Politics, sex and religion are probably the three worst topics for a polite dinner party. They’re also the three biggest reasons books are still challenged and eventually banned today. First, what’s the difference between a challenge and a ban? A challenge, usually made by parents or political officials with their underwear in a twist, is the first step in removing or restricting certain materials, whereas a ban is the ultimate goal of these fun haters. Imagine the situation in North Korea where normal books don’t exist. Next think of all the soccer moms trying to prevent their kids from reading Fifty Shades of Grey (wouldn’t it be easier if they tossed the copy on their nightstand?), or a local PTA group outside an elementary school rallying to stop the evil influence of Harry Potter and his friends. Surely it has’t been like this since the start – has it?
With the leaps and bounds humans have made to treat one another more kindly, you might be surprised to learn that these reasons haven’t changed all that much in a very long time. Despite progress, people are still as up in arms about political subversion, hyper sexuality and blasphemy as they ever were. Since these incendiary topics seem to naturally pique our interest, it’s no wonder that banned books are often the most fun to read, but is one topic more volatile than the others? Let’s look at some formerly and currently banned books and see what all the fuss is about.
Politics: Animal Farm – George Orwell (1945)
What could be so bad about a bunch of talking animals working on a farm? Nothing until politics is brought into play. Considered too controversial to be published during wartime for being critical of the U.S.S.R., Animal Farm is also tough on corrupt leaders. This may explain why the book is still banned in Cuba and North Korea.
Sex: Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
We’re not just talking about sex when we talk about Lolita, we’re talking about obsession. Specifically, a middle-aged man obsessed with a twelve-year-old girl. Though the sex scenes are never graphically depicted, the idea of pedophilia and the corruption of the innocent was enough for France to ban the book a year after its release. The French were not alone, however, and Lolita has also been banned in Canada, the United Kingdom, Argentina, New Zealand and South Africa.
Religion: The Satanic Verses – Salman Rushdie (1988)
While many books have been banned in many countries for many reasons, few have caused uproar sufficient enough to call for the murder of the author. That’s just what happened when the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death on February 14, 1989 (I think I’d rather have a candy heart for Valentine’s Day) for alleged blasphemy against Islam. Though Rushdie is alive today, the threat is still taken seriously as several attacks have taken place, resulting in the death of translator Hitoshi Igarashi. The book is still banned in fifteen countries.
It looks like religion deserves to be labeled as the top taboo. In other words, say what you will about my country, do what you like to my sons and daughters, but don’t you dare talk about my god.
What are some of your favorite banned books?