You'll Never Guess Why These Books Were Banned

As long as books have existed, there have been people trying to stop people from reading them. And though the practice is widely condemned, it is also still widely practiced — even in 2016. Today, a spot on the American Library Association's banned books list is essentially proof positive that the title is worth reading.
Every year, the ALA compiles a list of books that have had formal bans enacted or requests to ban filed against them. (Though the ALA notes that it's likely the majority of challenges go unreported.) The reasons for removing any particular book from the shelves of a school or library are many and varied, but the most common have to do with sexual or profane content that corrupts youth, destroys family values, and defies organized religion.
Advertisement
But as Judy Blume — a regular on the list of the most frequently banned authors — put it, "Something will be offensive to someone in every book, so you've got to fight it." Oh, and banning a book is giving a big middle finger to the First Amendment. In the words of former Supreme Court Justice and civil liberties activist William O. Douglas, "Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us."
So, if freedom of expression is something you value — or if you'd like a terrifying peek into the darkest corners of human ignorance — check out this list. We rounded up some of the most ridiculous reasons people or groups have banned or attempted to ban certain books. Happy reading!
1 of 13
Photo: Courtesy of Harper & Row.
Where The Wild Things Are, By Maurice Sendak (1963)

The incredibly imaginative late children writer and illustrator's most famous book is also his most controversial — yes, seriously. Parents didn't want their children being exposed to the "dark and disturbing nature of the story," according to Banned Books Week. And other reports state that the beautiful, touching book was often banned in the South because the fact that Max was “sent to bed without his supper" was akin to child abuse.
2 of 13
Photo: Courtesy of Perigree.
Lord of the Flies, By William Golding (1954)

This book about a group of boys who survive a plane crash on a desert island is an allegorical exploration of the tensions within human civilization: Between peace and war, independent thinking and a mob mentality, selfishness and selflessness, etc. It's been challenged since its publish date for scenes of sex and violence, as well its use of racial slurs. But most interesting is a 1981 challenge from a high school in North Carolina that deemed the novel "demoralizing inasmuch as it implies that man is little more than an animal." Well, that was kind of the point, wasn't it?
Advertisement
3 of 13
Photo: Courtesy of Vintage Books.
Fifty Shades of Grey, By E L James (2011)

In 2013, the first novel in the erotic trilogy became the fourth most commonly challenged book. Last year, it was bumped up to second place on the list. Unsurprisingly, the book's graphic content is most often cited — dissenters consider its S&M sex scenes to essentially be porn. But there are some hilariously surprising reasons people wanted the book banned as well. Some complained it is "poorly written," while others have "concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it."
4 of 13
Photo: Courtesy of Harcourt.
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker (1982)

Despite being a Pulitzer Prize winner, this groundbreaking novel about the lives of Black women in the South in the 1930s is one of the most frequently challenged classics. Most contentious are the book's explicit depictions of rapes, incest, adultery, violence, and drug abuse. In 1984, an Oakland, CA, high school challenged the book for its "sexual and social explicitness" and "troubling ideas about race relations, man's relationship to God, African history, and human sexuality." In 1995, an Oregonian high school challenged the book for its "negative image of Black men."
5 of 13
Photo: Courtesy of Little, Brown.
Twilight Series, By Stephanie Meyer (2007)

In general, the kind of people who want to ban books are also the kind of people with a distaste for sexually active vampires. "This is dark. There's a sexual element. You have creatures that aren't human," explained a Texas pastor who demanded the "occultic [sic] and demonic" titles — along with any other books containing supernatural elements — be removed from the shelves of the local library.

In Australia, a school librarian who banned the books was concerned about kids mistaking the novels for non-fiction. Yes, really. "We wanted to make sure they realize it's fictitious and ensure they don't have a wrong grasp on reality," she said. Oh, and apparently, they espouse a "religious viewpoint." Does that make Edward and Bella our Adam and Eve?
6 of 13
Photo: Courtesy of Little, Brown.
The Catcher in the Rye, By J. D. Salinger (1951)

Holden Caulfield is a longtime favorite target of the book police. In 1960, a teacher was actually fired for assigned the novel to her 11th grade English class. (She was later rehired.) Reasons cited in the dozens of reported banning attempts since include: "excess vulgar language, sexual scenes, things concerning moral issues, excessive violence;" "blasphemous and undermines morality;" "centered around negative activity." In short, as one particularly eloquent objector put it: "[It] is a filthy, filthy book."
7 of 13
Photo: Courtesy of Puffin Books.
The Witches, By Roald Dahl (1983)

The YA classic was one of the 100 most frequently banned books in the '90s. The most surprising grievance? Misogny — only women are witches. This passage captures the idea that critics take issue with:
"A witch is always a woman. I do not wish to speak badly about women. Most women are lovely. But the fact remains that all witches are women. There is no such thing as a male witch." Because he'd be a wizard, duh!
Advertisement
8 of 13
Photo: Courtesy of Chatto & Windus.
Brave New World, By Aldous Huxley (1932)

Sex and drugs are the culprits here. Huxley's dystopian dive into a twisted, hedonistic future was first banned in Ireland and Australia the year it was released. In 1967, India followed suit, deeming it pornographic. (Those bans have since been lifted.)

In the contemporary United States, it's been singled out by school districts preaching abstinence-only in sex ed. Concerned educators have worried it makes casual sex "look like fun." The sexual content and test-tube babies plot line have also been viewed as "contempt for religion, marriage, and family."
9 of 13
Like this post? There's more. Get tons of celebrity news, fun takes on pop culture, and trending stories on the Refinery29 Entertainment Facebook page. Like us on Facebook — we'll see you there!
10 of 13
Photo: Courtesy of Scholastic.
Harry Potter series, By J.K. Rowling (1997)

H.P. haters tend to be traditional Christians who believe the best-selling novels embody occultist, satanic, and anti-family themes. The series has been accused of glorifying witchcraft.

"Any exposure to witches or wizards shown in a positive light is anathema" to Bible-abiding Christians, explains the American Library Association's Virginia Walter. "Many of these people feel that the books are door-openers to topics that desensitize children to very real evils in the world." So, they're talking about real evils like Voldemort, right?
11 of 13
Photo: Courtesy of Penguin.
1984, By George Orwell (1949)

Oh, the disturbing irony involved in banning a book that is the greatest cautionary tale against the suppression of free speech, totalitarian regimes, and invasion of privacy ever written. (Exhibit A: Sales of 1984 skyrocketed in the wake of the Edward Snowden's exposure of the NSA's mass-surveillance programs.) In addition to the usual complaints about "explicit sexual matter," Orwell's dystopian novel has actually been deemed "pro-Communist." Oh, Big Brother.
12 of 13
Photo: Courtesy of Scribner.
The Great Gatsby, By F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

Fitzgerald's Jazz-Age classic seems innocent, but enough people have found the high school syllabus standby offensive enough to land it on the ALA's list of top banned and challenged classics. On what grounds? Profanity (mild words like "damn" and "son-of-a-bitch") as well as sexual references. Just imagine how scandalized these people would be if they saw Baz Luhrmann's sexed-up take on the book!
13 of 13
Photo: Courtesy of Scholastic.
The Hunger Games Series, By Suzanne Collins (2008)

The dystopian trilogy has been censored since it first hit shelves in 2008. In 2012, the series cracked the top three most challenged books reported to the ALA. The list of complaints is long and varied. Collins' novels have been called anti-ethnic, anti-family, occultist, satanic, profane, and violent.

In a dark, but fascinating, twist involving the film adaptations starring Jennifer Lawrence, the movie ignited violent political conflict in Thailand in 2014. The Thai military banned Katniss' famous three-finger salute when demonstrators began using it to protest the military takeover of the country's civilian government. Anti-coup activists handing out free tickets at the premiere were arrested.
Advertisement