Books spark controversy. Sometimes, they’re even been burned, often in the face of the First Amendment. This is Banned Books Week, and organizers of the commemoration are staging a virtual read-out, where participants are encouraged to post a video of themselves reading from a banned or challenged book. Here’s a sampling of books that have, at one point or another, been condemned, banned, or burned.
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (Dial Press Trade Paperback). A masterpiece in nonlinear story structure that moves forward and backwards in time, Vonnegut’s book centers around possibly delusional solder Billy Pilgrim, who is captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. While detained in a slaughterhouse, Billy experiences past and future events out of order, including being kidnapped by aliens and the moment of his murder. Exploring the concept of fatalism over free will, Vonnegut’s book is as much of a trip as Billy’s journey to the planet Tralfamadore.Story: Vonnegut library offers banned book to students
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (Harper Perennial Modern Classics). Often banned for sexual content and adult themes, Huxley’s book is eerily prescient, with fetuses being genetically manipulated and divided into different castes, and citizens conditioned to value consumption and to loathe being alone. With reproduction taken off the table, sex is encouraged as recreation, and marriage, parenthood, and pregnancy are never mentioned or pursued. Published in 1932, Brave New World was and is a brave new book.Story: One sentence by J.D. Salinger on eBay for $50,000
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume (Delacorte Books for Young Readers). There is a rite of passage which every prepubescent girl must undergo before she can call herself a woman. That, dear readers, is plowing through Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Born to a Christian mother and Jewish father, sixth-grader Margaret sets out on a quest to find a religion. Meanwhile, she’s dealing with the usual pre-teen issues, including wishing for bigger breasts (doing exercises while memorably chanting, “I must, I must, I must increase my bust!”) and her period. Blume captures the familiar angst and confusion of an adolescent seeking her identity.Story: It’s academic: Your back-to-school reading list
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie (Random House Trade Paperbacks). Perhaps the most controversial book of our generation, Rushdie’s book focuses on the struggles of two Indian expatriates in England who are transformed in a plane crash into an archangel and devil. But it’s the dream sequences — one about a fanatic religious leader that is a thinly veiled allusion to the Ayatollah Khomeini — that have resulted in an ongoing fatwa against Rushdie and his publishers. Individual purchasers of the book have not been harmed.Story: Flu-season reads: 6 books to make you feel better
Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (Grove Press). Banned for its sexual content, Miller’s 1934 book is a frank, semi-autobiographical novel about an expatriate American in Paris. A meditation on the human condition in all its squalid, lonely, and rollicking glory, the work opened the literary door for other writers to write more candidly about sex. Perhaps knowing the book would be controversial, Miller felt compelled to write as honestly as possible, writing “There is only one thing which interests me vitally now, and that is the recording of all that which is omitted in books."
For more information on challenged and banned books, see this liston the American Library Association’s website.
What banned book do you think is worth reading? Are there any books you'd ban from your home?
New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Worick has published more than 25 books. Also a publishing consultant, she can be found at The Business of Books.
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