and each had fewer than 10,000 copies in their first printings. I’m not saying it was the only thing that made Dan Brown a success but all of the criticism and debate that came from it must have had an effect. So, banning a book doesn’t always get the right result. Especially when those books end up being classic works of literature. It’s weird to think that a lot of my favourite books were once unpublished because people didn’t want society to read them. So, in the hopes of inspiring people to pick up a banned book in honour of this week, I’m presenting my favourite banned books (and a few extras).


1. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by DH Lawrence

DH Lawrence’s last novel has been the source of much controversy since it was first published privately in 1928. After an initial publication in Britain in 1932, the novel was not available until again until 1960. The story of a love-affair between a high-society married woman and a working-class man was seen as obscene and contained words that were not deemed suitable for publication. It was only after Penguin went to court to argue that the novel was of literary worth that Lady Chatterley was published again. It subsequently sold out. I know a lot people don’t really appreciate Lawrence’s writing these day but this book is definitely worth a read. If only to honour the trouble that people went to nearly 60 years ago to get the damn thing published

2. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Thanks to it’s questionable content regarding the love affair between an adult man and a young girl in his care, Lolita was banned in several countries after it’s initial release. The book was banned in the UK from 1955 to 1959 on moral grounds. Despite all of the controversy surrounding the book, Nabokov’s novel is not actually as erotic as it has been argued. Certainly not enough to see British customs officials seiing books that were entering the country.
3. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies has been one of my favourite books for years but, according to the American Library Association it is one of the top 10 most banned books in the US. Golding’s cautionary tale of young boys stranded on a deserted island is constantly being called into question because of it’s use of violence, profanity and, in some cases, pro-racist themes. I first read this novel when I was studying for my GCSEs (about 14/15) so I find it impossible to believe anyone seeing it as dangerous. It’s a great novel that still has a lot to say about human nature.

4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood’s tale of a dystopian future ruled over by religious fanatics has, obviously, seen something of a popularity surge recently thanks to the amazing TV adaptation. The novel tells the story of a young woman who is forced into sexual servitude for a couple unable to have children on their own. Parents at a Texan high school demanded that the book be banned thanks to sexual content and the negative portrayal of religion. Far from being a dangerous novel, this is a book that everyone, especially young women, should be encouraged to read. Atwood’s novel is becoming scarily more relevant so if you’ve not read it yet then I implore you to do so.

5. 1984 by George Orwell

I could easily have picked another George Orwell book for this list and, very nearly, did go with Animal Farm instead. Although, arguably 1984 is George Owell’s most famous novel and it is also one of the most challenged books in literary history. The story of a dystopian future in which all human activity is monitored by a totalitarian government has been seen as subversive or ideologically corrupting. It was banned in Russia and the UK and US for years. Orwell’s novel is a must read for anyone who hasn’t already.

6. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This novel is such a loved classic that it’s hard to imagine anyone hating it. Of course, this is why we can’t have nice things. Harper Lee’s classic novel tells the story of a white lawyer defending a black man accused of rape. It has been the subject of many challenges in school thanks to its use of racial slurs, profanity and sexual content. As with the other books on this list, To Kill a Mockingbird is a great novel that has a great deal to teach people that aren’t too narrow-minded to see it. Far from being dangerous, Lee has a great to say about racism and the role of race in society. I read this at school at a young age and I’m glad I did. I may not have fully understood it then, I think this is a book children (and adults) everywhere should get to read.

7. Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved by Toni Morrison is an award winning novel. It has won countless literary prizes, including the Pulitzer. It is the heartbreaking story of slavery and racism in the US and the tale of a mother coming to terms with the death of her child. It is a beautifully written and haunting tale of undoubted literary and social worth. However, it is still being challenged for its depictions violence and racism, its sexual contents and for scenes in which bestiality is discussed. This is another book that you should get your hands on as soon as possible. Morrison is a great writer and this novel is one that will stick with you forever. 

8. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

It’s widely accepted by most people that Brave New World is a literary classic. Aldous Huxley’s tale shows the dangers of a society that has become too comfortable with artificial comforts. Huxley’s future is far from bright and represents the worst of mankind. As such, it has been banned for its strong language, sexual content and, in Ireland, for its comments against religion. In India, Huxley was even branded as a pornographer. Again, this isn’t the kind of statement that would necessarily stop people wanting to read this book.

9. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

Fairly ironically, Ray Bradbury’s cautionary tale about the dangerous of book banning has faced its own controversy. The novel shows a futuristic society that burns all books for being dangerous. In the real world, Ray Bradbury’s book is seen as containing questionable language and themes. In 1953, a school gave their students copies of the book after the, supposedly, obscene words had been blacked out.

10. Tropic Of Cancer by Henry Miller,

What do you associate most with Henry Miller? If you said sex then you’ve obviously heard of Henry Miller. Tropic of Cancer follows a young struggling writer’s sexual encounters and has, obviously, been banned thanks to its sexual content. The book was first published in France in 1934 and wasn’t allowed to be released in the US until 1961. However. even then, booksellers were faced with lawsuits for selling the book. After the Supreme Court declared the book was not classed as obscene, it was delightfully 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’. I mean if that doesn’t make you want to read this book then I honestly don’t know what will. 

11. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

Erich Maria Remarque is a German veteran of the First World War and his novel is an unflinching portrayal of the brutality of the conflict. It describes the physical pain and mental stress that German soldiers faced during the war, and the alienation felt by many upon returning home. It was banned in Germany from 1933 and was burned under the Nazi for being unpatriotic. However, Remarque’s work is considered to be one of the greatest portrayals of World War 1 to have been written.

12. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is Maya Angelou’s  about the early years of her life. It is a coming-of-age story that sees Maya grow into a confident young women despite her traumatic life. She depicts her struggles with racism and being sexual assaulted as a young girl. This is an important piece of literature that discusses identity, racism, literacy, and, most importantly, the role of women. However, schools and parents alike have banned the book thanks to its use of profanity, sexual content, and its discussion of religion. The book is, for the most part, critically acclaimed and the most popular of Angelou’s autobiographies.

13. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

The Satanic Verses is another of those banned books stories that has gone down in literary history. Salman Rushdie’s novel was inspired in part by the life of the Prophet Mohammed. It was such a controversial book that Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini placed a fatwa on Rushdie’s head. It also resulted in the death of the Japanese translator and the attempted murder of both an Italian translator and a Norwegian publisher. The book’s publication sparked violent riots across the world and is banned in many Muslim majority countries, including Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

14. Ulysses by James Joyce

Now, I tried to read Ulysses a few years ago but only made it the end of the first chapter. Upon finishing the opening I realised that I had no idea what had just happened. I decided, instead of going back to the start, that I would store it away for another day. That day never came. Joyce’s novel is an oft confusing tome of great literary standing. So, I find it difficult to believe that enough people have finished the book in order to find something to complain about but they have. References to masturbation in the novel have meant it has been categorised as obscene and radical. It was banned in both the UK and the US for years. 500 copies of the book were burned in New York. Now, if anything is going to make me finish this damn book it’s going to be avenging those copies that were turned to ash. 

15. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

If there’s one thing this list has taught us, it’s that America is a weird place. Salinger’s tale of teenage angst and self-discovery is a staple on high school syllabuses all over the US. It is also the most banned books in American schools. Talk about a weird contrast. Salinger’s tale is full of profanity, violence and sexual content that, supposedly, teenagers shouldn’t be introduced to. Of course, proclaiming a book to be morally questionable is definitely going to stop teenagers trying to read it, right? Right? Now, I can’t claim to love this book but a lot of people around the world adore it. If you’re of the right age then I could potentially see why you would love it but I never got the whole adoration thing. Still, it deserves a place on this list.

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