10 Banned Books Everyone Should Read

In honor of Banned Book Week, crack open (or re-read) one of these classics.

Every year the American Library Association, along with other organizations such as the American Booksellers Association and National Council of Teachers of English, celebrate the freedom to read with Banned Books Week. This year from September 25 through October 1, bookstores, libraries, and communities will highlight the books that have been challenged and banned throughout the years. Show your support by picking up whichever book ignites your curiosity. Here are 10 to get you started.


To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

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Considered by many to be one of the best novels of the 20th century (it won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize, after all), Harper Lee’s story of a white lawyer fighting for the justice of a black man, has faced many challengers over the years for its subject matter, profane language, and racial slurs. In 1966, the Hanover County School Board in Virginia voted to remove all copies of the book from the county’s school libraries because they deemed it “immoral literature.” When Lee heard of the motion, she responded with a letter that was published by The Richmond News Leader. “Recently I have received echoes down this way of the Hanover County School Board's activities, and what I've heard makes me wonder if any of its members can read,” she wrote. “Surely it is plain to the simplest intelligence that To Kill a Mockingbird spells out in words of seldom more than two syllables a code of honor and conduct, Christian in its ethic, that is the heritage of all Southerners.” She sure did have a way with words.

To buy: $9, amazon.com.


The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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The Baptist College in Charleston, South Carolina, challenged the 1925 classic in 1987 because of the “language and sexual references in the book.” Clearly high school teachers didn’t agree: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s timeless tale of the fragility of the American Dream continues to be required reading across the country.

To buy: $10, amazon.com.


Lady Chatterley's Lover, by D.H. Lawrence

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Long before Fifty Shades of Grey, there was D.H. Lawrence’s 1928 story of a torrid love affair between an upper class woman and a working-class man. The book was found to be so scandalous that it was banned by U.S. customs from 1929 to 1959 and banned in countries such as Ireland, Poland, Australia, Japan, India, and China, where it was feared the novel would “corrupt the minds of young people.” An uncensored version wasn’t available in the U.K. until 1960. When the book did become available, London bookstores sold out of the racy read in minutes.

To buy: $13, amazon.com.


Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell

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Even Scarlet O’Hara can’t la-di-da her way out of this one. Margaret Mitchell’s 960-page Civil War opus was banned from an Anaheim, California school district in 1978 for the 1936 novel’s depiction of slaves in the antebellum South and for Scarlet’s immoral behavior.

To buy: $15, amazon.com.


Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

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How’s this for irony: one of the most-assigned books in school is also one of the most challenged books. Published in 1951, the seminal coming-of-age tale, which follows a troubled 16-year-old boy over three days, has been “a favorite target of censors,” according to the American Library Association ever since. In 1960, a teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma was fired for assigning the book to an 11th grade English class. While the teacher appealed and was reinstated by the school board, the book was still banned. Over the years, The Catcher in the Rye has been removed from required reading in schools in states such as Washington, Alabama, North Dakota, and Florida because of the book’s profane language (parents objected to the use of the “F” word) and sexual references. One school board member in Summerville, South Carolina called it a “filthy, filthy book” as recently as 2001.

To buy: $9, amazon.com.


Beloved, by Toni Morrison

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The Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece about a mother haunted by her young child’s death has been challenged repeatedly since it was published in 1987. With brutal depictions of slavery and violence, discussions of bestiality, and sexual content, school boards and parents have tried to remove Beloved from school reading lists even as recently as 2013 in Fairfax County, Virginia.

To buy: $13, amazon.com.


The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

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The epic trilogy follows the fight between good and evil over a powerful, magical ring. A group of church members in New Mexico even went so far as to burn the book in 2001 because they found it satanic. Many found their outrage ironic as Tolkien was a devout Christian and many scholars have drawn parallels between his work and Christian teachings.

To buy: $ 12, amazon.com.


The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

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Rape, incest, violence. There’s no shortage of difficult material in Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning novel. Told through a series of diary entries and letters, The Color Purple follows the lives of black women living in the South in the 1930s. The book has been challenged by schools across the country since its publication in 1982, including in Newport News, Virginia where it was removed from the open shelves at the school library in 1986 for its “profanity and sexual references.” The book wasn’t completely banned, though. Students over the age of 18 or students who had written permission from a parent could still check the book out.

To buy: $9, amazon.com.


The Awakening, by Kate Chopin

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Published in 1899, Kate Chopin’s story of a woman, Edna Pontellier, who decides that her love of painting is more important than her social responsibilities was revolutionary for its time. According to the American Library Association, the novel so disturbed critics and the public that it was banished for decades. More recently, the book was challenged in 2011 because the cover, which depicts a painting of a woman’s bare chest, “upset the patron” of an Oconee, Georgia library.

To buy: $7, amazon.com.


Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

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Offensive language has landed the American classic on banned books lists for decades. Other reasons for banning include using the Lord’s name in vain, sexual undertones, and—as in Duval County, Florida and Olathe, Kansas—for derogatory statements towards African Americans, women, and the developmentally disabled.

To buy: $5, amazon.com.