The Most Ridiculous Claims Used to Challenge Classic Novels


This morning, the American Library Association released its study of the most frequently challenged books of 2012, a list that includes classics and YA touchstones alike. But, of course, books have been challenged, banned, and removed from school curricula for years, and sometimes for the silliest (at least in retrospect) of reasons. At the ALA’s website, we found a list of some of the reasons behind the historical challenges of classic novels, and while some of them seem like run-of-the-mill complaints (parents do not like naughty language), others are frankly absurd. Seriously, if these books were this scandalous, we think we’d remember. After the jump, we’ve culled a few of our outrageous favorites from the ALA’s list. Scoff or agree, but read on.

The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

In 1963, parents in Columbus OH petitioned the school board to ban the novel, calling it “anti-white” and “obscene.” Anti-white?

In 1988, it was challenged at a high school in Linton-Stockton, IN because it is “blasphemous and undermines morality.”

In 1993, the novel was challenged as required reading in the Corona Norco, CA Unified School District because it is “centered around negative activity.” That is called conflict, Californians. We know it’s hard to deal with.

In 2001, Salinger’s classic was removed by a Dorchester District 2 school board member in Summerville, SC because it “is a filthy, filthy book.”

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

In 1980, the book was challenged in the Vernon Verona Sherill, NY School District by those who called it a “filthy, trashy novel.”

In 1996, the book was banned from the Lindale, TX advanced placement English reading list because it “conflicted with the values of the community.” Which values, we wonder?

In 2006, it was challenged at the Brentwood, TN Middle School by those who contended (among other things) that the book’s use of racial slurs incites “racial hatred, racial division, racial separation, and promotes white supremacy.” But wait, because the book’s message is, um, the exact opposite of that, actually.

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

In 1992, the book was banned in the Souderton, PA Area School District because it is “smut.”

The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

In 1981, the book was challenged at a high school in Owen, NC for being “demoralizing inasmuch as it implies that man is little more than an animal.” Well, you guys — that is kind of the point.

Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

In 1989, Steinbeck’s novel was challenged as a summer youth program reading assignment in Chattanooga, TN because “Steinbeck is known to have had an anti business attitude.” Also, “he was very questionable as to his patriotism.” Well, his books must be trash, then.

In 1992, a coalition of community members and clergy in Mobile, AL challenged the book on charges of “profanity” and “morbid and depressing themes.”

In 2003, the book was challenged in the Normal, IL Community High Schools on account of the fact that it “does not represent traditional values.” (Kind of on the nose for a town called “Normal,” eh?)

In 2007, a parent called the novel a “worthless, profanity-riddled book” which is “derogatory towards African Americans, women, and the developmentally disabled.” The Olathe, KS high school kept assigning it anyway. We think posterity would disagree on that “worthless” bit.

A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway

In 1980, Hemingway’s classic was challenged at the Vernon Verona Sherill, NY School District as a “sex novel.”

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey

In 1974, five residents of Strongsville, OH, sued the board of education to get them to remove the novel from school curricula, on account of it being “pornographic,” and a book that “glorifies criminal activity, has a tendency to corrupt juveniles and contains descriptions of bestiality, bizarre violence, and torture, dismemberment, death, and human elimination.” We don’t remember any of this.

In 1986, the book was challenged as part of the curriculum for a honors English class in an Aberdeen, WA high school because the it promotes “secular humanism.” The school board voted to keep the book in class anyway.

In 2000, parents of students in Placentia-Yorba Linda, CA complained that teachers “can choose the best books, but they keep choosing this garbage over and over again.” Maybe there’s a reason?

Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence

Mere verbal complaints weren’t enough for Oklahoma City group Mothers United for Decency, who in 1961 hired a trailer, calling it the “smutmobile” and used it to display books they objected to, including Sons and Lovers. We’re willing to bet the farm that more than one Mother spent a little time inside the trailer reading that “smut” with interest.

Animal Farm, by George Orwell

Challenged in New York State English classrooms in the ’60s because “Orwell was a communist.” How quaint.

Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

In 1972, the book was banned in Rochester, MI because it “contains and makes references to religious matters.” Touchy!

In 1985, the book was challenged at the Owensboro, KY High School library because of “foul language, a section depicting a picture of an act of bestiality, a reference to ‘Magic Fingers’ attached to the protagonist’s bed to help him sleep, and the sentence: ‘The gun made a ripping sound like the opening of the fly of God Almighty.'” Foul language and bestiality we get, but how can you hate on Magic Fingers?