Banned Books

Banned Books Throughout History

From the beginning of the written word, books have had the capacity to enlighten, to instruct, to entertain and to offend, sometimes all within the same text. Books are frequently banned, generally on a local level affecting only local or school libraries. Occasionally, a government will step in to ban a book. It is not illegal to read banned books, the rulings just make them more difficult to find. Booksellers are sometimes guilty of banning books as well. They cave in response to pressure from customers and perceived threats from consumer groups and will remove books from their shelves. Public outrage is a powerful tool, though seldom wisely wielded. A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck is high on the banned book list. Its explicitly honest approach to the brutality of pig-farming life is considered too disturbing for the young teens it is written for. At the same time, it is a powerful story full of wit and charm about a boy forced to become a man at 13. Read an excerpt. American Psycho, published in 1991 by Bret Easton Ellis is the story of a sociopath; a murderous sadist with the outward appearance of a successful businessman. The book contains aspects of a psychological thriller, and the reader is always a little off balance about what really took place, but the scenes are graphic enough to be banned from a lot of libraries and its release protested by Gloria Steinem for violence against women. This book was so controversial that it was banned entirely in Queensland, and the National Organization of Women (NOW) rallied members to boycott the entire 1991 Random House catalogue. Fourteen years after the massive outrage of the book release, Lion's Gate Entertainment released a movie version starring Christian Bale as the lead character. Read an excerpt. Ironically, some books wind up being banned by certain schools and required reading at others. Examples of this dichotomy of thought are The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Lord of the Flies, Of Mice and Men, and The Catcher in the Rye.In very recent years, wildly popular books like Harry Potter (the entire series) have been banned by the dictates of Christian groups, who equate magic to Satanism. Read an excerptBridge to Terabithia has also been targeted by Christian groups. Interestingly, the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe draws little attention from the same groups.

In 1989, two California school districts banned Grimm's Fairy Tales because Little Red Riding Hood carries food and wine in her basket to grandmother. The reasoning cited concerns about inappropriate use of alcohol.

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Some books that have been frequently banned may be surprising. It seems understandable why Lady Chatterley's Lover, with its explicit theme of sexual exploration, might have been considered offensive in 1928, but some books frequently banned are much more ambiguous in their reasoning. Reasons cited most often are violence, obscenity, vulgar language, controversy, and blasphemy. Radical ideas are often banned for their power to make people think. It's harder to control a group if they start to think for themselves. That is the driving force behind censorship of books intended for adults.

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