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Banned Books Week: Classical challenges

Given the culture wars over the last number of years, it can be relatively easy for a book to gin up more than a bit of angst. Maybe it’s suggestions of homosexuality. Perhaps the book takes a different or skeptical look at religion. Or maybe the story involves an abortion, although Richard Brautigan’s The Abortion was among several of his books removed from a school library and classroom 30 some years ago. What we now call hot button issues have been around long enough that even books now considered classics haven’t been immune from challenges.

In 1998, the renowned Radcliffe Publishing Course (now the Columbia Publishing Course) was asked to compile a list of the century’s top 100 novels. According to the American Library Association, at least 46 of those books have been challenged. While the ALA has details on the reasons for the challenges, what follows is a list of those 46 books, along with where they ranked on the Radcliffe list. And for the heck of it, I’ve underlined the ones I’ve actually read.

1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
3. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
4. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
5. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
6. Ulysses, by James Joyce
7. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
8. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
9. 1984, by George Orwell

11. Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov
12. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

15. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
16. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
17. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
18. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
19. As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
20. A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway

23. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
24. Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
25. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
26. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
27. Native Son, by Richard Wright
28. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
29. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
30. For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway

33. The Call of the Wild, by Jack London

36. Go Tell it on the Mountain, by James Baldwin

38. All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren

40. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

45. The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair

48. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence
49. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
50. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin

53. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote

55. The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie

57. Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron

64. Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence

66. Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
67. A Separate Peace, by John Knowles

73. Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs
74. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
75. Women in Love, by D.H. Lawrence

80. The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer

84. Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller

88. An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser

97. Rabbit, Run, by John Updike

Now I guess no one should really be surprised that Tropic of Cancer and Lady Chatterley’s Lover are on the list considering the government went after them as obscene. But what I find stunning is that 11 of the top 12 novels of the 20th Century have been challenged.


…literature should not be suppressed merely because it offends the moral code of the censor.

Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476 (1957)
(Justice W.O. Douglas dissenting)

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