“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”
Oscar Wilde’s quote is perfect for capturing the spirit of Banned Books Week. Occurring annually from September 25 to October 1, it’s about celebrating the freedom to read. It is an important event that highlights the role literature has in challenging our society. Here are five books that stand out from dozens of banned titles, to get you ready for next year’s event.
1984 by George Orwell
Banning a book about surveillance and oppressive state organizations seems more than a tad ironic. The American Library Association (ALA) notes it’s one of the most challenged and banned books of all time.
Orwell’s novel highlights issues like surveillance, privacy, and free will. It was banned and burned by Joseph Stalin for its negative portrayal of communism. During the Cold War, many American schools also banned the novel.
Though 1984 was published in the late-1940s, it still remains incredibly relevant today.
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
Even children’s books can be scrutinized. Dr Seuss’ The Lorax aims to teach children about environmentalism and conservation using the fictional and fuzzy creature, who “speaks for the trees.”
This simple message of sustainability quickly became controversial in the small logging town of Laytonville, CA, due to concerns that children were being “brainwashed” by the book. The conflict escalated and became known both nationally and internationally, creating a large conversation around issues of environmentalism, as well as academic freedom.
Habibi by Craig Thompson
Not even the graphic novel is safe from criticism.
Thompson took seven years to create this novel about child slavery and young sexuality. Appearing at the eighth spot on the ALA’s 2015 most-challenged book list, Habibi has been challenged for its nudity, sexual explicitness, and unsuitable content for its young audience.
Thompson’s work has also been examined for its Islamic content, and some say that it does a disservice to Muslim culture, particularly Muslim men.
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
The Satanic Verses is a novel from 1988 that explores themes of faith, identity, and the immigrant experience.
The novel was incredibly controversial among Muslims, with many saying that it was blasphemous toward their faith. This resulted in Rushdie receiving death threats, and also caused riots. Due to tension the novel caused, several countries banned the novel, and many US bookstores stopped selling the book.
Rushdie lived in hiding for over a decade because of this novel.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Fahrenheit 451 is about burning books. Bradbury imagines a future in which books are systematically burned, leaving a population that is apathetic and lacking critical thought.
Bradbury’s novel has been challenged several times by schools in the US for indecent language, and resulted in expurgated copies being printed for high schools. Bradbury claimed that his novel is about censorship, but is also about his fear of an illiterate society.