It’s Banned Books Week, so here at Dirge HQ we have crawled out of the dungeon, polled our writers, and put together this list of ten banned books we love. Some of our favorite banned books were covered in our list of ten sexy books we put together for Lord Commander John Waters’s birthday, and in our authors for rebel intellects list, so make sure to give those a read as well.
The Harry Potter Series
Remember when all the crazy right-wingers were acting like Kathy Bates in The Waterboy? “Harry Potter is THE DEBBIL! It promotes witchcraft and sorcery and Satanism!” While some people might think J.K. Rowling must have made a pact with Lucifer, the message of Harry Potter is one of friendship, acceptance, and ultimately love, which really is the most malicious thing in the world, so maybe they were on to something.
The Color Purple
Alice Walker’s seminal novel The Color Purple (which won both the Pulitzer and National Book Award) has been critically acclaimed since its release, and has been adapted into a highly-regarded film and successful musical. It has also been banned often due to its depictions of violence, lesbianism, and the disruption of traditional gender roles. This book is full of strong women subverting gender roles, discovering themselves, and showing the disparity between women and men around the world, and in particular, the African-American community in the South of the 1930s. Women still struggle for equality today, and the feminist message of The Color Purple is still relevant.
One of Toni Morrison’s most popular novels, Beloved is the story of Sethe, an escaped slave, and her daughter Denver, attempting to start over outside the bonds of slavery. But this book deals heavily with mother-daughter relationships, hauntings, ghosts of memory, and the horrible realities of surviving the unsurvivable. The discussions of bestiality, graphic violence, and sexual content (both violent and not) have caused this Pulitzer-winning book to be banned often by those too afraid to confront the ghosts of this country’s past. It’s a beautifully written, haunting book, and if you’ve wanted to read Toni Morrison but haven’t yet, start here.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Even if you haven’t read Stephen Chbosky’s bildungsroman, you have probably heard about it, or at least the film adaptation starring Hermione Granger. I mean, Emma Watson. It’s technically a book for and about adolescents, but the themes it tackles are universal and heavy, including drug use, suicide, and first sexual experiences. Of course, people freak out at the thought of their perfect children reading about these things, and the book has been banned many times. If you’ve ever felt like an outcast, struggled with depression, or just questioned your existence, you should read this book.
In Cold Blood
Truman Capote’s take on true crime is a masterwork of truth, narrative, and fiction. It can also be completely terrifying, with its matter-of-fact and brutal descriptions of the murder of the Clutter family. Add in additional violence, bad language, and sex, and you’ve got a book handmade for Dirge readers, and ripe for the banning. While In Cold Blood is based on true events and actual people, Capote’s writing is lyrical and prosaic; the narrative he weaves is incredible. There have been several film and television adaptations, but just trust me: read it. You won’t be able to put it down, no matter how disturbing it becomes.
This long line, three part poem by Allen Ginsberg is considered one of the greatest works of American literature, which is amazing since most people proclaim, loudly, to hate poetry. But this is not your typical poem. Howl is seminal, not only for its content, but for the obscenity trial Ginsberg underwent after its publishing. The graphic depictions of sex, particularly homosexual acts, drug use, and the treatment of the mentally ill sent the nation into a tizzy. Thankfully, the judge ruled that there was merit to the poem, and the case was dismissed. If you only know the opening lines, read the whole thing. It will take you less than an hour, and your life will be better for it.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover
Things are getting steamy over here, thanks to D.H. Lawrence’s classic novel about cheating on your paralyzed, rich husband with the lowly gamekeeper. After her husband is paralyzed from the waist down in an already shitty marriage, Lady Chatterley takes a lower-class man as her lover. Lady Chatterley’s Lover was published in 1932, and its graphic depictions of sex and the differences in social status in England immediately caused controversy, and a redacted version was published. When Penguin published the full manuscript in 1960 in England, the company was subjected to an obscenity trial, much like Ginsberg. And, much like Ginsberg, Penguin was cleared of the charges. So get yourself a copy and lock yourself in your room tonight while you, ahem, enjoy it.
Of course, a book about burning and banning books WOULD become a banned book because people who like censorship are usually too dumb to grasp irony. Fahrenheit 451 is the story of Guy Montag, a firefighter charged with burning books in a world that no longer values literature, and prefers to absorb all their information via television. That doesn’t sound familiar at all. Ray Bradbury’s dystopian sci-fi novel has come horrifically true in a lot of ways, with many glued to their various screens at all times. Ultimate irony: reading this book on a Kindle.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
Alison Bechdel, creator of The Bechdel Test, wrote this graphic novel-memoir about sexual identity, suicide, abuse, and family. Fun Home was recently turned into a Tony-winning Broadway musical, but that doesn’t mean it has avoided controversy. The narrative is non-linear, and the narrator is attempting to understand her own sexuality and history in the context of her troubled family’s history. Because of its format (graphic novel) and subject matter, it has been banned for fear that children will read it, because kids reading and asking questions about sexuality and death is just THE WORST THING. Horrifying. While it has been deemed “pornographic,” in actuality, it is a story anyone who has strained familial relations, or who has questioned their place in their family, can relate to, the sex is just a bonus (and honestly there’s not that much of it).
The Handmaid’s Tale
Margaret Atwood’s dystopian, feminist, speculative sci-fi novel is a classic. Set in a future North America where the extremely Christian government has denied freedom of religion, and divided women into classes, The Handmaid’s Tale is a horrifying look at what happens when power is corrupted by extremists. Offred, the narrator, is a “handmaid,” basically a sex slave, who is only supposed to have sex with her master, Fred, during religious ceremonies to get her pregnant and keep the population going. Atwood’s mastery of the layers of oppression women face in the book, and what they do to gain power, are just loud echoes of the things women experience, live with, and do every single day. You can probably see exactly why it has been banned before, but it is an absolutely vital book to read, particularly in the current political climate we live in. Make sure you read the epilogue.
All book cover images from their Amazon pages. Header photo of Allen Ginsberg from The New York Times.