Banned Books Week 2020

Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read, launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookshops and libraries. 

This year Banned Books Week is from 27 September – 3 October, with the theme of this year’s event: “Censorship is a dead end. Find your freedom to read!”

In celebration of Banned Books Week we take a look some banned, or almost banned, books available to borrow from Brent Libraries.

Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer (published 1934) was banned in the US, the UK, Finland and Canada for obscenity and was considered “notorious for its candid sexuality”. Finally, in 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the book non-obscene. It is now regarded as an important work of 20th-century literature. Discover it for yourself.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (written 1940, published in a censored form, 1966) was banned by Stalin, while the Russian Orthodox Church worried that its text might undermine people’s faith. Its plot lampoons state authoritarianism and censorship in a country that has a tradition of both. Discover a novel in which the devil takes centre stage.

Maya Angelou’s I know Why The Caged Bird Sings (published 1961) is among several classic books currently banned from Alaska classrooms – banned because of “sexually explicit material, such as the sexual abuse the author suffered as a child, and its ‘anti-white messaging'”. Detailing abandonment by her mother and the racism and trauma Angelou experienced as a child, she also describes how years later in San Francisco, she learns that love for herself, the kindness of others and the ideas of great authors could finally allow her to be free. Discover this moving work.

George Orwell’s Amimal Farm (published 1945), is an allegorical short story about a group of animals who overthrow their human farmer in order to live freely, only to end up under the dictatorship of Napoleon the pig. Banned by Stalin, Amimal Farm reflects the events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Stalinist era. Borrow it now.

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (published 1932) was banned at publication in Ireland for its language and for supposedly being anti-family and anti-religion. It was also banned in India in 1967, with Huxley accused of being a “pornographer”. Brave New World has also been banned in US classrooms. Discover this dystopian and prophetic novel.

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series (published 1995) was number 8 on the Top 100 Banned Books list for 2000-2009. In 2007, the US Catholic League campaigned against The Golden Compass (titled The Amber Spyglass in the UK), declaring that it promoted atheism and attacked Christianity. Pullman partially confirmed this, saying “In one way, I hope the wretched organisation will vanish entirely.” But he’s also made it clear that it’s not God or religion he objects to, rather the way that the structures and ideas are used for ill. Discover Pullman’s epic work.

Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe (published 1958) is a stark, coolly ironic novel that reshaped both African and world literature, and has sold over ten million copies in forty-five languages. This arresting parable of a proud but powerless man witnessing the ruin of his people has nonetheless received criticism for its portrayal of colonialism and its consequences, and has reportedly been banned in Malaysia and Nigeria. In 2012 it made the list of works that were challenged for their themes in Texas schools. Borrow it now.

Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos> It was banned in 1997 in Virginia when a parent complained about sexual explicitness, but despite this was retained on the Stonewall Jackson High School’s academically advanced reading list. Hurston’s classic has, since its 1978 reissue, become perhaps the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature. Borrow it now.

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson (published 2005) tells the true story of three Chinstrap penguins—Roy, Silo, and their adopted daughter, Tango hatched from an egg put into their care. Despite the happy ending, Tango was banned in some towns in the US and in Singapore and Hong Kong for promoting homosexuality and complaints about the book were also made in the UK. Read now.

I am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings (published 2015) explores Jennings’ struggle with having “a girl brain but a boy body,” and her family’s confusion over and acceptance of her gender identity. 

When a Californian student brought a copy in to read to class to explain her own experiences as a trans person several parents complained and subsequently removed their children from the school, calling for a policy that allowed them to keep their children from sharing a classroom with a transgender student.

The school stood behind their book policy, affirming the inclusion of LGBTQ literature in classrooms, and the school decided not to add the requested “opt out” policy, which would have been tantamount to illegal discrimination. Unfortunately, however, the school chose to add a ‘red flag’ policy that would forewarn parents about potentially ‘controversial’ material, which could invite future complaints and disrupt the educational process, effectively labelling certain materials as controversial.

Once Banned – Novels That Have Shaped Our World

Animal Farm, Brave New World, Things Fall Apart, Their Eyes Were Watching God and His Dark Materials are all on the list of the list of BBC 100 Novels That Shaped Our World.

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