California Gov. Gavin Newsom may have engaged in the biggest self-own in recent history when he posted a photo of himself seated beside a stack of books stating, "Reading some banned books to figure out what these states are so afraid of."
The book at the top of the stack is the Harper Lee classic "To Kill a Mockingbird," a novel that school boards within the Democratic governor’s own state have recently removed from their shelves.
And that’s how books get "banned" in America — by local school boards removing them either from their student reading lists or from their library shelves.
Here are Newsmax’s 10 most significant banned books in America, in alphabetical order.
"The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" by Mark Twain (1876)
This book was written by one of 19th century America’s most gifted humorists, and depicts the life of a young boy growing up along the Mississippi River. It is set in the fictional town of St. Petersburg, which is based on Hannibal, Missouri, where Twain was raised.
The fact that “Tom Sawyer” has since been adapted to the stage a half-dozen times, and numerous times to film and TV productions attests to the popularity and importance of the work for its humor, satire and social commentary.
However, it’s been banned from numerous school libraries and summer reading lists because of its repeated use of the n-word, as well as its depiction of Native Americans in the form of the character “Injun Joe” as evil for evil’s sake.
"Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley (1931)
This novel is set in 2540, in a futuristic dystopian world known as “the World State” populated with environmentally engineered citizens, who are encouraged to take a pleasure-inducing drug called soma and engage in promiscuous sex.
A continuing theme that runs throughout the novel is the trade-off between happiness and freedom. The people are granted all the means to achieve happiness — sex, drugs, material possessions — but are denied the freedom to think for themselves.
Life in the World State is contrasted with that in “the Reservation,” which is inhabited by “Savages” who practice marriage, natural childbirth, family life and religion, and are allowed to make their own decisions and think for themselves.
Despite Modern Library rating “Brave New World” as the fifth best novel of the 20th century, Ireland banned the book from its date of publication, and came in third on the American Library Association’s 2010 list of most challenged books.
"Brideshead Revisited" by Evelyn Waugh (1945)
The story follows the protagonist Captain Charles Ryder’s life and affairs from the 1920s to the 1940s, with the Flytes, a high society Catholic family who reside in a mansion called Brideshead Castle. Ryder has relationships with two of the Flytes: Sebastian and Julia.
The novel’s themes include dependence-driven relationships, the complexities of religious faith, a hint of homosexuality and nostalgia for the age of English aristocracy.
The American Library Association included "Brideshead Revisited" on its list of banned and challenged classics. Without mentioning the book’s name, Alabama state Rep. Gerald Allen, a Republican, proposed a bill that would prohibit the use of public funds for the "purchase of textbooks or library materials that recognize or promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle."
"Catch-22" by Joseph Heller, (1961)
This is a satirical war novel set mainly on the Mediterranean island of Pianosa, and follows the fictional 256th US Army Air Squadron from 1942 to 1944. The story centers on Captain John Yossarian, a bombardier who desperately doesn’t want to die, but he’s prevented from leaving the service because of “Catch-22.”
It states that if a man is adjudged insane he should be relieved from flying missions. But the moment he says he’s afraid to fly any more missions he’s deemed sane and is therefore denied leave.
"That’s some catch, that Catch-22," Yossarian observed, illustrating the book’s primary theme: the absurdity of war.
In 1972, the Strongsville, Ohio school board removed "Catch-22" from school libraries and the curriculum, and it was challenged at the Dallas, Texas, Independent School District in 1974 and Snoqualmie, Washington in 1979.
"The Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger (1951)
This novel follows a 1950s New York adolescent boy struggling with complex issues of innocence, identity, belonging, loss, connection, sex, and depression.
Despite being included on Time Magazine's 2005 list of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923, and named by Modern Library as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century, “Catcher in the Rye" has been repeatedly removed from school reading lists over concerns of profanity, obscenity, and the negative role model of its protagonist, Holden Caulfield, who became a symbol of teenage rebellion.
The first controversy created by the book came in 1960, when a Tulsa, Okla., teacher was fired for assigning the book to her 11th grade English class. She was reinstated following an appeal — but the book remained banned.
It’s removal from school libraries and reading lists generally center on language, sexual references, blasphemy, rebellion, promotion of drinking, smoking, and sexual abuse.
"Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury, (1953)
This is the ultimate (or most ironic) book for this category of banned books, given that it describes a dystopian society in which all books have been banned. The fire department’s sole function in this future America is not to extinguish fires, but to burn books, and its title refers to the temperature at which book paper combusts.
In 1967 Ballantine Books actually censored "451" by removing obscenities and vulgarities and changing, for example "drink man" to "sick man," in what became known as the "Bal-Hi" edition. They continued until 1979 when it came to the author’s attention.
It’s also been removed from school reading lists and libraries for language, and most recently was challenged in Texas as being anti-religious because the Bible was a banned book in the novel.
"Flowers for Algernon" Daniel Keyes (1951)
Algernon is the name of a laboratory mouse with surgically-enhanced intelligence.
The story develops through a series of progress reports written by Charlie Gordon, a middle-aged mentally disabled man who is the first human subject for the surgery.
It touches on ethical and moral themes such as the treatment of the mentally disabled.
The book deals with Charlie’s altered perceptions of his relationships with family, friends, teachers and employers as his intelligence and understanding progresses.
"Flowers for Algernon" placed 43 on the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books of 1990-1999, most often because of Charlie’s struggles to understand and express his sexual desires.
"Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck (1937)
This novel is set in California during the Great Depression, and describes the struggles of two migrant farm workers — George Milton and Lennie Small — and their search for job opportunities.
The two make for a somewhat odd pair of characters. George is an intelligent but uneducated man, while Lennie is a bulky, strong man but mentally disabled.
Although the book is taught in many schools, it’s also been a frequent target of librarians and school censors for vulgarity, and what some consider offensive and racist language.
It was banned, for example, from use in classrooms at Skyline High School in Scottsboro, Alabama, in 1983 and in George County, Mississippi schools in 2002 because of the book's "profanity."
"Slaughterhouse-Five" by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
This is a science fiction-inspired anti-war novel that follows Billy Pilgrim, from his early life to his service as an American soldier and chaplain's assistant during World War II. He becomes a German prisoner of war, where he survives the allied firebombing of Dresden.
The book even became a Supreme Court subject in the case of Island Trees School District v. Pico, a 1982 case that held that "local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to 'prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.'"
"Slaughterhouse-Five’s" irreverent tone, obscene content and depictions of sex, use of profanity, and perceived heresy has made it a frequent target for censorship, and came in at 67 on the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books of 1990-1999.
"To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee (1960)
Despite its motifs of rape and bigotry, "Mockingbird" remains one of the most beloved novels of the 20th century because of its humor, warmth and nostalgia, as seen through the innocent eyes of six-year-old Jean Louise Finch, who’s nicknamed Scout.
It describes the criminal case of a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman in a small Alabama town during the Great Depression. His defense lawyer is Scout’s father, Atticus Finch, who has served as something of a moral hero for many readers and as a model of integrity for trial lawyers.
"To Kill a Mockingbird" is frequently challenged because of its themes of rape and use of profanity and racial slurs such as the n-word. But those very objections also contribute to its authenticity of early 20th century American life — especially in the south.
Michael Dorstewitz is a retired lawyer and has been a frequent contributor to BizPac Review and Liberty Unyielding. He is also a former U.S. Merchant Marine officer and an enthusiastic Second Amendment supporter who can often be found honing his skills at the range. Read Dorstewitz's Reports — More Here.
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