It is a truth universally acknowledged that a book banned is likely a book worth reading. Beloved books like Harry Potter, Brave New World and The Giving Tree have been banned for reasons spanning from greed to promiscuity.
There are censors all over the world concerned that the text or message of some of great literature's most celebrated novels will corrupt the nation's youth, disintegrating the very fabric of society from the inside out. The most commonly censored topics like sex, profanity, racism are real, sometimes distasteful parts of everyday life that we should be discussing and reading about, not banning from the conversation. Only readers — OK and maybe their parents if the readers are very young — should be able to choose what they do and do not read.
In honor of Banned Books Week currently underway let's celebrate uncensored reading by reading some of the best books ever banned.
1. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
One of the world's best-selling books, the one that engaged young kids enough to get them through thousands of pages of text, is also America's most frequently banned book. According to those rallying for the ban, the content regarding the supernatural and the occult, especially witches and wizards, is shown in a positive light. The dark subject matter exposes readers to the ills of the world too early, others say. But is Harry Potter not a conversation-opener at the absolute least? And a literary classic at the very best? An almost universally beloved book about how to develop moral fortitude, courage and friendship in the face of adversity, magic or otherwise; that's worth reading to us.
2. Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
He woke up a cockroach. Kafka's bizarre novella navigates what it's like to exist as a giant cockroach in a human space — eventually abandoned by a family that can no longer stand how disgusting he appears and how useless he is in his new form. A look at what it might be like to exist as an outsider in your own home, the book was banned by both the Soviet and Nazi rule as well as in Kafka's home country of Czechoslovakia as the writer had chosen to wrote in German instead of Czech.
3. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Vonnegut's semi-autobiographical book about Billy Pilgrim and the bombing of Dresden is a non-linear narrative that bred the famous line, "So it goes," about the inevitability of horrible things — mainly death. At times funny, poignant and gruesome, Vonnegut's best-known work is a bleak look at history repeating. The book was first banned in Michigan in 1972 and has been banned nearly 20 times since for being "depraved, immoral, psychotic, vulgar, and anti-Christian." Read it.
4. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Set in the 1890s, Nigerian author Achebe traces the life of Okonkwo, a leader and warrior in one of nine small Nigerian villages, as he grapples with the changing world around him. One of the first English-language African novels, the book explores whether native culture can live on after colonialism and what injustices are incurred and endured during colonization. The book has been banned in Malaysia and elsewhere for its negative portrayal of colonialism and its consequences.
5. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
The Giving Tree is one of the only children's books capable of making grown ups weep. The Silverstein classic follows the relationship between a young boy and a maternal tree, examining what it's like to watch a child grow up, a nourishing relationship turning into a toxic one. The tree taught us what unconditional love is — always tender, sometimes unwarranted and underappreciated. Critics demanded this book be banned because it was deemed sexist in 1988. Others said it could be "potentially damaging for the foresting industry," not to mention the moral ambiguity over who is selfish and who is selfless.
6. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Frank, a young Dutch girl who hid with her family for two years from the Nazis before they raided her home, kept a diary that you've likely read. In it, she details what it's like to grow up — going through puberty, learning to deal with family, having a young crush — while your life falls apart. The diary is a horrifying look into what it was like for a 13-year-old girl to be ripped apart from her family, and ultimately killed, indicated by the abrupt end to the diary, for nothing other than her religion. Frank's diary doesn't make it onto the banned book list for the atrocities it reveals but because of a short passage about sex, where Frank begins to discover the, er, ins and outs of her anatomy.
7. Holes by Louis Sachar
Stanley Yelnats IV, under a curse earned by a dead great-great-grandfather who stole a pig, is accused of stealing a pair of shoes and sentenced to a juvenile correction center at Camp Green Lake, where chaos, intrigue and a heartwarming friendship with Zero ensues until the curse is finally lifted. Holes in turn lifted up kids down on themselves, those who don't quite fit in. Parents have complained about the book's morality.
8. Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
The story of Dorothy, swept away from Kansas to Oz, where she partners with a tin man, a scarecrow and a cowardly lion to defeat evil witches and pull back the curtain, literally, on the great wizard, is both beloved and banned. Fantasy stories were not considered good for children, and in 1957, the director of the Detroit Public Library banned Wizard of Oz for having "no value" to children. Fundamentalist Christian families in Tennessee in 1986 also challenged the book for its portrayal of a benevolent witch.
9. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The story of Celie, as told through 20 years of her own letters, shows the hardships women of color faced living in the South in the 1930s. Because of the violence and explicit subject matter, including domestic violence, rape and abuse, this book remains one of the United States' most frequently challenged books. For the greater good of the nation, everyone should have to read the way love is mutilated, recast and restored while negotiating boundaries established by race, gender and class.
10. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Brave New World is challenged for its insensitivity, offensive language, racism and sexually explicit nature. Huxley's dystopian novel creates a sinister world, placated under the World State, a global society built on Community, Identity and Stability. Eerily prophetic, the book predicts the use of reproductive technology, mood-altering medications and conditioning in a surveillance state to prevent any dissent. Still discussed today among laypeople and experts in science, policy, academia and more, Brave New World — and its tale of one man who doesn't want to live in a world engineered to be perfect — remains one of the most important works of western literature.
11. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
The world's cuddliest environmental activist, a Dr. Seuss character called the Lorax, a creature who vows to save the trees from the Once-ler, a not-so-veiled stand-in for corporations steamrolling the environment. The children's book is also the victim of repeated book challenges. In 1989, a California school banned the book just in case it deterred students from beginning careers in the logging industry.
12. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Nothing makes sense in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, home to the talking animals, Tweedle Dee and Dum, the sneaky smiling Cheshire Cat and a host of other peculiar characters. Leaving narrative convention behind allows Carroll's work to appeal to adults and children both, as a young girl falls down a rabbit hole in the garden and follows a rabbit with a pocketwatch into an extraordinary fantasy world. The book was shelved in 1900 in New Hampshire for promoting drug use — whoooo are yoooou? — and sexual fantasy.
13. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Song of Solomon is cited as President Barack Obama's favorite book. Morrison's brilliant novel about Milkman Dead coming of age in America, tied into the histories of four generations of black Americans with the unfortunate last name "Dead." The poetic masterpiece that explores the legacy of slavery, racism and oppression in the U.S. was banned by those offended by its "sex, violence and profanity."
14. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
The first rule of Fight Club is you don't talk about fight club. But that's not what happened when Palahniuk wrote the book. Later optioned into a David Fincher directed movie starring Brad Pitt, Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter, Fight Club stands as an ode to the everyman who bucks up against the establishment — until we learn that the everyman protagonist we're rooting for isn't who he seems. The book was removed in 2013 from a Texas school district after complaints that the book was violent and sexually explicit.
15. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Often considered the first great science fiction novel, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, tells the story of a creature developed in a laboratory who is intelligent and articulate. The book questions what it means to be alive, conscious and human. Critics found the creation of life in a laboratory to be too "God-like" and the book was banned in South Africa in 1955.