September 22nd-28th is Banned Books week, and we at Verbal are sneaking a peek in the pages of the most radical and rebellious books ever to be scored from the library catalogue.


As Ray Bradbury once wrote, ‘A book is a loaded gun.’ Throughout the history of the printed word, books have been censured by schools, libraries, the media, and even governments for the controversial ideas or radical language contained therein. 


Perhaps the most notorious case of attempted book banning is that of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which was the centre of a landmark obscenity case. Originally published in Italy in 1928, the book was targeted by the Obscene Publications Act 1959 when Penguin books published it in Britain in 1960. The story, which is about a love affair between an upper-class woman and her gardener, is notable for its frank depiction of sex and uninhibited use of four-letter words, which at the time were considered unprintable. Chief Prosecutor Mervyn Griffith-Jones infamously asked the jury “Is this this a book you would wish your wife or servants to read?”, interpreted by the public and the media as the prosecution being out-of-touch. Penguin Books was found not guilty on the basis of literary merit and dedicated the 1961 second edition to the jury. Lady Chatterley’s Loverwas also banned or challenged in Canada, the USA, Australia, Japan, and India; it has since been adapted for TV, film, radio, and the stage in several countries.


Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Versescaused its own stir upon its publication in 1988. Percived by some to have references which were blasphemous in the Muslim faith, the book was banned and protested in Pakistan, India, and Iran. The anger against Rushdie reached its apex when Ayatollah Khomeini called for his death, leading to translators and other publishing staff connected to Rushdie to be attacked and, in the case of his Japanese translator Hitoshi Igarashi, killed. Rushdie, who was the target of several failed assassination attempts, was placed under 24-hour police protection and The Satanic Verses was nominated for the Booker Prize and won the 1988 Whitbread Prize for novel of the year.


Not even children’s literature is safe from the censor’s pen. Though JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series are among the most successful novels ever published, they are also among the most challenged according to the American Library Association. Religious groups have objected to the series’ depiction of magic, interpreting the wizarding world as an endorsement of the occult. Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark topped the ALA’s list of most challenged books from 1990-99 due to the frightening content of the book and in particular Stephen Gammell’s iconic illustrations. Even Dr Seuss has been the target of library challenges: his environmental allegory The Lorax was temporarily banned from public schools in California for reasons of ‘propaganda’. Perhaps most egregiously of all, Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl has been banned in several US schools variously for being sexually explicit, excessively tragic, and in the case of the Alabama State Textbook Committee, ‘a real downer’.


Banned Books week is a great time to reflect on the power of ideas and the strength of the written word. What’s your favourite banned book?