Best-selling Banned Books

Despite the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and religion, small-mindedness and ignorance fosters censorship attempting to replace conformity and blind allegiance to dogma in place of independent, critical analytical thinking. Holden Caulfield — who clearly spoke his mind — would certainly deem these censors as “phonies.” In the history of literature, fortunately, intelligence and freedom of choice prevail, as this list of best-selling banned book attests (dates noted are for original year of publication, not year of censorship):

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884). Deemed sexist and racist; frequent use of the n-word.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1969): Deemed obscene for the inclusion of certain definitions like “bed – a place for making love” and sexual slang words.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947): Certain passages were deemed as tasteless or unseemly, such as Anne’s sexual curiosity or mention of her sister’s menstruation.

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (1930): Deemed offensive and obscene for references to abortion and use of God’s name in vain.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X with Alex Haley (1965). Deemed filthy and racist for its use of language and its criticism of racism.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932). Accused of being sordid, immoral, and obsene, vilifying the family, promoting promiscuity and drug use.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951). This book ranks as one of the most frequently banned books. Holden Caulfield as the true bad boy of literature is a magnet for censors all across the country. The book has been singled out for its obscene language (785 uses of profanity), promotion of the f-word, premarital sex, homosexuality, perversion — and communism. It has been called obscene, explicitly pornographic, immoral, filthy and profane, and negative. For adolescents these are all badges of honor — no wonder it is a staple of high school required reading lists and has sold over 65 million copies.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953). Perhaps one of the most ironic censorships, since the book was itself an indictment of censorship. From 1967 to 1979, over 75 passages were cleansed of obscene words like “hell” “damn” and “abortion.” The complete unexpurgated version has only been available after 1980.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954): Deemed pessimistic, brutal, demoralizing, rascist, and obscene.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (1937): This book ranks as the second most frequently banned books. The novel is accused of using obscene and vulgar language, using God’s name in vain, use of racial slurs, lurid passages about sex, morbid and depressing themes, and too much violence.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960): The book has been described by censors as a “filthy, trashy novel” filled with offensive language and frequent use of the n-word.


For further reading: Banned Books: Literature Suppressed on Social Grounds by Dawn Sova, Facts on File (1998)

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