The last week of September an awareness campaign is run by the American Library Association to enlighten readers about freedom of speech. During this week you are encouraged to read books that have been banned in previous years.
Here are ten previously banned (or challenged) books for you to revisit this September (in order of year published):
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain) – This well known literary classic was first published in 1884, eight years after its predecessor, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. In this adventure Huck travels with an escaped slave named Jim. It’s been attacked for its “language” and “grammar” despite its realistic imagery of historical racial conflict and friendship beyond color.
The Awakening (Kate Chopin) – Can you imagine “vulgar language, sexual explicitness, or violent imagery that is gratuitously employed” in a novel first published in 1899? That’s what happens when a 28 year old mother of two decided not to conform to society’s (and her husband’s) expectations of a woman’s duties. It’s too bad that Chopin never got to enjoy the success of this literary work. This was her last novel and while today she is described as an “exquisite” writer, she had to virtually become a hermit in her time for the backlash it caused. She was clearly a woman and writer before her time.
The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger) – This book was published in 1951 and despite being constantly attacked for its profanity and sexuality it has managed to maintain a consistent best seller status and cult following. Salinger took a few days from a 16 year old’s life and made it interesting to adults and their children.
To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) – This racially charged novel was published in 1960. It’s narrated by the daughter of Atticus Fitch, a lawyer, who defends a black man charged for raping a young white child. Harper, who was born in Louisiana, has deep roots in the south which she brought to her writing. She won a Pulitzer Prize for this novel. It was made into a movie starring Gregory Peck in 1962. Celebrate both!
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Ken Kesey) – This 1962 novel still stands strong after forty years. Even the movie (1975), starring Jack Nicholson, is still one of the best made films. Kesey brought love and compassion into an area of life that most of society had closed the door on, the mental ward. He gave faces, personalities, hopes, dreams, fears and voices to these characters. Despite being considered an “American classic,” this novel never won any awards.
Forever (Judy Blume) – It seems like you can’t grow up a teenager without having a healthy dose of Judy Blume mixed in. This is one of her more controversial novels because of its blatant teenage sexuality. It was published in 1975 and is still a popular and somewhat “romantic” read.
The Bluest Eye (Toni Morrison) – This debut novel was first published in 1970. In it’s minute it is about a pubescent black girl’s desire to be pretty and those around her who refuse to let her believe it. Eleven year old Pecola dreams of having blue eyes. She’s learned that only beautiful people are treated well. And in her mind, to be beautiful she must have blue eyes. Oprah picked this book as part of her book club in 2000. Morrison has produced other racially charged and well received novels like Beloved which was made into a movie in 1998. Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993 for her body of work.
The Giver (Lois Lowry) – Twelve year Jonas is being given a gift from the “Giver,” the knowledge of what life was like before their current utopia. He is to carry this knowledge in case it is ever needed in the future. Once received, he realizes that he can not go on living the way he had. This 1993 novel about a “dystopian” society won the Newberry Medal in 1994.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (J. K. Rowling) – Imagine all the kids who wouldn’t be reading if J.K. hadn’t written and published this book (and subsequent ones) about a lovable young sorcerer and his friends. This book was published in 1997 (hard to believe isn’t it) and has remained on the best sellers list ever since.
Geography Club (Brent Hartinger) – Nothing has been more controversial than sexuality; especially if goes against perceived societal norms. This young reader about gay teens was published in 2004 and followed a young boy’s journey to prove to himself he wasn’t alone. It’s hard to believe something that was published so recently would be challenged.