Banned books

A classics-heavy list of literature that's just too dangerous for your kids to read.

Censorship: The change in the access status of material, made by a governing authority or its representatives. Such changes include exclusion, restriction, removal, or age/grade level changes.
— as defined by the American Library Association

In the past year more than 100 different books were censored somewhere in the United States. Some were burned, others "challenged" (formally requested to be banned) by parents, politicians and zealots. At a time when we fight for freedom halfway around the world, here at home every one of the following books was removed from a library, a school reading list or a bookstore by local governments and school districts.

"Home" can be a major city or small town, in the north or south, east or west. Almost everywhere in America in the past 12 months, someone saw fit to ban a book from public shelves because they disagreed with its intellectual content and the writer's right to freedom of expression.

The titles include some of the classics of literature. "The Catcher in the Rye" was banned in Pennsylvania "because of vulgarity, occultism, violence and sexual content." "Of Mice and Men" was banned in Alabama for being "ungodly and obscene." "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl" was banned in Virginia for "overt and offensive sexual passages."

Josh Whelan of the Dallas Unified School District explains the process that takes a book from "challenged" to "removed":

"Any person can request that we pull a book from our shelves on the basis of any complaint," says Whelan. "District officials then conduct a public hearing on this important issue at its next meeting. A school's students can attend. We listen to all sides. A vote to remove a book from our libraries or lists means removing it from the entire district system, prohibiting their use in the curriculum and prohibiting students and teachers from having the books on school property."

That process led to the banning of William Golding's "Lord of the Flies" as "demoralizing inasmuch as it implies that man is little more than an animal." But a Dallas library official (who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal) responds, "What's truly demoralizing is that we have to constantly fight for kids here to read classics that kids everywhere else can read."

Author Judy Blume has seen several of her books for young adults struck from library shelves. "It's not just the books under fire now that worry me," Blume says. "It is the books that will never be written, that will never be read, and all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers."

Some of America's greatest figures have agreed.

"Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions," wrote Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. "It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us."

Even conservative president Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke out on behalf of freedom of speech when he implored the American people, "Don't join the book-burners."

There is also reason for optimism, says Alfred Whitney, author of "Essays on Education."

"Books won't stay banned," he says. "They won't burn forever. Ideas won't go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only sure weapon against bad ideas is better ideas. The source of better ideas is wisdom. The surest path to wisdom is reading books like these."

But as the below excerpts show, there is much diligence still necessary -- if these classics can be suppressed, any book can.

(Note: In most cases, the below titles were banned in the past year in more than one community, often several. I've included only one explanation/jurisdiction for each -- one that best captures why the book was most often pulled from shelves.)

The Catcher in the Rye
J.D. Salinger (1951)

Banned "because of vulgarity, occultism, violence and sexual content" by Montour, Pa., High School.

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know about is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them.

They're quite touchy about anything like that, especially my father. They're nice and all -- I'm not saying that -- but they're touchy as hell. Besides, I'm not going to tell you my whole goddamn autobiography or anything, I'll just tell you about this madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas just before I got pretty run-down and had to come out here and take it easy.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
Anne Frank (1947)

This tragic testament to personal courage was banned due to "overt and offensive sexual passages" by the Wise County, Va., city council.

Friday, 21 July, 1944
Dear Kitty,

Now I am getting really hopeful, now things are going well at last. Yes, really, they're going well! Super news! An attempt has been made on Hitler's life and not even by Jewish communists or English capitalists this time, but by a proud German general, and what's more, he's a count, and still quite young. The Fuhrer's life was saved by Divine Providence and, unfortunately, he managed to get off with just a few scratches and burns. A few officers and generals who were with him have been killed and wounded. The chief culprit was shot.

Anyway, it certainly shows that there are lots of officers and generals who are sick of the war and would like to see Hitler descend into a bottomless pit. When they've disposed of Hitler, their aim is to establish a military dictator, who will make peace with the Allies, then they intend to rearm and start another war in about twenty years' time. Perhaps the Divine Power tarried on purpose in getting him out of the way, because it would be much easier and more advantageous to the Allies if the impeccable Germans kill each other off; it'll make less work for the Russians and the English and they'll be able to begin rebuilding their own towns all the sooner.

But still, we're not that far yet, and I don't want to anticipate the glorious events too soon. Still, you must have, this is all sober reality and that I'm in quite a matter-of-fact mood today; for once, I'm not jabbering about high ideals. And what's more, Hitler has even been so kind as to announce to his faithful, devoted people that from now on everyone in the armed forced must obey the Gestapo, and that any soldier who knows that one of his superiors was involved in this low, cowardly attempt upon his life may shoot the same on the spot, without court-martial.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Mark Twain (1884)

Named by The Library of Congress as the most pivotal American novel, the story of Huck and Jim was banned as "a threat to our moral fabric because of objectionable language and 'racist' terms'" by the State College, Pa., Area School District.

Once I said to myself it would be a thousand times better for Jim to be a slave at home where his family was, as long as he'd GOT to be a slave, and so I'd better write a letter to Tom Sawyer and tell him to tell Miss Watson where he was. But I soon give up that notion for two things: she'd be mad and disgusted at his rascality and ungratefulness for leaving her, and so she'd sell him straight down the river again; and if she didn't, everybody naturally despises an ungrateful nigger, and they'd make Jim feel it all the time, and so he'd feel ornery and disgraced.

And then think of ME! It would get all around that Huck Finn helped a nigger to get his freedom; and if I was ever to see anybody from that town again I'd be ready to get down and lick his boots for shame. That's just the way: a person does a low-down thing, and then he don't want to take no consequences of it. Thinks as long as he can hide, it ain't no disgrace. That was my fix exactly. The more I studied about this the more my conscience went to grinding me, and the more wicked and low-down and ornery I got to feeling.

And at last, when it hit me all of a sudden that here was the plain hand of Providence slapping me in the face and letting me know my wickedness was being watched all the time from up there in heaven, whilst I was stealing a poor old woman's nigger that hadn't ever done me no harm, and now was showing me there's One that's always on the lookout, and ain't a-going to allow no such miserable doings to go only just so fur and no further, I most dropped in my tracks I was so scared. Well, I tried the best I could to kinder soften it up somehow for myself by saying I was brung up wicked, and so I warn't so much to blame; but something inside of me kept saying, "There was the Sunday-school, you could a gone to it; and if you'd a done it they'd a learnt you there that people that acts as I'd been acting about that nigger goes to everlasting fire." It made me shiver. And I about made up my mind to pray, and see if I couldn't try to quit being the kind of a boy I was and be better. So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn't come.

To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee (1960)

A tale of race and class told by a young girl in a Southern town, this landmark novel was banned as "dangerous because it teaches children to lie, spy, back-talk and curse" by the Xenia, Ohio, Library.

Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer's day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men's stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o'clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.

People moved slowly then. They ambled across the square, shuffled in and out of the stores around it, took their time about everything. A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County. But it was a time of vague optimism for some of the people: Maycomb County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself.

We lived on the main residential street in town -- Atticus, Jem and I, plus Calpurnia our cook. Jem and I found our father satisfactory: he played with us, read to us, and treated us with courteous detachment.

Calpurnia was something else again. She was all angles and bones; she was nearsighted; she squinted; her hand was wide as a bed slat and twice as hard. She was always ordering me out of the kitchen, asking me why I couldn't behave as well as Jem when she knew he was older, and calling me home when I wasn't ready to come. Our battles were epic and one-sided. Calpurnia always won, mainly because Atticus always took her side. She had been with us ever since Jem was born, and I had felt her tyrannical presence as long as I could remember.

Our mother died when I was two, so I never felt her absence. She was a Graham from Montgomery; Atticus met her when he was first elected to the state legislature. He was middle-aged then, she was fifteen years his junior. Jem was the product of their first year of marriage; four years later I was born, and two years later our mother died from a sudden heart attack. They said it ran in her family. I did not miss her, but I think Jem did. He remembered her clearly, and sometimes in the middle of a game he would sigh at length, then go off and play by himself behind the car-house. When he was like that, I knew better than to bother him.

When I was almost six and Jem was nearly ten, our summertime boundaries (within calling distance of Calpurnia) were Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose's house two doors to the north of us, and the Radley Place three doors to the south. We were never tempted to break them. The Radley Place was inhabited by an unknown entity the mere description of whom was enough to make us behave for days on end; Mrs. Dubose was plain hell.

That was the summer Dill came to us.

Early one morning as we were beginning our day's play in the back yard, Jem and I heard something next door in Miss Rachel Haverford's collard patch. We went to the wire fence to see if there was a puppy -- Miss Rachel's rat terrier was expecting -- instead we found someone sitting looking at us. Sitting down, he wasn't much higher than the collards. We stared at him until he spoke:


"Hey yourself," said Jem pleasantly.

"I'm Charles Baker Harris," he said. "I can read."

"So what?" I said.

"I just thought you'd like to know I can read. You got anything needs readin' I can do it ... "

"How old are you," asked Jem, "four-and-a-half?"

"Goin' on seven."

"Shoot no wonder, then," said Jem, jerking his thumb at me. "Scout yonder's been readin' ever since she was born, and she ain't even started to school yet. You look right puny for goin' on seven."

"I'm little but I'm old," he said.

Jem brushed his hair back to get a better look. "Why don't you come over, Charles Baker Harris?" he said. "Lord, what a name."

" 's not any funnier'n yours. Aunt Rachel says your name's Jeremy Atticus Finch."

Jem scowled. "I'm big enough to fit mine," he said. "Your name's longer'n you are. Bet it's a foot longer."

"Folks call me Dill," said Dill, struggling under the fence.

Daddy's Roommate
Michael Willhoite (1990)

The sympathetic story of a teen growing up with his dad and his same-sex lover was banned for "promoting destruction of the American family through graphic pornography" by Las Vegas (Nevada) High School.

My Mommy and Daddy got a divorce last year.

Now there's somebody new at Daddy's house.

Daddy's and his roommate Frank live together,

Work together,

Eat together,

Sleep together,

Shave together,

And sometimes even fight together,

But they always make up.

Frank likes me too!

Just like Daddy, he tells me jokes and riddles,

Helps me catch bugs for show-and-tell,

Reads to me,

Makes great peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches,

And chases nightmares away.

The Time Machine
H.G. Wells (1957)

A landmark novel of science fiction as cultural forewarning, it's been banned often since the Cold War years, most recently because of allegedly "hiding irresponsible political messages in a book that children may read" by the Snoqualmie, Wash., Board of Education.

The Time Traveller (for so it will be convenient to speak of him) was expounding a recondite matter to us. His grey eyes shone and twinkled, and his usually pale face was flushed and animated. The fire burned brightly, and the soft radiance of the incandescent lights in the lilies of silver caught the bubbles that flashed and passed in our glasses. Our chairs, being his patents, embraced and caressed us rather than submitted to be sat upon, and there was that luxurious after-dinner atmosphere when thought through gracefully free of the trammels of precisions. And he put it to us in this way -- marking the points with a lean forefinger -- as we sat and lazily admired his earnestness over this new paradox (as we thought it) and his fecundity.

"You must follow me carefully. I shall have to controvert one or two ideas that are almost universally accepted. The geometry, for instance, they taught you at school is founded on a misconception."

"Is not that rather a large thing to expect us to begin upon," said Filby, an argumentative person with red hair.

"I do not mean to ask you to accept anything without reasonable grounds for it. You will soon admit as much as I need from you. You know, of course, that a mathematical line, a line of thickness nil, has no real existence. They taught you that? Neither has a mathematical plane. These things are mere abstractions."

"That is all right," said the Psychologist.

"Nor, having only length, breadth and thickness, can a cube have a real existence."

"There I object," said Filby. "Of course a solid body may exist. All real things ... "

"So most people think. But wait a moment. Can an instantaneous cube exist?"

"Don't follow you," said Filby.

"Can a cube that does not last for any time at all, have a real existence?"

Filby became pensive. "Clearly," the Time Traveller proceeded, "any real body must have extension in four directions: it must have Length, Breadth, Thickness and -- Duration. But through a natural infirmity of the flesh, we incline to overlook this fact. There are really four dimensions, three which we call the three planes of Space, and a fourth, Time. There is, however, a tendency to draw an unreal distinction between the former three dimensions and the latter, because it happens that our consciousness moves intermittently in one direction along the latter from the beginning to the end of our lives ..."

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