Reading list

10 books they tried to ban

Books have been accused of promoting everything from cannibalism to witchcraft. From children’s stories to classics, here are the stories of ten they tried to stop you from reading...

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

D.H. Lawrence

Penguin’s 1960 publication of the original text of Lady Chatterley’s Lover led to arguably the most famous trial in literary history when they had to prove the work had enough literary merit to warrant its explicit content under the obscenity law. Penguin won, with EM Forster defending it in court, and Lawrence’s story of Lady Constance Chatterley and her affair with gamekeeper Mellors went on to sell three million copies in the three months after the trial. 

 

Animal Farm

George Orwell

Orwell’s allegorical 1945 novel about the Soviet Union was banned in the USSR until the 1980s. Through the animal inhabitants of Manor Farm, Orwell criticised what he saw as a brutal dictatorship and reign of terror. Before it could be banned it was also rejected several times for publication, as it was written during the UK’s wartime alliance with the Soviet Union. It was also temporarily banned in the UAE because of its talking pigs, seen to be against Islamic values. 

Beloved 

Toni Morrison

Although it won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Morrison’s story of an escaped slave named Sethe has been challenged again and again by parents when it is given as set reading in English lessons. The book’s violence and sexual content have repeatedly provoked controversy and ten years after its publication it was entirely banned from English classes at a high school in Kentucky, and students from one Idaho district had to have parental permission to study it. 

 

The Canterbury Tales

Geoffrey Chaucer

Written at the end of the 14th century, Chaucer’s collection of stories in Middle English has been banned, challenged and censored for centuries. The stories follow a group of pilgrims making up tales on their way to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket and are filled with sexual innuendo, swearing and perceived criticism of the church. It was censored widely on first publication and them under the 1873 Comstock Law it was banned from being posted in the US, with several modern editions still heavily edited for profanity. 

 

Letters from Burma

Aung San Suu Kyi 

This collection of essays from Nobel Peace Prize winner and current Burmese State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi was banned in her native Burma while she was under house arrest for fifteen years, despite being widely available across the world. In these letters she paints a picture of her Burma; from the impact of the political situation, to the people who have supported the National League for Democracy, to the landscape and customs of the country itself. 

The Fault in Our Stars

John Green 

Despite being one of the biggest YA sensations of recent years, Green’s mega-bestseller was banned in a school district in California after a parent challenged it’s “morbid plot, crude language and sexual content” saying it wasn’t appropriate for middle school aged children. Hazel and Gus’ heartbreaking love story is only the second book to be banned in the district after Robert Cormier’s 1974 novel The Chocolate War.

Not Without My Daughter

Betty Mahmoody

This is the true story of Betty Mahmoody who travelled to Iran from the US to meet her husband’s family. Once there she realised that her husband and his family had always intended them to stay, and that she and her daughter were trapped with an increasingly violent man in a society where most women were treated as property. This account of her attempts to escape with her daughter was banned in Iran for its depiction of the patriarchal culture there. 

The Complete Fairy Tales

The Brothers Grimm

Although the Brothers Grimm were the collectors rather than the inventors of the fairy tales they published, they were still banned in Germany after the fall of the Nazis. The collection was banned by the Allies who claimed the roots of Nazism could be found in the stories; particularly citing the way the Nazis used Little Red Riding Hood as a symbol of the German people being saved from the Jewish wolf. 

The Well of Loneliness

Radclyffe Hall

Hall’s lesbian romance was the subject of an obscenity trial despite featuring no explicit or erotic scenes. The story follows an upper-class woman who falls in love with a female ambulance driver during World War One, but is rejected by her family and society because of the relationship. The campaign against it was spearheaded by the then-editor of the Sunday Express and a British court judged it obscene for its “unnatural practises between women”. In 1949 it was republished without challenge and has been in print continuously since. 

The Witches

Roald Dahl

Dahl’s beloved but dark tale of witches living in disguise as normal women has been challenged consistently since it was published in 1983, primarily in the US. Criticisms against it include not teaching moral values (Iowa in 1987), turning children towards the occult (Dallas in 1991) and satanic themes (Ohio in 1998). Most of Dahl’s books have been challenged or banned over the years, with The BFG even being accused of promoting cannibalism. 

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