Banned Books?


burning books.jpg

Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings — Heinrich Heine (1821)

I hadn’t paid much attention to the growing "banned books" problem in American schools and libraries, but I saw an ad on a Chicago train yesterday and dug in a bit.

Here are some of the books that have been "challenged" in 2007 and earlier years:

To Kill A Mockingbird — Harper Lee
Lolita — Vladimir Nabokov
1984 — George Orwell
Cather in the Rye — J.D. Salinger
Grapes of Wrath — John Steinbeck
Catch-22 — Joseph Heller
Go Tell it on the Mountain — James Baldwin
Harry Potter series — J.K. Rowling

Here is the roster of most challenged books for 2006. And here the top 100 novels of the 20th century banned or challenged.

All the Harry Potter novels are targeted by fundamentalist Christian groups.  I don’t believe in book banning, but I do wish my friends would read a bit less Rowling and a bit more of anything else. I haven’t seen any of Andrew Sullivan’s books on the list.  But neither did I see James Dobson’s.

I had no idea that "book challenging" and "book banning" were so pervasive in this country. 

Not much else to say really — but the struggle between reason and dogma requires us to keep our eyes and minds open.

— Steve Clemons


19 comments on “Banned Books?

  1. iekruc says:

    To Kill a Mockingbird book search here – Rarely can you find someone who has read this novel and not enjoyed it. In fact, a 1991 survey by the Book of the Month Club ranked it second among books “most often cited as making a difference” (in the lives of readers). Guess what book was first? That’s right, the Bible.


  2. Mike D says:

    This is all about censorship. After all, censorship is becoming America’s favorite past-time. The US gov’t (and their corporate friends), already detain protesters, ban books like “America Deceived” from Amazon and Wikipedia, shut down Imus and fire 21-year tenured, BYU physics professor Steven Jones because he proved explosives, thermite in particular, took down the WTC buildings. Free Speech forever (especially for books).
    Last link (before Google Books caves to pressure and drops the title):


  3. ET says:

    As a librarian I can say that this is a cottage industry.


  4. Mike says:

    Steve and Victor, thank you. I’ve met so many people who dismiss them as “not real literature” that I’ve started asking that question.


  5. gregariousred says:

    Here in my red state of Kentucky, my son was able to bring home a copy of To Kill A Mockingbird – and he’s only in third grade. I was happy that the book was available, but I wouldn’t let him read it (YET!).


  6. Carroll says:

    Just out of curiosity..has anyone here ever read “Henry Esmond”?
    It was required reading at my catholic high school.
    I spent years asking people if they had read it and found one female professor at Georgetown who had….maybe it only made an impression on women.


  7. Lord Lucan says:

    Is The Anarchist’s Cookbook banned in US schools? A former colleague once recalled seeing one in his school library in the burbs of Philly. This book will get you arrested in Britain. Possession is evidence that you are a terrorist.


  8. Jim in Raleigh says:

    I never knew J.D. had a thing for Willa Cather.
    Seriously though, I’ve read all these books, with the exception for the Harry Potter series, which I will borrow from my grandkids when they’re finished.
    Many of these books were required reading in the Catholic schools I attended in the late 1950’s.


  9. dalivision says:

    While I may have cynically referred to Fahrenheit 451, the young workers I have encountered do not read, including the daily news.


  10. victor hope says:

    Mike: I don’t dismiss the Harry Potter books at all; rather, I’ve found that the majority of my students don’t read anything if they are not required to. I’d be more than happy if they read–period.


  11. Steve Clemons says:

    Mike — “Dismiss” is too strong a word. I have read three of the novels, well two-and-a-half. But my preferences have nothing to do with my concerns about censorship. I did make a qualitative, subjective judgment about some of my friends who thrive in Harry Potter fantasy spinning, rather than reading other novels — or staying up on current events generally. But that was just me dissing on my pals.
    To Victor, fully understand your point — thanks for posting it….and more soon,


  12. Mike says:

    I’m curious: have Victor and Steve actually read any of the Harry Potter books they so carefully dismiss?


  13. Victor Hope says:

    I apologize for how snippy my previous comment was; I didn’t mean it to be that way. Part of my point, I guess, is that while it’s wonderful that TWN is monitoring and detailing so many large global issues, there are just as many in-our-backyard issues that a lot of us have been combating for a long time. I am constantly trying to get my college-age students to read something–anything–(even the Harry Potter books), and I only hope that if I can get students to read for “fun,” they’ll be more likely to read for information and knowledge. They may not literally burn books now, but they certainly will avoid them if they even suspect that the content is somehow offensive or controversial. I don’t pretend to know the statistics, but I assume that most readers of TWN are well-educated professionals who actually have (and make) time to read something other than CNN on the Internet. And my own prejudice is that a large portion of these readers are disconnected with the everyday lives of the less educated–just as our politicians are disconnected with the voting public and what goes on in their own offices.


  14. Steve Clemons says:

    Victor — thanks for the vote of support. At least I acknowledge when something is news to me….but thanks in any case,
    Steve Clemons


  15. Victor Hope says:

    “I had no idea that ‘book challenging’ and ‘book banning’ were so pervasive in this country” is what Clemons says. This is a telling statement from someone who (rightfully) points out how out of touch President Bush (and others) are with so many issues.


  16. Linda says:

    Book banning always has been around and probably has increased in the past few decades with the rise of private schools, often Christian evangelical ones, particularly in the South, and with the increase in home schooling. There probably is some small proportion of those who home school who agree with us. The “banned books” are all the ones I urged my daughter to read.


  17. dalivision says:

    Just can’t imagine that Fahrenheit 451 is not on the list.


  18. Carroll says:

    Holey Moley.
    I had no idea! Banning Steinback and Hemmingway?
    To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my favorite novels. Probably my most favorite for it’s moral lessons…Thaddus to me was the perfect example of a hero for blind justice and Boo’s character the example of compassion trumping some men’s law.
    Some on the banned list actually ought to be required reading.


  19. DonS says:

    Back in the late 60’s, during the oral interview I went through with 3 foreign service officers, one of the questions they posed was “Should James Baldwin’s books be on the shelves of USIS libraries around the world or not, and why?”
    I puzzled about what the “right” answer, on its face, would be, butI was more disturbed to think that it would even be a matter of debate for a “democratic” government.


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