Happy Banned Books Week! Exercise your right to read this week by picking up a classic that has a history of being frequently challenged or banned. Here are some of the reasons why a few of our favorite classics were deemed worthy of a challenge or ban, courtesy of the ALA:
The Grapes of Wrath: Number three on the ALA’s list of frequently challenged and banned classics, Steinbeck’s masterpiece was burned by the East St. Louis, IL Public Library in 1939 due to “vulgar words,” and challenged at the Cummings High School in Burlington, NC because the “book is full of filth.” Well, that’s one way to describe the book’s Dust Bowl setting.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: Ken Kesey’s seminal work was the subject of a lawsuit filed by five residents of Strongsville, OH against the board of education in 1974, where the plaintiffs claimed the novel “glorifies criminal activity, has a tendency to corrupt juveniles and contains descriptions of bestiality, bizarre violence, and torture, dismemberment, death, and human elimination.” Yikes.
Lord of the Flies: Perhaps the most ubiquitous curriculum book today was once challenged at the Owen, NC High School in 1981 because it is “demoralizing inasmuch as it implies that man is little more than an animal.” And yet, generations of readers have been moved by the story of a boy named Piggy and Golding’s warning of what happens when civilized humans regress to their more primitive nature.
Of Mice and Men: In addition to dozens of challenges simply due to profanity, this classroom classic was also challenged as a summer youth program reading assignment in Chattanooga, TN in 1989 because “Steinbeck is known to have had an anti-business attitude,” and because “he was very questionable as to his patriotism.” Hm. Interesting.
The Call of the Wild: This classic tale of survival through the eyes of a sled dog currently undergoing a pop-culture resurgence seems perfectly innocent, right? Apparently not, because it was banned in Italy and Yugoslavia in 1929, and burned in Nazi bonfires in 1933 due to Jack London’s socialist views.
Sons and Lovers: This may be our favorite: in 1961, the Oklahoma City-based group Mothers United for Decency displayed books deemed offensive in a trailer they dubbed the “smutmobile.” For our beloved big orange Penguin Book Truck last year, full of classics like D.H. Lawrence’s acclaimed novel, we’re pretty sure we never used such a term.