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What are Some of the Most Commonly Banned Books Today?

By O. Wallace
Updated May 23, 2024
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Since the beginning of the written word, books and authors that have been deemed “anti-establishment,” “inflammatory,” “corruptive,” and “vulgar” have been censored or banned by governments, libraries and schools around the world. Even democratic countries with constitutionally protected free speech, such as the United States, have its own list of frequently banned books. Banned books exist for many reasons: oppressive governments, theocracies, and protective parents and teachers. While the reasons behind banning books may be as repugnant as suppressing free thought and healthy debate, or as seemingly innocent as a concerned parent, history has shown that where there is literature and expression through writing, there is censorship.

Religion is possibly one of the primary reasons that books are banned today, and through history. The Bible and the Quran, quite possibly the most popular books of all time, are two of the most frequently banned books. Even today, some countries ban or attempt to control use of the Bible. Many religious institutions, such as the Catholic Church, have banned books that may stir dissent and challenge doctrine.

Governments have long tried to control what the public reads in the interest of maintaining control. Classic works such as Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man and Jack London’s Call of the Wild were banned for their “subversive” and “radical” beliefs. For ages, governments have been keenly interested in defining and regulating their version of obscenity, which as a result, has led to many challenges of books. D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Confessions, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Aristophanes' Lysistrata, Voltaire’s Candide and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales were all once banned due to “lewd” or “obscene” material.

While banning books continues today throughout the world, and even in the U.S., the government has a much less active roll in banning books. Most libraries will still carry banned books, or face loss of funding. Individual school districts may choose to remove certain books from their curriculum either due to the choice of the school board, or due to pressure from parents. Parents make up a large part of the impetus behind banning specific books, in large part due to their desire to protect their child from what they perceive as sexually or criminally corruptive material in books.

Several agencies, such as the American Library Association (ALA), work to heighten awareness of banned books, and ensure that these books are still available to the population to read if they choose to. While for the most part, their stance is that while parents have the right to decide what is appropriate for their child, government agencies should not decide, and should not bar access to these books no matter what the logic behind it is.

The following is a top ten list of banned books in the U.S. There are many sites that include a top 100 list of currently banned books, and previously banned books. Several beloved classics, such as J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time series, Maurice Sendak’s In the Night’s Kitchen, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic, and Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach don’t make it into this list, but are among the most banned books of the past.

Most currently banned books:

  • Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz
  • Daddy's Roommate by Michael Willhoite
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  • Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
  • Forever by Judy Blume
  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  • Alice (Series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
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Discussion Comments
By jessiwan — On Oct 29, 2013

"Often, banned books lists can also serve as recommended reading for people feeling more subversive." This put a smile on my face.

"I always go out of my way to get any book that is banned, especially by the US government."

Excellent idea. Not only should you do that, you should actually go out to the real world and encourage others to do the same. Anyway, I can't believe Harry Potter is banned.

By anon333886 — On May 08, 2013

Banning books increases sales. I always go out of my way to get any book that is banned, especially by the US government. I would never have read "Satanic Verses" if it had not been banned in Iran. Governments always have something to hide and I want to know those things.

By watson42 — On Jan 23, 2011

No matter how much we realize that banning books leads only to people not knowing things they really ought to know, people seem to continue to argue for the limiting of children's reading lists. In recent years, though, I have started to wonder if the parents who support book banning pay nearly as much attention to what their kids watch on television or do on the internet.

By afterall — On Jan 21, 2011

Of the commonly banned books listed at the end of this article, I have read five, and I really feel they are some of the best books I have ever read. The Chocolate War, for example, is a dark look at private school life, while Harry Potter is so imaginative and really had a strong impact on my middle school and high school years. I also notice that A Wrinkle in Time is mentioned, perhaps one of my favorite books ever. I love the strength of her characters, and that in her time L'Engle was one of the first to write a science fiction book with a female hero. Often, banned books lists can also serve as recommended reading for people feeling more subversive.

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