Banned Books Week: Challenged books that shaped America

Even though I’m not doing a week-long series of posts this year, I couldn’t let Banned Books Week pass without at least one. So, I thought it appropriate to mentioned banned books that helped shape the country.

Now I’m not the one who designated these books. Rather, earlier this year the Library of Congress came up with a list of “Books That Shaped America,” The designation doesn’t mean these are the best books written in America. Instead, these are books that had “a profound effect on American life.”

Given the country’s occasional struggles when someone thinks freedom of expression and the freedom to read conflict with their personal opinion or political temperament, it perhaps isn’t surprising that roughly one-quarter of the books on the list have been challenged or banned at some point in their history. Here’s the books that received the dual “honors”:

  • Moby-Dick, Herman Melville (1851)
  • Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman (1855)
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain (1884)**
  • The Call of the Wild, Jack London (1903)
  • The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
  • Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell (1936)
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston (1937)
  • The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck (1939)
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway (1940)
  • Native Son, Richard Wright (1940)
  • The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger (1951)**
  • Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison (1952)
  • Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury (1953)**
  • Howl and Other Poems, Allen Ginsberg (1956)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (1960)**
  • Catch-22, Joseph Heller (1961)
  • Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein (1961)
  • In Cold Blood, Truman Capote (1966)
  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown (1970)
  • Our Bodies, Ourselves, Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (1971)
  • Beloved, Toni Morrison (1987)**

And if you think this just reflects the more restrictive attitudes of the 1950s, the books with asterisks have been challenged at least once in the last eight years, a few of them almost every year.

It’s very, very easy not to be offended by a book. You just have to shut it.

Salman Rusdie

2 comments to Banned Books Week: Challenged books that shaped America

  • Julie Gross (NE)

    How about banned movies week? Starting with the Obama adminstration’s efforts to ban “The Innocence of Muslims”? The US gov’t actually JAILED the director!

    Then we can move to listing “The Satanic Verses”.

    Oh wait, does “Banned Books Week” have an agenda?

    • Tim

      I would be all for a “Banned Films Week” too. Regardless of the medium of expression, it is saddening that “blasphemy” still provides a cover for censorship. I’ve never understood why an omnipotent supreme being, regardless of flavor or caste, would be offended by what any member of humankind says or thinks.