Yesterday we looked at almost a century of American classic books that have been banned or challenged, all on the list compiled by the Library of Congress of “Books That Shaped America.” Today we’ll complete the 20th Century and take a step into the 21st.
- Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, Alfred C. Kinsey (1948) – Heavily criticized since its publication (although it became a best seller), the work commonly know as “The Kinsey Report” was banned abroad. And at the turn of the century it was listed as one of five “very worst” books of the century because it was a “pervert’s attempt to demonstrate that perversion is ‘statistically’ normal.
- The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger (1951) — Frequently removed from classrooms and libraries on a variety of grounds, including that it is “obscene,” “blasphemous,” “negative,” “foul,” “filthy,” and “undermines morality.”
- Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison (1952) – Banned just this month in a North Carolina school district for being filthy, this winner of the National Book Award has been banned in various high schools for use of profanity, violence and sexual imagery.
- Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury (1953) – To avoid the irony of banning a book about book banning, a middle school in California blacked out all the “hells” and “damns” in it.
- Howl, Allen Ginsberg (1956) – Not surprisingly, Ginsberg’s work was challenged because of its descriptions of homosexuality.
- To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (1960) – Another Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Harper Lee’s novel has been repeatedly challenged. For example, it was challenged at a Tennessee middle school in 2006 because it contains “profanity” and “adult themes such as sexual intercourse, rape, and incest” and that its use of racial slurs promotes “racial hatred, racial division, racial separation, and … white supremacy.”
- Catch-22, Joseph Heller (1961) – An Ohio high school refused to allow the book to be taught in its English classes in 1972 and ordered it removed from the school library.
- Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein (1961) – Parents in a south Texas school district challenged the book in 2003 because it could lead to “inappropriate sexual arousal of young teens.”
- Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak(1963) – Despite winning dozens of awards, this children’s book has been challenged on grounds ranging from featuring a child who intentionally caused trouble to being dark and frightening to promoting witchcraft and the supernatural.
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X and Alex Haley (1965) — Malcolm X’s story has been called a “how-to-manual” for crime and “anti-white.”
- In Cold Blood, Truman Capote (1966) – For a time the book was removed from an AP English class in George after a parent complained about it containing sex, violence and profanity.
- Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown (1970) – A Wisconsin school district banned the book in 1974 because there was a possibility it “might be controversial.”
- Our Bodies, Ourselves, Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (1971) — As you might expect about any book dealing with the vagina, breasts and human sexuality, this book has been banned by high schools and public libraries across the country. In also has the honor of Jerry Falwell calling it “obscene trash.”
- Beloved, Toni Morrison (1987) – This Pulitzer Prize-winning book has been repeatedly challenged on the grounds of violence, sexual content and discussion of bestiality. In 2102 it was challenged in Michigan as obscene and this year it was challenged in Virginia because a parent because a parent complained that the book “depicts scenes of bestiality, gang rape, and an infant’s gruesome murder.”
- The Words of Cesar Chavez, Cesar Chavez (2002) – Chavez was one of a number of authors whose works were removed from classes in the state-mandated termination of Tucson, Ariz., School District’s Mexican-American studies program last year. Earlier this year, a federal court ordered the school district to implement culturally relevant courses, such as the ones taught in the Mexican American Studies program.
Because these are American classics, only one of the books was published this century. But anyone who thinks book challenges are no longer an issue is smoking crack. According to the American Library Association, more than 40 books were challenged, restricted, removed, or banned from May 2012 to May 2013. It says, though, that its list is incomplete.
Americans do not need others to do their thinking for them.