Thursday, 19 April 2012

Controversial Books - Past and Present

Here I will take a look at some of the most controversial books written. Both old and new books, why they are so challenged, and effects on the readers. This lists includes everything from Catcher in the Rye to the Hunger Games.

Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure

This book, written by John Cleland is notable because it was both the first erotic novel written in the English language, and the last book ever banned in the USA. The author was actually arrested upon publication. The charges? Obscenity.
It was illegal (but smuggled into the US quite often) until 1966, when a US court of law decreed it legal and never actually banned another book again.

Contains graphic depictions of sexual experiences.

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Uncle Tom's Cabin was written by Harriet Beecher Stove. It stirred up the abolitionist sentiment and ticked off the slave-holding south. Though many pro-slavery folk made their own poorly done spin-offs of the book, it has outlasted them all and remains a classic even today.

A tale of cruelty against African-American Slaves.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain's book of Huck Finn's exploits has even been debated - and in some cases banned - as recently as last year. Many people are outraged at the frequent usage of the "N" word in the text, and some have made it their personal crusade to have the book banned in schools. Even before this particular issue was addressed people were challenging Mr. Twain's work, with earlier critics proclaiming it "vulgar". They claimed that Huck Finn "not only itched, but scratched" and said things like "sweat" instead of "perspire". Good heavens, how ghastly!

The N word is cited as being in the text 215 times in total.

Catcher in the Rye 

This novel by J D Salinger was first criticized for sexuality and profanity. The novel later became famous for it's "involvement" in Mark Chapman's shooting of John Lennon. Chapman was caught with a worn copy of the book in his pocket, and apparently was under the impression that he was Holden Caulfield, the main character. It was also associated with the two more murders and an assassination attempt on Ronald Reagon, and was found in the rooms of more then one serial killer. Though there have been conspiracy theories and much speculation, it is far more likely that the killers were simply attracted/ related to Holden's psychopathic personality traits, and far less likely that the book "brainwashed: them.


Vladimir Nabokov had trouble publishing this book, and rightfully so. At this time, however, there are several TV and film adaptations, though the script was always rewritten to cast the character in a more positive light. One reviewer - likely an agent or publisher - had this to say:

“It is overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian. To the public, it will be revolting. It will not sell, and will do immeasurable harm to a growing reputation. [...] I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.”

But it wasn't. And now this story - a first person narrative about a man who sleeps with his twelve-year-old daughter, is in print. It was banned in England, Argentina, New Zealand and France (It was originally published in Paris).

The creepy thing is that it was first published in 1958, and went on to be a best seller for two years! 

This book is extremely disturbing and graphic. Will act as a trigger for those that have suffered sexual abuse.

More Recently Published

Hush, hush

Go on, laugh. Yes, this is a young adult story about a dreamy "guardian angel". Not exactly competing for the most outrageously offensive title, right? I disagree. Though author Becca Fitzpatrick probably didn't mean for it to be controversial at all, many people see Hush, hush as glamorizing stalking and near-rape scenarios, which in my opinion, is dangerous. Spoilers ahead.

The lead man, Patch, who is brooding and dark and mysteriously angsty, is actually a fallen angel sent to kill Nora, the main character. She spends half the book in terror of him, trying to get away, but eventually she caves because, as we all means yes.

May trigger those who have suffered sexual abuse.

For more on the debate surrounding Hush, hush: Hush, hush: Bad Romance

Winter Girls

Winter Girls, by Laurie Halse Anderson, explores the world of anorexia in chilling detail. Critics of this book have accused it of serving as a "how to" guide to anorexia, as if young readers automatically do what they read. Many other people have said that it was deeply disturbing, but eye-opening.

Harry Potter
Although this book series by JK Rowling has - for the most part - been wildly popular, it has also inspired book burnings and protests world wide. It has been banned in many schools, as parents and religious sects feared their children would take up witchcraft.

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, is now officially the 3rd most challenged work in US libraries this year. Complaints range from sexuality and violence, to anti-ethnic and anti-family and occult/satanic themes. Though the series has very violent themes, perhaps inappropriate for young children, there is little sexuality (a few very brief kisses) and no anti-ethnic and anti-family themes. And if satan made an appearance, it's safe to say I missed that part. Ironically, the day the list released Hunger Games as #3 most challenged, Mattel released their Katniss Barbie doll.

Totally safe for kids! Until she murders all your other Barbies...

More on the Hunger Games Controversy: A Call to Ban the Hunger Games

The IM Book Series
Lauren Myracle's IM book series includes TTYL, ttfn and l8r g8r. They are written entirely in IM short hand, if that isn't horrifying enough to make you shield your eyes with your Webster's dictionary, the books are number one on the banned books list of the American Library Association. Reasons are language, drug references and lots and lots of sexual content. Apparently the series is "true to life", complete with bullying, back stabbing and massive gossip sessions.

All I can say is KMN (kill me now).

I'm sure there are plenty of books I missed. Some banned for all the right reasons, some for all the wrong. What's your opinion on book censorship? Do some deserve to be banned from schools and be labeled as "too violent" or "too sexual"?


  1. This is a really good article My favorite is the one about the Hunger Games Barbie Doll.

  2. Haha, I wonder how many little girls will be shooting the other Barbies with arrows. lol

  3. I'm afraid I would be for banning The Hunger Games. I mean is it ok to have our kids read a book where 24 CHILDREN are made to KILL each other between only a few chapters. Then you look at the movies The Hunger Games was PG-13 and the movie Bully - Restricted. So it's ok for our children to go and watch a movie where they see children killing children and making a show out of their deaths, but it’s not ok so show them a movie about standing up for yourself when you’re getting bullied. What kind of a message does that give to our kids? What kind of a world has it come to when people find books like The Hunger Games at all entertaining? There wasn't even anything I had ever seen in The Hunger Games that I haven't seen anywhere else. The worst part. If Katniss were alive - she would hate every person that loved that book. Ironic no? I've even heard people compare it to The Lord of The Fly's. So I do think this book has every right to be on that list due to its inhuman content, but hey that’s just my opinion.

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  5. I do agree that HG is WAY too violent for some of the young kids I saw that went to the movie, and I remember walking past a couple of little girls in the mall (they were around ten or twelve) and they were talking about it, and it sort of shocked me. I wouldn't let my kids read it. I don't think I would ban it though. Yes, it's a horrible concept, but it's meant to resonate with the reader. You're supposed to come away, having read it, and know that the message was the same as Lord of the Flies. Human's are fully capable of becoming barbaric, and it's NOT okay.

  6. With the caveat that I've only finished the first section of HG so far:

    I think the irony here is that the parent calling for HG to be banned is really upset because Collins was too ethical. She DOESN'T glorify the games. She makes the emotional cost clear and horrifying. It's only because she writes it so well, and so ethically, that parents are talking about banning the book.

    No one is talking about banning "The Lord of the Rings," and yet the body count is far, far higher in that. Consider the mound of bodies left by Gimli and Legolas in the Battle of Helm's Deep, and the way they treat the killing as a game. In LOTR, it's okay to kill sentient beings, as long as they're orcs.

    Because Tolkien writes those scenes without emotional depth, they don't have the terrible impact that Collins does...but which violent story is more ethical?

    1. That is actually an excellent point! I remember when I was younger, my christian parents wouldn't let me read Harry Potter (in case I turned into a witch, I guess) but Lord of the Rings was fine! It always made me so mad, because, for heavens sake, there's a "good" wizard in that too! But Gandalf never inspired me to put on robes and run around shouting spells at people. (When I used to bring up this argument, they just refused to debate me.

      I agree that Collins did portray it as horrifying, THAT is the message of the entire series. I think the reason Tolkien is okay to many people, but HG and HP are "evil" is because Tolkien was a christian (that was my parents reasoning, I'm pretty sure).

  7. I have always found censorship a difficult subject. I think because in that age there are some kids/teenagers more mature than others and others that are not quite there yet. So banning a book so that it is no longer accessible to anyone, in my view, is not the best idea. I think here the parents role is more important, they know their children and how mature they are/what is okay for them to read. But of course in this day and age you also can´t control everything your children are exposed to... A bit of a conundrum!

    On a different not: I actually read quite some of these books in school, seems I was at quite a progressive one ;) & I actually tried reading Lolita when I was 16 or so but couldn´t get through it!

    1. Wooh! Lolita is one thing I wouldn't pick up. I was astonished to find out they'd made a movie out of it at all! I don't blame you for not getting through it!

      I think we shouldn't ban books like HG, but that parents should be responsible for what the child reads, or doesn't. Even in the event that HG was "required" reading for the classroom (which it's not) there is always the option of asking to be excused from it. They won't ever say no.

      It's true, you can't control everything your child is exposed to, but it sounds like the mom trying to ban HG is trying pretty hard!

  8. Erin, I luv'd this post! I've read Lolita for a book club a few years ago. Actually, I didn't read the entire book. I only got through 20% of it, as it was quite disturbing.

    LOL @ "no means yes" for Hush Hush. I've never read that book, I'm not really into "fallen angels."

    And LOL @ the Katniss Barbie doll who might murder all the other toys, hehe. Great post :)

    1. Thank you!

      I'm really sick of the fallen angels and vampires thing. I won't pick up a YA book if it looks like it has anything to do with either one.

      I've actually come across a lot of people who have started Lolita and not finished. I can hardly blame you!

  9. Hello! I found you from the Blogging Buddies post on Absolute Write.

    Interesting post. I had no idea Mark Twain's books had been banned!

    I have mixed feelings about Lolita. The idea is supposed to be that it features an unreliable narrator. So the point of the book is to show how abusive people lie and distort and twist things to make themselves look innocent. That's a great message and one that isn't taken up enough in my opinion.

    Unfortunately, it gets gratuitous enough to raise suspicion about whether that really is the whole point of the book. Just look at that book cover. The way the picture shows nearly up the child's skirt, it seems to be intended to titillate a nasty type of viewer. That cover creeps me right out.

  10. I certainly agree about the cover! It does indeed smack of pedophilia. I honestly am surprised it wasn't just left pretty much blank. Yuck.

    I'm actually pretty shocked at the amount of people who have read (or read part of) this book. I think it's good to show an unreliable narrator, but I think there are better ways to do it then dwell on child abuse as a subject.

    Speaking of unreliable narrator, when they made the movie Lolita, they cast the girl as sixteen, and the one who did the seducing!

  11. Personally and at a very basic level, I am opposed to censorship. In most cases, I think it actually heightens the interest in a controversial book and causes more people to read it, which seems to defeat the main goal of censors. That being said, I think we all must learn personal censorship (as you mentioned in your post, not all books are created equal and some subject matter is truly harmful - but this is very subjective). I think it is one thing to say, "I prefer not to read that" and quite another to say, "That is awful" if one hasn't in fact read the book. And any discerning person knows that a library, or bookstore, or the world wide web is chocked full of as much useless text as it is beautiful. The weeds grow among the roses, do they not?

    As an aside - I don't believe Katniss would actually "murder" any of the other barbies unless they were attacking her first (she only actually killed two people: one in defense of another girl and one as an act of mercy), although she might leave a few poison plastic berries around. :) Hunger Games was actually incredibly less violent than a lot of other things out there (like the Avengers, the Transformers and other such dribble where killing is the activity of the day). Just my 2 cents worth.

    Great to read your thoughts, Erin. :)

    1. I do agree. Hunger Games isn't nearly as violent as the other shows you've listed. I think the reason it's more controversial is because much smaller kids are watching and reading. (I'm sure some little kids are watching the Avengers, in fact, I saw some going into the movie theatre, which I thought was strange). I definitely agree that banning a book makes it way more interesting to everyone, which accomplishes the exact opposite of what was intended.

  12. Most controversial book I can think of -- sadly not on this list though it's a classic -- is "In Cold Blood" where the author gives excuses for the killer's actions along with depicting him as a helpless child. P.S. this book is based off a real murder not long after it happened. The author even met with the murders to ask them questions. **It seems like he may have gotten a bit too close to the killer**

    1. Hmm, similar to Lolita, in that you seriously have to wonder about the author!Scary!

  13. On the subject of Banned Books, sometimes it's for the wrong reasons. Other times, it is a completely good excuse. But the Interesting thing is, is that where I live (US), freedom of Press generally overrules the context of the book. The Argument? It has literary value. Sorry if I'm rambling, I studied this issue a lot.

    1. You're not rambling at all! It's a really interesting subject! Very true that it's often for the wrong reason. It seems in general, that if a book gets really popular it meets a lot of scrutiny (ie: Oh noes! Harry Potter has bad, evil witchcraft! Burn it!)