Nine Books that were Banned for Their Content
We’ve collected our top nine favorite books that have been hauled off the shelves in favor of something more decent.
- SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE – KURT VONNEGUT (1969)
Plot: The book centers on Billy Pilgrim, a bewildered and ill-trained American soldier. He is captured by German troops during what is known as the Battle of the Bulge and held as a prisoner in Dresden. His life as a captive has him living in a derelict slaughter house known as “Slaughterhouse number 5”. During the bombing of Dresden in World War II, he (Pilgrim) and the other Prisoners Of War together with German guard’s alike hide in a deep cellar; sheltering from the firestorm. During this period, time as we know it begins to distort, and Pilgrim starts to see premonitions of his impending death.
Why was it banned? This book is still banned in some high schools in the United States for its profanity and obscene nature. A principal at a private high school defended this ban by saying, “This is a book that contains so much profane language, it would make a sailor blush with shame. The ‘f word’ is plastered on almost every other page. The content ranges from naked men and women in cages together so that others can watch them having sex to God telling people that they better not mess with his loser, bum of a son, named Jesus Christ.” So now you know why it is still listed in the American Library Association’s 100 Most Frequently Challenged books.
- TROPIC OF CANCER – HENRY MILLER (1934)
Plot: Set in France during the 1930s, the book follows the life of its author, Miller, who at the time was a struggling writer. In the year 1932, after only meeting each other once, and despite being both married, Cuban diarist, Anaïs Nin and struggling writer, Henry Miller started what would later be an intense love affair. This book could be inspired by this time in Miller’s life as it is written in the first person. He wrote about his sexual encounters with friends and colleagues, it was an expose on the scandalous lives of American expats living abroad.
Why was it banned? Almost as soon as it was released, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court wrote Cancer is, “not a book. It is a cesspool, an open sewer, a pit of putrefaction, a slimy gathering of all that is rotten in the debris of human depravity.” Hailed today as an American classic, it is considered by some to be the “the most important book of the mid-1930s”.
Czechoslovakia because he refused to write in the native Czech language, using only German.
- LOLITA – VLADIMIR NABOKOV (1955)
Plot: Humbert Humbert, a scholar born in Paris, nurses a perverse liking for some of his younger female students or “nymphets” as he likes to refer to them as. Moving to a small New England town, he comes obsessed with the 12-year-old daughter of Charlotte Haze, and secretly covets her, using his marriage to her mother as a ruse. Humbert and the girl (Lolita) make off and begin hopping from town to town trying to conceal their true relationship.
Why was it banned? After being called ‘the filthiest book I have ever read’ by the editor of the Sunday Express, the Home Office seized all copies of the book in 1955 on the grounds that it was pornography. The French banned it the following year, but curiously, it was published without issue in the USA.
- BRAVE NEW WORLD – ALDOUS HUXLEY (1932)
Plot: Addressing the period’s core theme of industrialization, Huxley explored the loss of identity and increasing division of society to a devastating effect.
Why was it banned? Once its first print went into circulation, its host country, Ireland withdrew it from circulation as it felt that the themes addressed in the book i.e. Child Birth (as though birth isn’t a naturally occurring rhythm of Biology) were too ‘controversial’. After that, The United States later pulled it out of circulation and consequently its school reading lists as it felt that the themes developed in the book were too negative.
- THE SATANIC VERSES – SALMAN RUSHDIE (1988)
Plot: Rushdie’s book tells the cross-sectional tale of the lives of story of an Indian expat living in modern day England after surviving a plane crash. Gibreel Farishta, a Bollywood superstar is left to rebuild his life, while the other survivor, the emigrant Saladin Chamcha has his life torn apart.
Why was it banned? Many in the Islamic community saw Rushdie’s take on Islam to be blasphemous. In Venezuela, you would be imprisoned for 15 months if caught reading the book, while Japan issued fines for people who sold the English-language edition. Even in the US, two major bookshops refused to sell the book after death threats were received.
- THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER – STEPHEN CHOBSKY (1999)
Plot: Inspired by the late J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the book, published in 1999, tells the story of a teenager, “Charlie” who writes a series of letters to an anonymous friend. Being a teenager, Charlie goes to great lengths to describe his introversion, teenage sexuality, abuse, and his drug use.
Why was it banned? Its explicit sexual content, particularly the homosexual aspects, has led it to be withdrawn from libraries across the US, and it regularly makes the American Library Association’s top 10 most challenged books list.
- THINGS FALL APART BY CHINUA ACHEBE (1958)
Plot: One of the most celebrated pieces of African literature, Achebe’s story of Okonkwo, a leader and local wrestling champion in Umofia (a fictional group of nine villages in West African Nigeria) re-visits the influences of British colonialism and Christian missionaries on his traditional Igbo community during an unspecified time period in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.
Why was it banned? (Finally! Something from the Motherland!) It was banned in Malaysia reportedly due to its critical look at colonialism and the consequences of this. (But wouldn’t it make more since if it had been banned in Britain?)
- AMERICAN PSYCHO BY BRETT EASTON ELLIS (1991)
The gist: Easton Ellis’s tale of serial killer and impeccable business man Patrick Bateman, starts off as merely the retelling of one man’s experiences living in an affluent part of New York city during the 1980s. As the book progresses however, the shiny veneer of this privileged life soon reveals a far more disturbing side.
Why is it banned? Anyone who has seen the film will know why. Have you watched it? Germany deemed it harmful to minors when it first appeared in 1991, and restricted its sales. It was banned in Canada until very recently, and it’s banned in the Australian state of Queensland and is restricted to over 18s only in all other states. If you haven’t seen it already, you could always watch it now.
- THE METAMORPHOSIS – FRANZ KAFKA (1915)
Plot: One day, Gregor Samsa, a travelling salesman supporting his parents and sister, awakes to find he’s turned into a giant bug. Once the most beloved member of his family, so begins his emotional separation from his beloved, and the rest of society, to the point where he is forced into reclusion by being locked away in his room and plainly forgotten about.
Why was it banned? All of Kafka’s work was banned under the Nazi and Soviet regimes, and also in
Have you read any of these books? What do you think?