Banned Books

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93 Responses

  1. Avatar Chris says:

    I had to look at a list, because I didn’t remember what books were classified as “banned books.” Madame Bovary is on the list, because the censors hated it when it was published, so I’ll go with that even if hasn’t really been banned in a while. Leaves of Grass and Invisible Man apparently made the list as well, so they’re worth mentioning.

    To be, in any form—what is that?
    (Round and round we go, all of us, and ever come back thither;)
    If nothing lay more develop’d, the quahaug in its callous shell were enough.

    Mine is no callous shell;
    I have instant conductors all over me, whether I pass or stop;
    They seize every object and lead it harmlessly through me.

    I merely stir, press, feel with my fingers, and am happy;
    To touch my person to some one else’s is about as much as I can stand.


    • Avatar Chris says:

      Oh, Kiss of the Spider Woman too. Looks like it’s on several list (and was or is actually banned, not just “Our school will not put that in its library” banned, in some places).Report

  2. Avatar James Hanley says:

    Huh, turns out Catch 22 is a banned book. There’s my favorite one, hands down.Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Are there any books that would be inappropriate to have children read?

    I mean, I go out of my way to buy Wallace Stevens poetry for kids so, obviously, *I* don’t think so… but I’m wondering if there are any books that might make us say “you know what? I’d probably run a little interference if I found my kid wandering toward this book on a shelf at the local Used Book Shoppe”?

    And if, from there, we might say that it makes sense that a school not have the kids read it as part of class.

    I mean, we rate movies ‘R’ all the time and have fallen out of the habit of calling *THAT* censorship.Report

  4. Avatar Slade the Leveller says:

    Without question, Fahrenheit 451. Banning a book about banning books says just about all there is to say about banning books.Report

  5. Avatar zic says:

    I looked at this 2000 to 2009 list, and it’s got some of my favorite books ever on it.

    Harry Potter tops it; like the book that brought a whole generation of children to love reading is bad?

    But it’s also got I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Of Mice and Men, His Dark Material, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Color Purple, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Giver, In the Night Kitchen (which may be my favorite on the list), Bless Me, Ultima, Snow Falling on Cedars, Brave New World, Slaughterhouse-Five, Farenheit 451, A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Handmaid’s Tale, and A Wrinkle in Time.

    There are other books on the list that I’ve read; but these books are on the shelves in my house, and I’ve read each at least twice; and I probably missed a few that I own but have only read once; there are a lot of books in my house.

    A Wrinkle in Time is probably my favorite of the list.

    The book I didn’t see, but expected to see, is Satanic Versus. I hold an ever-growing love for Rushdie and his bubbly, effervescent writing and comedic timing.Report

  6. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    I think it’s awesome that we live in a country where “banned books” are books that have been removed from a some school libraries and/or cirricula.Report

    • Avatar j r says:

      You are right. I will point out, however, that one of the most awesome things about living in an awesome country is the perpetual desire to make it more awesome.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      When the free market removes stuff from circulation, we don’t hear about it.
      Even when it’s studio execs saying, “You want to make a Children’s Television SHOW????!”Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      @brandon-berg @j-r I have two responses here…

      1. I see this objection everywhere suddenly, despite the fact that this annual ALA event has been going on for as long as I can remember. Does anybody know why this is, or who started it? I assume it’s a new conservative meme based on where I’ve been running into it (WSJ, talk radio, Fox), but does anyone know what it’s actual river source is? I’m really curious.

      2. Regardless of where it started, though, it seems a distinction that’s more clever than smart if you will. Having a book removed from the public libraries and schools of a single city may not qualify “banned” the way a book outlawed by the US Congress would be, and one where those went through channels to have the book(s) removed failed in their efforts would certainly not.

      But the fact that in 2014 we still have communities that talk about “unsafe ideas” needing to be removed from public schools and libraries seems an important one that we should pay attention to — especially when you go down the list and see the books that are challenged and why. I noted this when I went to the Values Voter Summit two years ago, but one of the chief drivers of attempts to have Harry Potter books removed for “promoting witchcraft” will have considerable influence over who is nominated to be the GOP candidate for President in 2016.

      And for that matter, it isn’t just a conservative thing. I went to a prep school and remember a campaign to have Huck Finn not only pulled from the curriculum, but demoed from all public libraries in the suburb we lived in — and it sure wasn’t the conservatives who were hell bent on doing so.

      The question of why we should allow books (or any artistic medium) to speak ideas that make us angry or uncomfortable is a good one to have in an age where the demand to restrict narratives is growing, not shrinking. Further, I think the best way to shine a light on that question is to highlight the real, non-theoretical books that people today are trying to make sure other people in their community can’t access (even if they’ve given up on trying to outlaw them outright, at least for the moment).

      This snark over the annual ALA event I’m suddenly seeing everywhere feels like everything else I see on the right these days: Seeing something liberals care about and pissing on it just for the sake of pissing on it, even it it’s something that is important to conservatives (or libertarians) as well.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        @tod-kelly It’s not an objection. I just think it’s awesome that this is as bad as it gets here.

        And I don’t follow the conservative media, so I wasn’t aware this was a talking point. It just occurred to me when I saw the post.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Well, yes. If you want to talk about unsafe ideas, talking about a frank pictoral description of human bodies would be a start.

        … or we could go and put on our shining white self-righteous gear, and snear at everyone who wants to ban books, while pretending that we aren’t like them.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        I guess it shows that I live in a liberal cocoon because I didn’t know hating on banned book week was a thing.

        But I generally agree with the importance of the event. Yes these books are not removed from every jurisdiction but they were at one time and/or are still considered unsuitable in many jurisdictions.Report

      • Avatar RTod says:

        Got it. And I must confess, that lines up more with the BB I know.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        But the fact that in 2014 we still have communities that talk about “unsafe ideas” needing to be removed from public schools

        Like the Buttle Openner?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        We should make sure that we don’t have certain types of people teaching our children.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        I’ll admit to thinking the buttle opener is not quite appropriate for the grade school cafeteria.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        The ButtleOpener was banned by NASCAR. Put it on the list.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        I have to say, they missed an opportunity to just call it “The Buttler”.

        ‘Let us buttle for you’.Report

      • Avatar Pinky says:

        “Seeing something liberals care about and pissing on it just for the sake of pissing on it”

        I made a comment below that you’d probably consider to be in that category. FWIW, my familiarity with the ALA goes back about 30 years (two friends were members). I didn’t know the right-wing press was going after them. I just find what Chris said below to be true: that talking about banned books is easy. One wonders why liberals care so much about a practice that is virtually non-existent in the US. It’d be like having Lead Pipe Week. It’s especially weird as the ALA doesn’t seem interested in the suppression of the written word in Cuba, which is happening today.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Books may be banned, but they have 100% literacy!

        And universal health care.Report

      • Avatar Pinky says:

        A further thought on Tod’s “seeing something liberals care about and pissing on it just for the sake of pissing on it” comment. Maybe I’ve been reading too much Jonathan Haidt, but it wouldn’t occur to a conservative that a liberal would care about banned books. If this was Print Freedom Week, then maybe. But a banned book is something that gains its value by being offensive to a majority or to those in power. It’s more akin to blasphemy than sanctity.

        I hope I’m able to make this distinction clearly. The conservative would hold something high and say “this is worthy of being praised”. The liberal would hold the concept of questioning authority high and say “this is worthy of being praised”. But it falls into absurdity to hold something high and say “this is to be praised because it is unworthy”. An attachment to banned books is different from an attachment to books of value that may have been controversial. The act of celebrating Banned Books Week is an act of seeing values that people care about and pissing on them for the sake of pissing on them.Report

  7. Avatar Pinky says:

    If one parent asks the grade school library to pull a book, does it make the list?Report

  8. Avatar Pinky says:

    I just read the list. It’s so provincial. The most banned book in the world is probably The Bible.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      The lists are all pretty silly (I refuse to call them “banned books” without scare quotes, though some of them were actually banned in a meaningful sense), but it’s not at all surprising that the creators of a sort of delimited Western Canon are as myopic as the creators of Western Canons in general.

      That said, the spirit behind the celebration of “banned books” is a noble one, I think, even if it’s noble in an easy way. Our provincialism and laziness getting mixed up with our nobility is pretty much what it means to be American.Report

  9. Avatar zic says:

    I banned a set of books from my house; a most-beloved set, The Berenstein Bears.

    I had two reasons. First, my kids kept wanting me to read them out loud to them. They do not slip of the tongue musically, the clunk and grind and cause the reader to potentially fling spittle about the room. I asked a friend, a children’s librarian, and she said, “Yes, they’re clunky.” That’s the term for books that are difficult to read out loud for the tongue contortions.

    Second reason was the preachy tone. I don’t know why, but it probably grated on me because of the clunkiness I encountered when it presented itself.

    So that leads to another question: what books have you, personally, banned?Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Dr Seuss, the sadist, has a couple of tongue-twister books that keep getting lost…

      There’s another book that Lain loves for some reason. It was written in the fifties and it talks about how “you” (the child) will go to the moon. It’s not banned, but it only rarely makes an appearance. For two reasons:

      First, it’s clunky. It explains the process (albeit in very child-friendly language)… which isn’t snappy like a lot of Lain’s books are.

      Second, because it is a cruel, cruel lie.Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:

        What do we know about Tweedle Beatles?


      • Avatar Johanna says:

        @patrick hah! That is one of my kids all time favorites and they wanted to hear it so often that I started singing it to them. A consistent tune developed. This was during the year when James worked out of state and was only home on weekends. Once they requested that book from him and as he started reading they screamed “no sing it daddy.” He tried but at that point the girls had come to expect my made up version and told him he was singing it wrong!Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:

        I can rattle that sucker off pretty quick, my only trouble is the Luke Luck likes lakes bit.

        The trick to reading tongue twisters is to slow down and only read the one word you’re saying at a time. When you scan ahead, the way you do when you’re reading normally (at least, the wya *I* read normally) your brain starts to cross wiring. Chris can probably point us at a neuroscience paper that explains exactly where the cross-wiring is…Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      I’m married to a librarian. I’m not allowed to ban anything and, anyways, even if I did, she has a library at her disposal.

      I will, however, make fun of stuff like House of Leaves. Here’s the first sentence from the Amazon Editorial review: “Had The Blair Witch Project been a book instead of a film, and had it been written by, say, Nabokov at his most playful, revised by Stephen King at his most cerebral, and typeset by the futurist editors of Blast at their most avant-garde, the result might have been something like House of Leaves.”

      How do you read something like that and not snarl?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        revised by Stephen King at his most cerebral

        Which is roughly equivalent to Stephen Hawking at his most athletic.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        I enjoyed House of Leaves well enough when I read it, which was years ago so I don’t remember a ton other than the main hook. It was different, anyway, and that’s worth something.

        Actually, I wonder where my copy got to…

        (Also, Blair Witch ain’t that great).Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I thought the guy was peeing.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        @james-hanley – I am actually somewhat of a King defender, but yeah, “cerebral” isn’t a word I’d use. That is not where his strengths lie.Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:

        Why Stephen is a good storyteller, in one quote: “He pulled a red and blue bandanna from his back pocket, blew his nose with a decisive honk, and thrust it back out of sight after a short peek into it to see if he had gotten anything interesting.”

        Being a good storyteller != literary genius.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        house of leaves was a very cool idea so poorly, poorly done.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        True this: I read Salem’s Lot in high school; the setting evokes a town very near here, a place where I spent a lot of time with my Grandmother. (I’m in Maine, remember; King’s summer house and the highway where he got hit are nearby.) I found it so disgusting, that I never read another King book.

        Flash forward, and I’ve moved back here. I’m in the local book store, now closed, sadly, and just beginning my friendship with the store owner. This creepy, grubby, unshaven man comes in while I’m browsing, grabs a pile of books on a shelf a rack over (I was in the SF section, he went to horror,) and takes them to the front counter. I can’t see what’s going on, but I can hear him talking to the store owner.

        It was disgusting.

        It was Stephen King, and he was telling her the plot of Misery, which was just about to be released as a film, and how the story changed from text to movie. That this was the topic of the conversation was settled very quickly, they focused on the plot of the movie, the gory details, and what I heard was the gory details, and not that this was the transition from page to screen.

        It was traumatic.

        I couldn’t escape the man for trying. I have met him a few times since. I wrote his foundation, asking for money for a school project once, they sent me a form to fill out, decisions made several months from now, and then got a personal check from him in the mail the next day, no forms at all — not from his foundation, from him and his wife.

        So I don’t try to escape him anymore. And someday, I might read his try reading his books again; but generally, they’re not my cup of tea.

        That day, King signed copy of his books she had in stock, and they went back on the shelves to be sold at the regular retail price. That’s what he was doing as they talked; something I couldnt’ see. So if you’re in the market for a signed Stephen King, come to Maine, and check out the local book stores. He’s generous that way, too.

        And yes, I bought one as a gift to a fan, but not one for myself, I don’t read Stephen King. Banned.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Hm. King donated a few signed books to a charity that one of my friends helped create (claimed he was doing it to stop his friends from being so damn whiny/depressed).

        My author friend claims that King is one of the greatest writers of modern fairy tales. Anyone around got some suggestions? I don’t mind Lovecraft, or Thief, or Dr. Who, but I don’t like gore-horror.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        That’s actually kind of awesome, Zic.

        If I were to tell you to read Stephen King, I’d tell you to read his Danse Macabre… which is his non-fiction book where he talks about writing. The best quote from the book? “I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud.”

        As such, if I were to tell you to read a second book of his, I’d ask you to keep that quote in mind and pick up some of his short stories.

        Of course, you may say that, yeah, the top three things that you’re not looking for in any given story is terror, horror, and/or grossout-or.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @kim Try Charles DeLint and Patricia McKillip.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Kim: Night Shift and/or Skeleton Crew. You should be able to pick up both at your local used book shoppe for less than 10 bucks total and still have enough left to get some ice cream.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @jaybird it’s the grossout. I don’t mind a little, but some spices rapidly overwhelm. I struggle with this with my favorite (sadly, no dead) author, Iain Banks.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        @zic – try this; it’s got no gross-out, and it’s short, and anybody who says the man can’t write should read it.

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Jay, he sounds like a comedian talking about going for pity laughter. Nobody’s proud in that gig.

        Wow, that’s writingcraft. To be able to meander so smoothly, to dance around the truth, to let yourself be the person lost in memories fairly crying out to be told.Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:

        I second Skeleton Crew and Night Shift.

        They, and The Stand, are the only King books to survive space-issue culling. Goodreads bookswaps are the devil.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      We took a different tone than most parents I know. We allowed our kids to read (or be read to) or watch anything that fell short of an X rating as long as they’ve been able to ask to experience them. The one caveat was that if they had to be able to handle the experience. And by that we meant everything from being about to self-regulate watching things that got too scary to not using certain language to no reenacting certain violent behaviors they might see or read about.

      It worked out really well, actually.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        My parents were very liberal with this kind of stuff.

        When I was in second or third grade, someone came to school and talked about how she read the Naked and the Dead in the second or third grade. I thought this was a cool challenge and asked my parents for a copy and they obliged.

        I failed but they were not the type to say that it isn’t a kids book.

        There were a lot of times in school when we had “read what you want” book report assignments and the librarians and teachers always censored my pick and I resented this.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        I know rock-album sales got a huge boost from the parental warning; I’d presume it was instrumental in helping kids get into rap and hip hop, too, though I’ve never looked. There’s some law of forbidden fruit being more desirable, though I don’t know what the laws name might be.

        Certainly, banning the Tyndale Bible drove up demand for English bibles in the late 1500’s.Report

  10. Avatar zic says:

    There is another form of banning: limiting availability. I’ve spent a lot of time searching out out-of-print books; I own several collections; the White Mountains and mountaineering/hiking in general, field guides, gardening, knitting, cooking, science fiction.

    When books go out of print, they become rare and elusive, they’re banned from general public access (with the exceptions of inter-library loans, Thanks Maribou!)

    So here’s my latest hunt:

    I so want this book!Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Apparently, it’s back in print… Amazon has some “new” for 17 bucks.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        I’ve been looking at that; most of the sellers seem to be in the UK, so shipping substantially increases the price. More interestingly, is just how difficult it’s becoming to tell where the merchant is; unless they say outright, it’s completely obscured.

        I ran into this with two recent (electronics) orders. One ended up coming from the UK, one from Japan, and because (not knowing this) I picked the cheapest shipping — ground — they took months to arrive. This does not make zic happy; it makes her a cautions, investigative shopper, not a push-the-one-click shopper.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Ground travel from Japan would slow you down substantially if not give you the bends.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Well, when the book is a present for myself, I somehow always manage to forget that I got it and so when it arrives, it’s like “OMGWTFBBQ I GOT A BOOK”.

        It’s only when it’s a present for someone else that it hides like a splinter in my brain so that I can’t shift position without remembering that it was supposed to be here by now.

        Have you tried forgetting it?Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      When books go out of print, … they’re banned from general public access

      Pity the poor word “banned,” that it should be so abused.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      I am going to agree with Hanely that this is not the greatest use of the word banned. There are some books I wanted that were only published in England. These are not quite banned but I was just unwilling to pay the costs to send them over.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        It was a poor attempt at a parallel construction; banning = trying to limit access/availability = actually limiting access.

        I may want a copy of a book and be unable to acquire one except under first sale doctrine; at least here in the US. This is, as you know, a function of copyright law, and each nation, via Berne, applies it’s own laws. There are other similar forms of ‘banning,’ in my usage, which I admit a stretch, would mean limiting availability in some way. One example is much of the music produced in Europe, particularly northern Europe. You cannot purchase it on iTunes in the US, because then, it would be covered by US Copyright Law. You have to have an EU account linked to an EU bank.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I think the parallel construction here is interesting. While the actual banning of books is more egregious in the ideological sense, the number of books it actually makes difficult to get absolutely pales in comparison to the number made hard by copyright law.

        This day in age, it’s actually not easy to justify non-availability of books. Between print-on-demand and ebooks, just about everything should be available for a fairly reasonable price. Except for managerial discretion (corporate “censorship”) and/or price-enhancing scarcity. The latter of which I have something of a problem with.

        My daughter’s favorite book costs anywhere from $23 heavily used or $650 “new.” When she ripped out a page, I ended up just taping in back in place.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Copyright Bans Books is a sentiment that, with a little tinkering, could work.

        There are a huge number of books that would be in the public domain under previous laws that aren’t under current laws and thus aren’t available anymore except through used book stores. Books that, you’d think, would be easily downloadable can’t be because it’s unclear who the copyright belongs to.

        Yay Disney!Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        I suppose with on-demand print publishing that is true. There is still an issue of tracking down the copyright holder or trying to determine whether something is in the public domain or not which can be complicated, tricky, expensive and time consuming. I’ve done some work on trying to determine the copyright holder of an old-time radio show when I was in a law school clinic and it gets confusing because multiple people think they have a right, can make a colorable argument, but obviously only one person can be the rights holder. There is a question about whether it is worth it to sort this out for on-demand printing for some works.

        Other works are just limited editions. There was a trend in the 1920s and 30s to produce really beautiful limited edition versions of books and these books would have illustrations by top modern artists like Matisse. Who knows how many copies of these early special editions still exist and where? If they are in private hands, it could be hard to get owners to scan a copy because the rarity makes it a special treat. There are several early versions of Ulysses that are like this. I would personally like to get a copy of a Couragebook. This was produce for the famous 1948 production of Mother Courage and Her Children. It is a three volume work: The play, Brecht’s notes on writing the play and directing the production, and a scene by scene photobook of the production.

        I’ve never seen a copy. I only heard it exists from multiple sources. The first was a grad school professor. The next ones were from German dealers at a rare book fair. They didn’t have copies but they knew what I was talking about when I mentioned a Couragebook.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        @saul-degraw It’s almost never going to be in the public domain, which is can be a problem in itself. I’m referring mostly to the publishers not have much of an “lack of consumer interest” reasoning. That argument made a lot of sense when they had to publish a very high number in order to justify the printing board. Less so, these days.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Getting copyright holders to give permission to allow their works to be republished can be quite the trick, some days.
        We’re talking “custom powerpuff girl art with new character!” tricksy.

        A note of Satanism was banned by the vatican (do not dedicate your works to Satan! That will get them banned.), then resurfaced 500 years later and got repurposed into some modern Opera.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @kim, you’ve got (potentially) two different things going on here. First is getting permission from copyright holders. For a lot of published stuff still under copyright, it’s difficult to determine who even holds the copyright.

        But you example sounds more like a derivative work; fan-fiction/fan-art type stuff. Here, it’s not just copyright at work when one seeks a right to distribute, it’s also trademark. Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh are also trademarked, as any number of logos, images, sounds, movie clips, etc. that artists might want to use in their work in a way that exceeds fair use.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        oh, no, I wasn’t talking about getting permission from the copyright holders of Powerpuff Girls. I was simply referencing the bribe needed to get someone to allow the retransmission of a completely different TV show.Report

  11. Avatar zic says:

    Speaking of banning, it’s not specific books, but specific history from text books. If the story’s accurate, students in Jefferson County, CO are walking out to protest removal of civil disobedience from AP history textbooks.

    Tensions have run high in Jefferson County schools since three conservative candidates were elected to the school board. These new board members have suggested an extensive rewrite of the way history is taught to the area’s students to a model they believe is more patriotic.

    The right-leaning board-members said they believe history teachers should teach nationalism, respect for authority and reverence for free markets. They should avoid teaching any historical events or acts that promote “civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”


    • Avatar Kim says:

      Ha. Kudos to the kids.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      history teachers should teach …reverence for free markets. They should avoid teaching any historical events or acts that promote … social strife”

      I totally agree. They should be teaching that porn is good because the free market produces so much of it, and Christians who crusade against it are un-American.

      What? That’s not what they meant?Report