What does it take to get a book banned?



I MUST HAVE LED a sheltered life.

I grew up reading every book in The Hardy Boys series and all of the iterations of The Black Stallion.

His son.

His return.

His revenge.

If the black stallion was running, I was reading.

In fact the first important book I ever read was The Catcher in the Rye in college.

I figured it was important because my professor said it was.

Catcher wasn’t quite like anything I had ever read before.

It had sex.

It had four-letter words.

It had a little graphic violence from time to time.

And there wasn’t a black stallion running on any page.

I finished Catcher and suddenly felt worldly wise.

I knew things I had never even thought about before.

Little did I know that my preacher was preaching against it, my mother was praying for my lost and wayward soul because my sinful eyes had dared to discover words that had been fashioned in the fire and brimstone of hell, and the book burners were marching across the land looking to throw Catcher on top of their literary bonfires.

They wanted Catcher in the Rye banned.


Well, it seems parents, school districts, and a few assorted religious denominations objected to the novel’s profanity, lurid passages about sex, immorality, excessive violence, negativity, depiction of alcohol abuse, and, God forbid, those elements of Communism that had managed to weave their sordid propaganda into the book.

I found the sex.

I looked for it.

I found the profanity.

It wasn’t hard to track down.

I found the violence.

It didn’t shock me.

But never did I find anything linking Catcher to the Communist manifesto, real or imagined.

Looking back, it’s obvious that Catcher in the Rye violated every rule anyone has devised for the sole purpose of banning a book.

The Ku Klux Klan – as morally upright and religiously tolerant as any organization ever conceived by man – had the audacity to demand that school libraries in South Carolina burn John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.

It had way too much profanity, the Klan said.

Of course, profanity was also the reason book burners challenged Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath ran into trouble in North Carolina for using the Lord’s name in vain.

Apparently, Steinbeck was a real writing rascal.

Throughout the 1980s, New York, Texas, and South Carolina banned Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms because the prim, proper, and pious powers that be labeled the book “a sex novel.”


It was a reasonable question.

After all, the so-called “sex novel” did not have any explicit sex scenes anywhere between the covers.

And those opposed to high standards of old-fashioned, American morality, banned Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World in the classroom because, they said, Huxley was guilty of “making promiscuous sex look like fun.”

And if it was sex, and if it was fun, it had to be wrong.

No doubt about it.

A school district in Texas banned Moby Dick for the simple reason it “conflicted with their community values.”

My Friend Flicka was outlawed because, somewhere in the text, the author referred to a female dog as a “bitch.”

Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic was banned at an elementary school in Wisconsin because – and you won’t believe this – the kids’ book went so far as to “encourage children to break dishes so they won’t have to dry them.”

That’s about as depraved as you can get.

But just when you think you’ve seen it all, you haven’t.

Southern California, of all places, banned the Merriam Webster dictionary from classrooms for one reason.

The dictionary made one grave and unpardonable mistake.

Right there before God and everybody, it defined “oral sex.”

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