I had initially planned to put together a must-read banned books list, but as I started scrolling through the lists of banned and challenged books to look at my options, I realized that I actually haven’t read and enjoyed that many banned books! And the ones that I did enjoy, I haven’t read in years and really can’t recommend anymore. So instead, I thought I’d reflect on my experience with banned books and end with a few banned books I’d like to read in the future.
A little bit about Banned Books Week: founded in the 1980s to combat censorship, today it’s an annual awareness campaign typically held during the last week of September. Primarily organized by the American Library Association, the goal of Banned Books Week is to bring readers together “in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”
You can find lists of frequently challenged books in the U.S. here and lists of the top 10 most challenged book by decade in the U.S. here. Wikipedia also has a list of books banned by governments around the world, which you can check out here.
I was very fortunate growing up that banning books didn’t seem to be a thing in my communities, or if it was, I wasn’t aware of it. My only real exposure to banned books was hearing about the number of challenges across the country to the Harry Potter series. It’s always seemed impossible to me to want Harry Potter banned, and fortunately it appears as though a lot of the fervor around banning the series has died down over the years. But I remember hearing a lot about it as the series was being published, and I had friends at the local Catholic high school who said the school refused to carry Harry Potter at the school library.
I did read a few banned books when I was younger, though I’m not sure I realized at the time that they were being challenged and banned. Those include The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, and Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher.
I enjoyed all of those books enormously when I was in middle and high school, and I’d be interested in rereading some of them to see what I think of them now. I would definitely still recommend The Hunger Games, A Wrinkle in Time, and His Dark Materials!
Interestingly, most of the banned books that I’ve read throughout the years were assigned reading in high school: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and The Awakening by Kate Chopin.
I can’t say I particularly enjoyed any of them, though I did think the premise of Brave New World was fascinating. Oh, and we read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, which I did really enjoy. To be fair, I should really give a few of these books another shot. I’ve developed a lot as a reader since I was in high school (whooo English majors!) and can potentially see myself enjoying The Awakening and Of Mice and Men. The Great Gatsby’s just not happening, though. I reread it my junior year of college and I’m still just not a fan.
Looking through the ALA’s banned books list has made me realize that there are a lot of banned books that I haven’t read yet but really should. Two of them are currently in my TBR for Banned Books Week, but below is a list of 10 banned books that I’d like to make a point to read in my lifetime:
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
- Beloved by Toni Morrison
- For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
- Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding
- Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
- The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
- Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
What’s your experience with banned books? Were any books banned in your community? What are some of your favorite banned books? Let me know in the comments!