The practice of banning books has been around for as long as books themselves have existed. We have put together a list of the most (in)famous examples!
As The Washington Post reports, banned books are often motivated by religious or political reasons, and in particular, in recent years in the United States, the rate of lawmakers, school officials and parents saying that books exploring sexuality , race, gender, and religion are detrimental, has increased dramatically.
However, it’s worth arguing that forbidden books can teach you (or a child, in the case of school bans) a thing or two about different, and possibly uncomfortable, perspectives. In doing so, they may also present an opportunity to grow, learn, and expand the scope of one’s empathy and knowledge toward a certain life experience. Below, we revisit some of history’s most famous forbidden books.
Ulysses – James Joyce (1922)
Ulysses is probably one of the most famous books in the world – but at the time of its publication it was banned (and copies were burned) in the United States due to its “perceived sexual lust and anti-war sentiments.” The ban resulted in several public lawsuits until United States against a book called Ulysses in 1933, where the book was finally allowed to be published in America.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – DH Lawrence (1928)
Lady Chatterley’s Lover met a fate similar to any novel of the era that explored sexuality with the DH Lawrence franchise: an obscenity trial. First privately published in 1928 in Italy, the novel was smuggled into countries including Australia, Japan, India and Canada until it was finally freed from prohibition. , decades after its first publication.
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley (1932)
According to the American Library Association, The best of worlds is one of the most frequently challenged books – the term used to indicate intentions to censor or ban a work – in the United States, for alleged “insensitivity, nudity, racism, religious views and sexually explicit content.”
Tropic of Cancer – Henry Miller (1934)
Another victim of the obscenity trial was Henry Miller Tropic of Cancer which has been banned in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and Finland. After Grove Press published the book in the United States in 1961, dozens of obscenity lawsuits across half the country were filed against the booksellers who sold the novel, eventually culminating in the (successful, for the first) Grove Press, Inc. v. Gerstein.
The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinback (1939)
Grapes of Wrath, John Steinback’s enduring story of American migration, hasn’t always been so popular with readers. Although commonly taught in American classrooms now, the book was banned in the mid-20th century in countries like the United States and Turkey, for reasons ranging from profanity and sexual content to propaganda.
Animal Farm – George Orwell (1945)
The allegorical fable of George Orwell, farm animal, criticizes the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the establishment of Stalin’s USSR. Unsurprisingly, the book was banned from publication and distribution for most of the Soviet era.
Lolita – Vladimir Nabakov (1955)
At the time of publication, Vladimir Nabakov’s work lolita was banned in countries including France, Argentina, New Zealand, England and South Africa, due to its depiction of a middle-aged man having sex with an underage girl .
Naked Lunch – William Burroughs (1959)
The book being banned in several American cities such as LA and Boston, William Burroughs naked lunch – a novel written as a set of vignettes that follows the life of junkie, William Lee – has been censored for its depictions of child murder, drug addiction, sexually explicit acts and profanity.
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee (1960)
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1960, Kill a mockingbird is a famous classic American story that is widely known for its balance of warmth and humor, with the discussion of heavier themes like race relations and systemic inequality. However, due to the book’s use of profanity, exploration of rape, and use of racial slurs, it has become one of the most frequently challenged (and banned) books in American schools. .
The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison (1970)
Toni Morrison is easily one of the most contested, and often subsequently banned, authors in American literature. According to a report by Time, on the American Library Association’s (ALA) annual list of the 10 most disputed books, The bluest eye appeared several times, in 2006, 2013, 2014 and 2020, after being recently banned from a high school library in Missouri in 2021.
Maus – Art Spiegelman (1980)
Maus made global headlines as one of the most recent examples of censorship, with a Tennessee school board voting unanimously to remove the graphic novel from its curriculum. It was a controversial move, with many critics from the electorate saying the text is a key resource in teaching about the Holocaust.
The Satanic Verses – Salman Rushdie (1988)
The controversy over Salman Rushdie’s banned book satanic verses was so intense and international that it got its own name: The Rushdie Affair. After the publication of satanic verses, the harsh reaction from the global Muslim community concerned the “blasphemous” nature of the novel by drawing on the life of the Prophet Muhammad. With a fatwa imposed on the author, the book remains banned in most of the Middle Eastern peninsula, Africa and South Asia.