Banned Books Week

This is banned books week, and I’ve been working on getting together a quick list of books that were banned specifically because they portrayed minorities and minority ideas of one sort or another in a positive way. Most can be read today, at least in America, so maybe you should give them a shot.

Banned for Atheism

– Charles R. Darwin, On the Origin of Species — Promotes evolution. Sort of the atheist ur-banned-book.
– Howard Fast, Citizen Tom Paine — Fictionalized biography of Thomas Paine that stressed his atheism.
– William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying — “The book questions the existence of God.” I’m almost ok with this, seeing as I hate Faulkner with the power of a million suns, but my hatred of book banning wins out.
– Louise Fitzhugh, The Long Secret — “The book pokes fun at religion.” And does so pretty well, actually. I enjoyed it.
– Edward Gibbon, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — Contradicts official church history, and is, yet, one of the definitive texts on the subject.
– Frank Herbert, Soul Catcher — The book “is a mockery of Christianity, and very much anti-God.” It’s actually not very mocking at all. It uses pretty clear Biblical allusion, just doesn’t present the messiah figure as perfect, but rather as a child. Maybe there’s a little mocking of the “Jesus was white” idea.
– Norma Howe, God, the Universe and Hot Fudge Sundaes — The book “pushes several items of the humanist agenda: death education, anti-God, pro-evolution, anti-bible, anti Christian, and logic over faith.” I really loved this book. It’s a YA novel, but one that deals with a lot of issues in a very real way.
– Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — The book promotes “secular humanism”. Also sexual promiscuity. Another of my favorites.
– Jerome Lawrence, Inherit the Wind — Its “anti-religious nature.” If you’ve seen the movies, read the book. Also, H.L. Mencken’s commentary on the trial.
– Ross Lockridge, Jr., Raintree Country — “1066 pages of blasphemy and sacrilege inimical to faith and morals and within the prohibition of the Catholic Index.” I haven’t read this one, but I think I have to now.
–  Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason — decidedly non-Trinitarian and pretty brazenly anti-religion. I’ve read this one a number of times.
– Katherine Paterson, The Great Gilly Hopkins — “Christians are portrayed as being dumb and stupid.” Another YA novel. I haven’t read this one, but I kinda want to after doing some research.
– Bertrand Russell, What I Believe — A freethinker. Seriously, as far as I can tell, it’s just that he wasn’t theist and wrote about it. In public.
– Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Slaughterhouse Five — The book was burned, banned, challenged and restricted, for this sentence among others: “The gun made a ripping sound like the opening of the fly of God Almighty.” One of my favorite lines in one of my favorite books.

Banned due to LGBT Content

– Justin Richardson and Henry Cole, And Tango Makes Three – Children’s book about gay penguins raising a kid, based on a true story.
– Francesca Lia Block, Baby Be Bop  –  Young adult coming out story. Very powerful, but banned for graphic language and “promoting the homosexual agenda” (which I have yet to receive my copy of in the mail, despite numerous requests).
– Robert A. Rhoades, Coming Out in College: The Struggle for a Queer Identity – Not really a fantastic book, more of a primer, but it drew the ire of a group of parents and people pretending to be parents for, you guessed it, “promoting the homosexual agenda”.
– Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland, King and King – This is what we call a new classic, and has come to symbolize how queer people are “going after kids.” Still, it’s a sweet story, and well worth the read.
– Michael Willhoite, Daddy’s Roommate – any book that freaks out Sarah Palin is alright by me. A fairly innocuous novel that borders between children’s and YA, as far as I can tell, but like Palin, I haven’t read it either.
– May Sarton, The Education of Harriet Hatfield – not only was this book pulled off shelves at a New Hampshire high school, one of the English teachers was fired for refusing to do so.
– John D’Emilio, Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin – The definitive history of Bayard Rustin. D’Emilio is a truly gifted writer and he presents the civil rights leader as both realistic and inspirational. Highly recommended.
– Howard Cruse, Stuck Rubber Baby a graphic novel published by DC, this is a really fantastic story about growing up gay in the South among other socially important issues. This wasn’t banned so much as moved to the adult sections of the library, so small favors there.

You’ll notice a lot of these are children’s books. Because protect the children and stuff.

Books Banned for Feminism

– Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale – Post-apocalyptic setting where patriarchy is all that’s left? Atwood has you covered. And it got the book banned.
– Kate Chopin, The Awakening – This may be the feminist novel and has a main character ready to go to any lengths to protect the small amount of freedom that she manages to gain.
– Judy Blume, ForeverDeenieBlubberTiger EyesAre You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. There are actually a lot of reasons why these books were banned, but I’m putting them in feminist because Blume is addressing young girls primarily and focusing on how they can deal with these many issues on their own.
– Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic – Another graphic novel. It’s actually closer to being about LGBT issues, but I’m putting it here because it’s by the eponymous creator of the Bechdel Test, which is a really useful tool in analyzing media.

I’m having trouble finding a lot of books for this section, so I’ll take suggestions. Mostly it’s because feminism is highly intersectional, and a lot of what could be put here is more accurately put in LGBT or race or both.

Books Banned for Race

– Toni Morrison, Beloved and The Bluest Eye. Morrison is not easy to read, but her writing is robust, especially on the issue of race, and her characters are relatable.
– Alice Walker, The Color Purple – this one was hard to place, because it really could have gone in any category on this page other than atheism. It deals heavily with race, sex, sexuality, gender, and social structures. And it takes the wrong position on all of them according to the people who like the ban books.
– Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird – A classic of race-oriented storytelling, we have Harper Lee writing about unpopular opinions on race that hadn’t changed between when the novel takes place and when she was writing it.
– Richard Wright, Native Son – This is another of my favorites. It’s not easy to make a murderer your protagonist, but Wright pulls it off and puts race into stark relief.

Banned for Random Reasons

– Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses – Almost tempted to put this in atheism, but it really isn’t. It’s because he seized on a little known bit of Islamic lore that throws a big wrench into the works for people who want total obedience. And it resulted in death threats and multi-million dollar bounties from around the world. Also, in Venezuela you could be imprisoned up to 15 months for owning a copy.
Where’s Waldo? – No, I’m not kidding. It’s one of the more bizarre ones I came across. Turns out in the beach scene of the first book, there’s a woman sunbathing topless, face down, and you can see a bit of side boob, so people freaked out.
– Dr. Seuss, The Lorax – banned specifically for “criminalizing the forest industry.” Basically, it was banned for not pleasing corporate lobbyists.

This is only a partial list I got from searching around the internet. There are many, many more. Whenever a new or dangerous idea is published, there is somebody looking to ban it. One of my favorite unappreciated sub-plots to The Hunchback of Notre Dame has nothing to do with the title character, but rather is about how the king, who is not too bright, wants to introduce the printing press to Paris because it’s new and exciting, but the cardinal recognizes that an educated populace is dangerous and has the press destroyed.

An educated populous populace is dangerous. We have to fight to learn these days, and giving ground on the issue of books will only make the rest of the fight harder.

So read. Read to your heart’s content and more. Know what happens, understand how these books have influenced thought and policy, and if a book is banned, seek it out and become the living repository of its message.


3 thoughts on “Banned Books Week

  1. (I hated “The Awakening” almost as much as you, apparently, hate Faulkner. (Why do you hate Faulkner?) Still, I wouldn’t like to see it banned.

    I can understand – not like, not agree with, but understand – books being banned or restricted from kids for things like violence or sexual content or even particularly virulent forms of hatefulness.. (Or, to quote my mother’s defense for forbidding a certain sitcom when we were kids: “Because all the humor comes from people being mean and nasty to each other, and I don’t want you growing up thinking that’s funny.”) I don’t understand, and probably never will, banning a book because it deals with topics you don’t want people reading about. It just seems like an admission of defeat – if your ideas can’t withstand people even hearing about an opposing viewpoint, doesn’t that say something about the validity of those beliefs?

  2. It was really interesting to see a list broken down into “why” – shows exactly what choices some parents think should and should not be okay. Since I was let loose on the library as soon as I could take books out myself, I’m a big proponent of not setting restrictions on what kids can read – if parents want to in the home, that’s their right, but I don’t think the library should, because restrictions “we” agree with can so easily be extended to ones “we” think are wrong.

    As an example, I read brave new world when I was about ten or twelve, and didn’t understand a good chunk of it – but I was old enough to know it was “important” and want to read it for that reason, and old enough to request it from the library and bring it home, so I would have been very frustrated if some adult had said I was too young to read it.

    • That’s really the crux of it, isn’t it? Parents are looking for other people to enforce rules on their children. I respect that parents can’t and shouldn’t be on their kids all the time, but fear that they’ll come across an idea that said parent doesn’t like leading to bans is basically asking that other people take responsibility for their child.

      I was very much the same way as a kid. Going to the Main Library branch downtown was a treat for me. And it’s kind of an amazing feeling when you’re an adult and reading something that you knew was “important”, but didn’t understand as a child, and finally understanding it.

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