Normally my occasional column about the project management books I’m reading and the novels I’m carrying around reflects what I’ve spent time on in the last six weeks or so.
But today, in honour of Banned Books Week I’m taking a more long-term view of what I’ve read.
Here are 11 books that I’ve read that somewhere has banned at some point.
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China
Jung Chang’s book, Wild Swans* is a memoir of three generations of her family: her grandmother, her mother, and herself. Her grandmother was a concubine, her mother a member of the Communist elite, and her own life as a Red Guard and then a barefoot doctor. It’s banned in China because of its depiction of Mao Tse-tung.
I used to run a book club at work and this was one of the books chosen. It wasn’t something I would have picked up normally but I really enjoyed it. Such insights into other ways of life.
was published in 1949 and offered a view of a totalitarian state where Big Brother was watching everything that its citizens were doing. At school I went through a phase of reading everything by a certain author and for a time it was Orwell. This is probably my favourite of his books.
The book’s central character is Winston Smith. He works for the Ministry of Truth altering documents to what the Party wants to be true (and we’d never do that for project stakeholders).
It was banned by both some American public school libraries for being pro-Communist and in the former USSR for being critical of the Soviet regime.
Lady Chatterly’s Lover
I read as a youngster because I was promised there were ‘good bits’ and I was totally bored by it. Hard to believe that it was scandalous in 1928.
D.H. Lawrence’s last book takes place in England after World War I. Clifford Chatterly has been paralyzed fighting in the war and is not able to produce an heir. He is okay with his wife having an affair so that they can have a child – this would still make a good plot line today.
It was banned in the UK until 1960, so it was back on the shelves way before I wanted to read it. Penguin won the right to publish it here after going to trial under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959. The publisher added this dedication to the 1961 print run:
For having published this book, Penguin Books was prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act, 1959 at the Old Bailey in London from 20 October to 2 November 1960. This edition is therefore dedicated to the twelve jurors, three women and nine men, who returned a verdict of ‘not guilty’ and thus made D. H. Lawrence’s last novel available for the first time to the public in the United Kingdom.
It was also banned in the USA (till 1959) and Australia (1929 to 1965).
One of the most banned books, something which I find hard to fathom, given that I grew up with The Worst Witch and Narnia.
I have read them all, and stood at King’s Cross on Platform 9 ¾.
The themes of witchcraft and darkness are the primary reasons that parents have tried to get them banned. They have been banned from some schools and libraries in the USA and the UK and even burned.
Admittedly, the books get darker as the series moves on, but the plotlines are similar to a lot of good children’s stories: child without parental figures in the book goes off and has adventures.
My MA is in Children’s Literature and one of the most interesting lectures I went to was by the woman who translated Potter into Hebrew. She said trying to make the nonsense words culturally relevant to children who didn’t have the same background or understanding of celebrations like Christmas was a huge challenge, but it sounded like she did a great job.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Lewis Carroll’s whimsical and her adventures was published in 1865 and is loved by many – not by me. It was a set text at university. Bahktin, Carnival, nonsense poetry and I never really got on (I’d go as far to say that extends to the Victorians more generally, actually).
Alice falls down a rabbit hole chasing after the white rabbit and enters a land populated by anthropomorphised animals. It was these animals that got the book banned in the Hunan province of China by General Ho Chien in 1931 because they could talk using human language. He feared it would be disastrous to teach children that humans and animals were on the same level.
Lolita was a book I picked up because I thought I ought to read it, about the time that the Jeremy Irons film came out. I don’t ever remember seeing the film, although I watched the trailer as I was writing this article and it looks familiar. Maybe it was just everywhere at the time.
Vladimir Nabokov’s book came out in 1955 (and people thought Chatterly was scandalous). It tells the tale of a middle aged Humbert Humbert and his step-daughter Dolores Haze on the road across America.
It was considered obscene and banned in the UK, France, Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand, and Canada.
The Diary of Anne Frank
Anne Frank – as if you didn’t know – was a 13-year-old Jewish girl living in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation. Her family went into hiding on the upper floors of her father’s business and Anne documented their time living there. The family was discovered in 1944 and taken to concentration camps. She died at Bergen-Belsen in 1945.
Her father’s assistant collected the pages of . She gave them to Otto Frank after the war was over. He had it published in 1947 and it has since been translated into 60 languages.
The book has been banned in Lebanon for depicting Jews positively. A mother in Northville, Michigan tried to have the book banned from her daughter’s school a few years ago because of a passage in the newest edition that has Anne talking about her body.
A section of was set as summer reading for my undergrad degree and I was the only person in my seminar group who read the whole book, beyond the text that was set. At the time I was amazed that people would start a book and not finish it. Today, I do the same. Now I feel that life is too short to read books like Ulysses, but back in my student days I had a lot more curiosity and time.
James Joyce’s 1922 novel follows three people over the course of 16 June 1904 (Bloomsday) in Dublin. The 18 chapters each have their own style and perspective. It was avant-garde for the time, and there’s a section with some sexual content that led to a prosecution for obscenity.
It was banned in the United States until a 1933 trial ruled that it was not obscene. It was also banned here until 1936. Australia also banned it until 1937 and then it was restricted to those over the age of 18 until 1953.
Frankly if anyone gets through the whole book and understands what’s going on then they’ve done bloomin’ well (see what I did there?).
Stick to Dubliners.
I was too young when I first read and I didn’t get it at all. Pigs and a farm? It wasn’t until I went back to it later that I understood what Orwell was on about.
It centers on Manor Farm and the farmer and animals that live there. The animals revolt to take over and create a more fair society. Things do not go as planned and even though the revolt is successful the animals in charge become more like humans exploiting the other animals.
The book was banned in the USSR and other communist countries. The UAE banned it from schools in 2002 because of the anthropomorphic pig. It is still banned in North Korea and Vietnam has censored it.
The oldest pieces in this article, Lysistrata was a comedy written by Aristophanes in 411 B.C. The main character tries to get all the women of Greece to band together to end the Peloponnesian War. She wants them to withhold sex from their husbands so that they will negotiate peace.
I read this – or parts of it – at college where I had a wonderful Classical Civilisation teacher. I also saw a drama group production of it at university which was hilarious.
It was banned in Greece in 1967 due to its anti-war message. It was also banned in the United States until the 1930s under the Comstock Law of 1873.
From what I remember, Lysistrata’s tactics worked.
follows three women living in a conservative New England town in the year 1937 through the years following World War II. It has themes of adultery, lust, abortion, incest and murder. Written by Grace Metalious it was published in 1956 and was on the New York Times bestseller list for 59 weeks.
It was banned in Australia due to the sexual content until 1971. It was also briefly banned in British Columbia, Canada. It wasn’t banned over here and I think I found a copy in a charity shop one summer as a college student. I remember virtually nothing about the plot and certainly not being scandalised.
I think it’s interesting that about the same time, or perhaps when I was even younger – certainly before I hit 18 – I read , which I credit as being the first book that made me properly cry. I was also outraged that one of the characters had to sell his books. I remember that far more than much of what was in these banned books.
I’ve also read a lot of books that the Banned Books Week Coalition reports are ‘challenged’ i.e. where people try to get them banned. Like the Twilight series, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, The Color Purple, To Kill a Mockingbird and the Bible.
Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to read. It was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. According to the ALA, over 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982.
We don’t have a culture of challenging books or trying to get them banned over here, but from time to time I expect people complain to the school. In my school, Forever and Flowers in the Attic were reserved for the upper school girls, but once you hit 13 they were suddenly available (if almost always constantly out – funny how banning something makes it instantly more attractive).
As an avid reader, books have shaped my childhood and my adult life for the better. What have you read recently? Or perhaps I should be asking this: what would you ban?
Some artwork from this article is courtesy of the American Library Association.
* This article contains affiliate links, but they don’t cost you anything to click. I make a small commission on books sold that helps keep me in coffee 🙂
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