Read 14 Great Banned & Censored Novels Free Online: For Banned Books Week 2014


We well know of the most famous cas­es of banned books: James Joyce’s Ulysses, Hen­ry Miller’s Trop­ic of Can­cer, Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. In fact, a full 46 of Mod­ern Library’s “100 Best Nov­els” have been sup­pressed or chal­lenged in some way. The Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion main­tains a page that details the charges against each one. Harp­er Lee’s To Kill a Mock­ing­bird saw a chal­lenge in the Ver­non Verona Sher­ill, New York school dis­trict in 1980 as a “filthy, trashy nov­el” and in 1996, Lin­dale, Texas banned it from the advanced place­ment Eng­lish read­ing list because it “con­flict­ed with the val­ues of the com­mu­ni­ty.” Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath has a lengthy rap sheet, includ­ing total ban­ning in Ire­land (1953), Mor­ris, Man­i­to­ba (1982), and all high school class­es in Kanawha, Iowa (1980). The list of cen­sored undis­put­ed classics—every one of which sure­ly has its own piece of giant store art in Barnes & Nobles nationwide—goes on.

In many ways this is typ­i­cal. “The banned books lists you’ll find in many libraries and book­stores,” writes John Mark Ockerbloom at Everybody’s Libraries, “doesn’t [sic] focus much on the polit­i­cal samiz­dat, secu­ri­ty exposés, or por­tray­als of Mohammed that are the objects of forcible sup­pres­sion today. Instead, they’re often full of clas­sics and pop­u­lar titles sold wide­ly in book­stores and online—or dom­i­nat­ed by books writ­ten for young read­ers, or assigned for school read­ing.” Are these lists—and the banned books cel­e­bra­tions that occa­sion them—just “shame­less pro­pa­gan­da” as con­ser­v­a­tive Thomas Sow­ell alleges? “Is it wrong to call these books banned?” asks Ockerbloom in his essay “Why Banned Books Week Mat­ters.” Of course he answers in the neg­a­tive; “not if you take read­ers seri­ous­ly. An unread book, after all, has as lit­tle impact as an unpub­lished book.” Books that don’t pass muster with admin­is­tra­tors, school boards, library asso­ci­a­tions, and leg­is­la­tors of all kinds, argues Ockerbloom, can be as inac­ces­si­ble to young read­ers as those that get destroyed or ful­ly sup­pressed in parts of the world with­out legal pro­vi­sions for free speech.

This sit­u­a­tion is in great part reme­di­at­ed by the free avail­abil­i­ty of texts on the inter­net, whether those cur­rent­ly under a ban or those that—even if they line the shelves in brick and mor­tar stores and Ama­zon warehouses—still meet with fre­quent chal­lenges from com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions eager to con­trol what their cit­i­zens read. Today, in hon­or of this year’s Banned Books Week, we bring you free online texts of 14 banned books that appear on the Mod­ern Library’s top 100 nov­els list. Next to each title, see some of the rea­sons these books were chal­lenged, banned, or, in many cas­es, burned.

  • The Great Gats­by, by F. Scott Fitzger­ald (Read Online)

This sta­ple of high school Eng­lish class­es every­where seems to most­ly get a pass. It did, how­ev­er, see a 1987 chal­lenge at the Bap­tist Col­lege in Charleston, SC for “lan­guage and sex­u­al ref­er­ences.”

Seized and burned by postal offi­cials in New York when it arrived state­side in 1922, Joyce’s mas­ter­work gen­er­al­ly goes unread these days because of its leg­endary dif­fi­cul­ty, but for ten years, until Judge John Woolsey’s deci­sion in its favor in 1932, the nov­el was only avail­able in the U.S. as a boot­leg. Ulysses was also burned—and banned—in Ire­land, Cana­da, and Eng­land.

Orwell’s total­i­tar­i­an night­mare often seems like one of the very few things lib­er­als and con­ser­v­a­tives can agree on—no one wants to live in the future he imag­ines. Nonethe­less, the nov­el was chal­lenged in Jack­son Coun­ty, Flori­da in 1981 for its sup­pos­ed­ly “pro-com­mu­nist” mes­sage, in addi­tion to its “explic­it sex­u­al mat­ter.”

Again the tar­get of right-wing ire, Orwell’s work was chal­lenged in Wis­con­sin in 1963 by the John Birch Soci­ety, who object­ed to the words “mass­es will revolt.” A 1968 New Sur­vey found that the nov­el reg­u­lar­ly appeared on school lists of “prob­lem books.” The rea­son most often cit­ed: “Orwell was a com­mu­nist.”

  • Slaugh­ter­house Five, by Kurt Von­negut (Audio)

Vonnegut’s clas­sic has been chal­lenged by par­ents and school boards since 1973, when it was burned in Drake, North Dako­ta. Most recent­ly, it’s been removed from a sopho­more read­ing list at the Coven­try, RI high school in 2000; chal­lenged by an orga­ni­za­tion called LOVE (Liv­ing­stone Orga­ni­za­tion for Val­ues in Edu­ca­tion) in How­ell, MI in 2007; and chal­lenged, but retained, along with eight oth­er books, in Arling­ton Heights, IL in 2006. In that case, a school board mem­ber, “elect­ed amid promis­es to bring her Chris­t­ian beliefs into all board deci­sion-mak­ing, raised the con­tro­ver­sy based on excerpts from the books she’d found on the inter­net.” Hear Von­negut him­self read the nov­el here.

London’s most pop­u­lar nov­el hasn’t seen any offi­cial sup­pres­sion in the U.S., but it was banned in Italy and Yugoslavia in 1929. The book was burned in Nazi bon­fires in 1933; some­thing of a his­tor­i­cal irony giv­en London’s own racist pol­i­tics.

The Nazis also burned Sinclair’s nov­el because of the author’s social­ist views. In 1959, East Ger­many banned the book as “inim­i­cal to com­mu­nism.”

  • Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence (Read Online)

Lawrence court­ed con­tro­ver­sy every­where. Chat­ter­ly was banned by U.S. cus­toms in 1929 and has since been banned in Ire­land (1932), Poland (1932), Aus­tralia (1959), Japan (1959), India (1959), Cana­da (1960) and, most recent­ly, Chi­na in 1987 because it “will cor­rupt the minds of young peo­ple and is also against the Chi­nese tra­di­tion.”

This true crime clas­sic was banned, then rein­stat­ed, at Savan­nah, Georgia’s Wind­sor For­est High School in 2000 after a par­ent “com­plained about sex, vio­lence, and pro­fan­i­ty.”

Lawrence endured a great deal of per­se­cu­tion in his life­time for his work, which was wide­ly con­sid­ered porno­graph­ic. Thir­ty years after his death, in 1961, a group in Okla­homa City call­ing itself Moth­ers Unite for Decen­cy “hired a trail­er, dubbed it ‘smut­mo­bile,’ and dis­played books deemed objec­tion­able,” includ­ing Sons and Lovers.

  • Naked Lunch, by William S. Bur­roughs (Audio)

If any­one belongs on a list of obscene authors, it’s Bur­roughs, which is only one rea­son of the many rea­sons he deserves to be read. In 1965, the Boston Supe­ri­or Court banned Bur­roughs’ nov­el. The State Supreme Court reversed that deci­sion the fol­low­ing year. Lis­ten to Bur­roughs read the nov­el here.

Poor Lawrence could not catch a break. In one of many such acts against his work, the sen­si­tive writer’s fifth nov­el was declared obscene in 1922 by the rather unimag­i­na­tive­ly named New York Soci­ety for the Sup­pres­sion of Vice.

  • An Amer­i­can Tragedy, by Theodore Dreis­er (Read Online)

Amer­i­can literature’s fore­most mas­ter of melo­dra­ma, Dreiser’s nov­el was banned in Boston in 1927 and burned by the Nazi bon­fires because it “deals with low love affairs.”

You can learn much more about the many books that have been banned, sup­pressed, or cen­sored at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Pennsylvania’s “Banned Books Online” page, and learn more about the many events and resources avail­able for Banned Books Week at the Amer­i­can Library Association’s web­site.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

74 Free Banned Books (for Banned Books Week)

Allen Gins­berg Reads His Famous­ly Cen­sored Beat Poem, Howl (1959)

North Car­oli­na Coun­ty Cel­e­brates Banned Book Week By Ban­ning Ralph Ellison’s Invis­i­ble Man … Then Revers­ing It

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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  • Rain,adustbowlstory says:

    I’m still wait­ing for the high­ly read­able 21st-cen­tu­ry nov­el that’s so anti-cor­po­rate-greed that it, too, gets banned as threat­en­ing pre­vail­ing “val­ues.”

  • Jennifer says:

    the Bible

  • Fan­tas­tic to make these books avail­able for any­one. Just know the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion’s annu­al list of book is faked to pro­mote its own inter­ests. For exam­ple it has report­ed the #1 most “banned” book was chal­lenged dozens of times one year when the actu­al num­ber was four. I know, I called the man who col­lat­ed the list, Bryan Camp­bell. Four chal­lenges all year across the entire USA for the #1 book on the list is about as non news­wor­thy as it gets. That’s why ALA nev­er releas­es the actu­al num­bers of the actu­al chal­lenges, not even to the authors them­selves. It’s minus­cule, rel­a­tive­ly speak­ing. Remem­ber, ALA is the orga­ni­za­tion say­ing libraries should not use fil­ters because porn view­ing is minus­cule, but here book “ban­ning” is actu­al­ly minus­cule, unlike prone view­ing, and that gets trumped up into major news.

  • timothy says:


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