This week, we celebrate Banned Books Week. Libraries, schools and anti-censorship organizations hold events to celebrate the freedom to read. The first Banned Books Week was held in 1982 to keep books in libraries, bookstores and schools. The New York Public Library will hold a reading and book signing on Saturday September 27 from 3-4 p.m. for “Bad for You! Exposing the War on Fun” by Kevin C. Pyle and Scott Cunningham. The “docu-comic,” recounts the dark days when comic books were burned in the U.S. for their corrupting influence on children. As Banned Books Week winds down, here are five banned books to add to your reading list.
“Lady Chatterley’s Lover” by D.H. Lawrence was famously banned for its graphic (for its time) sex scenes. The story of an aristocratic lady and her working class lover may seem tame to modern readers, but it’s still a good read.
“Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain is an American classic, but is on banned books lists for a number of reasons, among them the use of dialect and a certain word in particular. The friendship between Huck and the runaway slave, Jim, as they navigate the Mississippi, is an extraordinary achievement in literature. If you haven’t read it since high school, read it again.
“Fanny Hill” (1748) by John Cleland features a treasure trove of euphemisms for parts of the human body that every romance novelist should know. Considered the first erotic novel in English, the title character tells her own tale and lives happily ever after. The book was the first in the U.S. to be officially ruled “obscene” in a Massachusetts court in 1821. Compare it to “50 Shades of Grey” and decide for yourself.
“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” (1970) by Judy Blume is a young adult classic about a 12 year old girl from an interfaith background trying to decide between Christianity and Judaism while going through puberty. This candid story, so well-written by Blume is a must read. Her follow-up, 1971’s “Then Again, Maybe I Won’t,” recounts puberty from a 12 year old boy’s perspective.
Picture books for children have also suffered censorship, some of it accidental. The classic “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” (1967) by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle teaches children colors. With charming illustrations and bright primary colors, the book was banned in Texas in 2010 because Bill Martin Jr. was confused with the philosopher Bill Martin, a Marxist theorist. The ban was soon lifted and children in Texas can once again enjoy the delightful picture book.
All these books are available online, at your favorite bookstore and your local library.