A Banned Books Week Reading List

It’s Banned Books Week! As an English major and lifelong book nerd, I’ve read my share of controversial books – and because I grew up in a fairly conservative part of the country, some of those books had even more appeal because of their contraband status. Here are some of my favorite banned books:

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

To be honest, I’m always mystified that anyone would ban this book. It touches many of the most important issues in our lives: family, love, fear, class, race, and more. Just reading the line “Jean Louise, stand up, your father is passin’” makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.

Lois Lowry, The Giver

It’s a beautiful, if tragic, parable about the way we go through life not really seeing what’s around us. And what adolescent kid doesn’t feel like they hold all the misery of the entire world inside of them?

Vladmir Nabokov, Lolita

Subject matter nonwithstanding, this is a beautifully written book. The first chapter borrows from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee,” and Nabokov manages to make the main characters about so much more than just their sexuality.

Katherine Paterson, Bridge to Terabithia

I won’t spoil this book for you if you haven’t read it, but the reason one of my teachers gave me for not reading it was “it’ll make you cry.” However, not everything that makes you cry is bad – sometimes those tears can be moving. Paterson is a top notch young adult writer – I also highly recommend Jacob Have I Loved, banning or no banning.

John Knowles, A Separate Peace

Find me a fourteen year old who didn’t have a sarcastic phase, a la the characters in this book. Yeah, that’s what I thought. Plus, this is my mom’s favorite book, so it deserves a shoutout just for that.

Do you have a favorite banned book? (You can view a partial list of books that are often banned or censored here). Tell us yours in the comments and we’ll see if there are enough people to do a book club.

Share This Post:
    • Eileen

      Tell your mom that I think she’s totally awesome for listing A Separate Peace as her favorite book. You could also tell her that it’s based on a short story John Knowles wrote called “Phineas,” which is just different enough to be worth reading even if you’ve read ASP enough times to have it more or less memorized.

    • Lindsay Cross

      Beloved. Toni Morrison is a simply amazing writer and everyone needs to read her work at some point in time. I actually began with The Bluest Eye. But Beloved is a hauntingly beautiful, if incredibly tragic book. It’s difficult to get through, but that doesn’t mean that high school students shouldn’t have access to Pulitzer Prize winning novel.

    • Lizzy

      How to Eat Fried Worms. That was an awesome book (at least when I read it in second grade it was), though I did like The Giver quite a bit.

    • porkchop

      A Separate Peace IS awesome. I didn’t like the short story version because Finny claims to have slept with a girl, which is ridiculous. The novel is much better, like when Finny is kind of teasing Gene for worrying people will think he’s a fairy :) Does your mom know that some of the characters are based on real people? Brinker is modeled on Gore Vidal :D

      My favorite on the list is Catch-22 because the reason given is: “several references to women as ‘whores’.” Yeah, try several hundred references! But all those women WERE whores! But wait, what about the 12 year olds? Were they whores? Well, yes, because while Milo claimed they were 12, they were actually over 30.

      Telling people not to read Catch-22 is right up there with yelling “Fire” in a crowded theater. Putting people in peril of being trampled to death by illiteracy shouldn’t be protected speech.

      • Eileen

        Maybe it was just me, but I never got any homoerotic anything between Gene and Finny. They just seemed like friends who loved each other. I didn’t find it at all ridiculous that Phineas might have had sex with a girl, if for no other reason than general curiosity (which I’ll freely admit was the driving force between my own teenage sexual encounters).

      • porkchop

        Eileen–one of my favorite things about ASP is that Finny and Gene’s relationship isn’t really defined, and they also don’t really avoid defining it, so it could really be anything, and all interpretations work (AHH! that book is so good!). I saw plenty of gay stuff in there, and after reading it a few times, I learned that John Knowles said they were “in love.” So, when I read the short story, I was like, no, no no….

    • Allyson

      Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret was one of the books that stick out in my head that I ready back in elementary school days. I was lucky enough to live in a liberal county that didn’t ban the book and even did a book report on it in 3rd grade! Everyone pre-teen girl should have a chance to read Judy Blume. I get so angry when I see this list and think of all the incredible books kids are missing out on.

    • Meg

      You Americans ban some weird shit. Bridge to Terabithia? REALLY?

    • _*rachel*_

      I read A Separate Peace twice, but it’s not one of the ones I like. I did, however, quite enjoy To Kill a Mockingbird and The Giver.

      Two of my favorite banned/advocated for banning: Speak and Fahrenheit 451 (which, as everyone who’s read it will tell you, is rather amusing considering it’s a book about banned books).