Kirk has laid down the challenge. And tagged me.

He’s given us a list, in anticipation of Banned Books Week from September 27 to October 4, 2008, of the 100 books (and in some cases series) that were most frequently challenged as to whether they should be banned from our libraries here in the United States from 1990-2000. 

The challenge to bloggers? 

Count how many of the books on the list you’ve read, and then pick one you haven’t read before and read it during Banned Books Week and share your thoghts on the blog. 


First, here is his list. It’s 100 books, so yeah, it’s long.

  1. Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz
  2. Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite
  3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  4. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
  5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  6. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  7. Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
  8. Forever by Judy Blume
  9. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  10. Alice (Series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
  11. Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
  12. My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
  13. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  14. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  15. It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
  16. Goosebumps (Series) by R.L. Stine
  17. A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
  18. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  19. Sex by Madonna
  20. Earth’s Children (Series) by Jean M. Auel
  21. The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
  22. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  23. Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
  24. Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
  25. In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
  26. The Stupids (Series) by Harry Allard
  27. The Witches by Roald Dahl
  28. The New Joy of Gay Sex by Charles Silverstein
  29. Anastasia Krupnik (Series) by Lois Lowry
  30. The Goats by Brock Cole
  31. Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
  32. Blubber by Judy Blume
  33. Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
  34. Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam
  35. We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier
  36. Final Exit by Derek Humphry
  37. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  38. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
  39. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  40. What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters by Lynda Madaras
  41. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  42. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  43. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  44. The Pigman by Paul Zindel
  45. Bumps in the Night by Harry Allard
  46. Deenie by Judy Blume
  47. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
  48. Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden
  49. The Boy Who Lost His Face by Louis Sachar
  50. Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat by Alvin Schwartz
  51. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
  52. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  53. Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)
  54. Asking About Sex and Growing Up by Joanna Cole
  55. Cujo by Stephen King
  56. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
  57. The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell
  58. Boys and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
  59. Ordinary People by Judith Guest
  60. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
  61. What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons by Lynda Madaras
  62. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
  63. Crazy Lady by Jane Conly
  64. Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher
  65. Fade by Robert Cormier
  66. Guess What? by Mem Fox
  67. The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
  68. The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
  69. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  70. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  71. Native Son by Richard Wright
  72. Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Fantasies by Nancy Friday
  73. Curses, Hexes and Spells by Daniel Cohen
  74. Jack by A.M. Homes
  75. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo A. Anaya
  76. Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle
  77. Carrie by Stephen King
  78. Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
  79. On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
  80. Arizona Kid by Ron Koertge
  81. Family Secrets by Norma Klein
  82. Mommy Laid An Egg by Babette Cole
  83. The Dead Zone by Stephen King
  84. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  85. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  86. Always Running by Luis Rodriguez
  87. Private Parts by Howard Stern
  88. Where’s Waldo? by Martin Hanford
  89. Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
  90. Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman
  91. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  92. Running Loose by Chris Crutcher
  93. Sex Education by Jenny Davis
  94. The Drowning of Stephen Jones by Bette Greene
  95. Girls and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
  96. How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
  97. View from the Cherry Tree by Willo Davis Roberts
  98. The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
  99. The Terrorist by Caroline Cooney
  100. Jump Ship to Freedom by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier

And now, the books on this list that I have already read, at some point or other.

  1. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
  2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  3. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  4. Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
  5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  6. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  7. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
  8. Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)
  9. Cujo by Stephen King
  10. The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell
  11. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
  12. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  13. Carrie by Stephen King
  14. The Dead Zone by Stephen King
  15. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

So, those are the ones I’ve read from the list. Amusingly enough, many of the books that are famous for teens being made to read them in high school, such as Salingers’ The Catcher in the Rye, I never bothered to read. Literature. Pfah.

Any of those books that a teacher would tell a class “You really should read, it’s very powerful”, I blew off because it was obvious it was a book that was supposed to clue my little oblivious spoiled pampered butt into how hard other generations had it, or how terrible other people had suffered, or how good my life was, or how easy my life was. 

I grew up a stupid dirt poor white kid in downtown Miami, amidst gang violence and lots o’ fun. A subject I have written about and deleted at least three times in blog posts in the last year. It’s funny, I can never quite get any of it to sound cheerful. And since it is all past BS that doesn’t have anything to do with the now, I just delete ‘em.

But it always struck me that what the teachers thought I should read to clue ME in, said a lot about what they had never experienced in their own lives. I’m sure they were powerful revelations. When you are already quite familiar with dealing with your own crap, seeing how others deal with it can be an inspiration, but it’s not that powerful of a personal transformation. Of Mice and Men I sought out on my own, nobody told me to.

I was mostly more into books that inspired me to set goals to get OUT of my current environment, thank you very much. Or, to be perfectly honest, books that took me to places that helped me escape thinking about where I was day to day.

People call some books “escapist fantasy”, as if that’s a bad thing. To those people, may I humbly suggest the next time you are in a shitload of pain, that you tell the doctor that you are refusing all pain medication, because it is nobler for you to endure it stoicly, with your mind focused on the present. It’s good for you.

At the very least, I’LL be amused.

So, I read only a few books on the list. I’m positive that I should now pull the stick out of my butt and read The Catcher in the Rye, and some of the others. Childish reasons for being pissy at teachers no longer hold much weight, and a classic doesn’t become that way because it was shallow.

Well, maybe the Great Gatsby.

Most of what I read in school had less to do with schoolwork, and more about distracting myself.  I prowled the shelves of the public library in Miami, looking for anything to read to distract me, and I’d already burned through all the fiction, sci-fi and fantasy they had. Which in the ’70s wasn’t much.

Hey, a funny side note there… I never paid much attention to, or had any interest in, the names of those people that wrote books when I was very young, 8 to 11ish. I prowled the stacks of books, grabbed 8 to 12 at a time based on the covers and descriptions, and took them home. I’d return in a day or two for another stack.

Here I am, decades later, and I am still finding myself prowling the library, looking for books that sound interesting. And I’ll find myself reading a cover blurb, getting excited, taking the book home… and getting halfway through the book before realizing I’ve read it once before.

And every single time, it irritates the heck out of me that I literally make it halfway through the book before I realize, “Hey… I’ve read this before. Damn it!”

On the other hand, sometimes I’ll read one, realize it’s one I really liked, and take pleasure in knowing how to actually search for more books by the same author now.

One book of that nature, was Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars, a book I had read a LONG time ago, and whose incredibly wierd concepts had long stayed with me.

Imagine my delight when, as an adult, I think to suddenly check Amazon to see if they had ever heard of this obscure childrens’ book from the late 1970s, and find that the writer, Daniel Pinkwater, had released it as well as three other books in a single volume.

Anarchist that I am, I bought a copy so my son could have his mind bent when he is old enough to read.

Anyway, let me get back to Kirk’s challenge.

I look at that list, and I laugh at the childish fears on display. The list says a lot to me about what people in this country are afraid of.

But the books they are targeting to fight against reveal their ignorance. What they should fear the most are those people that like to think, that like to study and learn and keep an open mind, and books that challenge them to look at the world around them in new ways, and a new perspective. 

Because those of us that think are the ones that can debate them from logic and use reasoned discourse to challenge the basis on which they want to shut down ideas and halt the spread of information based on their own limited world view.

No, the books they really need to try and ban are ones like Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars, that, while completely light hearted and funny, also makes you see the world from a wildly different point of view… and gets under your skin, making you wonder about the world around you, and the hidden depths other people may have within them, the secret histories that have nothing to do with stereotypes (or the modern euphemism, profiling).

And better yet, they should be outraged that such a mentally challenging book made it’s way into the children’s section of a library. Score one for that procurer of books, whoever they were. Assuming it was vhosen on purpose, and wasn’t just a happy accident. Subversive, that’s what such books are. I love that word. Subversive. What a great word.

Another book that they should fear, that isn’t on the list, is the Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. There’s a trilogy of books (I had the single bound volume of all three) that will seriously open your eyes to the world around you, and even as you read it, completely blowing the entire thing off as utter hogwash… the concepts will still linger for a long, long time. The Schrödingers Cat trilogy was okay, but for a single book, I thought Masks of the Illuminati was the best stand alone, and certainly the most fun.

So, I think there are lots of books they should add to the list, if they are going to target their true enemy… people who think for themselves, and the books that help them blow the cobwebs from their mental eyes.

But there is one book on that list that, just seeing it included there, honestly pisses me off.

Seeing that people have, not once by many times, tried to get that book banned from being read, would make me start to really, really get angry if I spent much time dwelling on it.

Flowers for Algernon.

Just thinking of someone trying to ban that book makes me dream idly of baseball bats and kneecaps. I kid you not.

You hear someone speak of a book that had a profound impact on their life, that they claim changed them in some way, and maybe you think, “Yeah, right”.

Let me take you back in time for a moment.

When I was but a child, a very small child, I lived in South Florida. I mentioned that I grew up dirt poor in Miami, but that was after my parents became divorced. Before that, my parents were still together, and we lived in a richer community, called Boca Raton.

We were certainly not rich, my father as I have said in the past was a police officer, and at that time was going to community college and working part time security jobs as well, desperately trying to make ends meet. But it was a rich community, and felt like one. It was not inner city gang violence and filth. Our apartment was very small, but clean and in a decent apartment complex with nice landscaping, located near a canal so we could look at the ducks.

I was a very, very young child, perhaps 6 years old.

We suddenly went on a trip up north, to Minnesota, because a member of my father’s family, my father’s uncle, was dying of cancer in a hospital bed, and my father had been called back to say goodbye before he died, and so that the great uncle could have a chance to see me. 

I knew very little of the significance of what was going on, but I grasped a surprisingly large part of what we were actually there for. We were spending very long days in hospital corridors, waiting on hard chairs for the brief moments that someone would be let inside a small dark room to stand near a very weak, very old, very frail man with lots of needles in him.

Most of my time was spent sitting alone on a hard chair, bored out of my mind, and depressed because everyone was sad and crying all the time.

My one source of distraction was this comic book someone had handed me, that was a Dracula comic, apparently from a time when there were still hardcore horror comics. It was very confusing, but I didn’t find it scary. Just… stupid, and I didn’t understand what was going on in the book, either. There was no action. 

I’m sure I whined to someone that I was bored and wanted something to read, because at some point someone came to the hospital for a visit, and had brought with them some books. One of them was a thin booklet of short stories, and it had rocket ships on the cover. Something that seemed quite appropriate for a young boy, I’d imagine. Laser beams and rocket ships and trips to the moon. Just the thing for a growing boy to lose himself in.

I read the short stories… and there was one story there, called Flowers for Algernon.

It wasn’t written like a story. It was more of a journal, kept by someone that was in a hospital himself. And he was relating a story about what happened to him, and to his friend mouse, on a daily basis.

I read that story, sitting there in that corridor, and when I finished I finally found myself able to cry. I will never forget that story, what it made me think about, about what it’s like to be able to think, to be able to understand, to struggle to understand what’s happening around you and just not get it, even though everyone else understands just fine, and you feel stupid, and you can try and try, but you just don’t know what’s going on. And it doesn’t matter how frustrated you get, because you just can’t get it. Not won’t, can’t.

I can sit here right now, and I’m instantly transported in my mind to that time and place, and the powerful feelings that book awoke in me.

I don’t care how trite it sounds, that short story taught a small boy a damn hard lesson about how precious, how genuinely precious it is to be able to learn, and to remember, and to understand what’s going on.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a kitty at the vet right now, getting his teeth cleaned and having one extracted due to kitty gingivitis, and I have not as of yet given any time to getting a PBeM post in gear for the day. If I don’t get cracking, it may not go until tomorrow.

18 Responses to “You got your controversy in my reading!”
  1. Tesh says:

    Speaking of banned book lists and the importance of doing your own thinking… I’ve always thought it silly to bother with such lists in the first place. There are books that I will never read, and books that I will never recommend anyone read, but that’s passive. Actively telling people what not to do has a tendency to make them promptly go out and do it. We’re just wired that way.

    As a voracious reader, I can safely say that I’ve read some weird stuff, and that I’m much, much better off for reading more rather than less. There are certainly things I wish that I hadn’t read, but letting some monolithic “other” define that for you is passing the buck and actively choosing ignorance. I like to do my own thinking, thanks. :D

  2. Graimerin says:

    Read many of those books on the proposed banned list (quickly skimmed) the list. Some for school because it was required others because they wanted to ban them. The one book that will always stand out for me as the ah ha moment is a book by Robert Parker writter of the spencer series. The book is Called “Early Autumm” this was giving to me by my english teacher Mr. Holder i was going thru a Mickey Spillien (Mike Hammer) phase; about a trouble teenager and the help he recieved from this person. Not great literature but helped changed a trouble bound teenager into who is today for good or bad. I often re read that book when i get a chase of the poor me now adays rememebering a kind act when i needed one.

  3. Aerth says:

    I see lists like these and wonder what exactly it is that offends persons. I guess in the context of High School libraries, there’s always going to be parents who are uncomfortable answering difficult questions, or teachers who are required by law not to discuss them.

    If its a public library… ooooh this got political :-D

  4. Rheidan says:

    I just thought I’d suggest ya read “Kaffir Boy” from the list. I have had a number of students read it and have read it myself a number of times. It offers an amazing look at Apartheid South Africa, and is something that is both hard to read (due to the shock value of the standard of people living there) and facinating! Thanks for posting the list BBB!!

  5. Kirk says:

    Thanks, BBB. I’ll note that while this is the most challenged of 1990-2000, there were a lot more books that just weren’t quite so frequently placed on the list. I know, just for one example, that Pinkwater’s books were on the list in the 1980s. But they didn’t get as much splash as (for example) most of Judy Blume’s books, and they’re not as commonly found today, so they’re not going to top the list. shrug.

    Aerth, that’s the American Library Association’s list from all libraries, K-12, public and other, combined. Most of it’s public, for what it’s worth.

  6. bigbearbutt says:

    Pinkwaters books should be on the list. He rightly SHOULD be feared by close minded people.

    I wonder if he signs autographs?

  7. graylo says:

    Completely agree that Cujo should be banned. Horrible book, and I’ve read almost every Stephen King book.

  8. Llangar says:

    I had same lasting emotional reaction to Flowers for Algernon, and also in the less emotionally reactive short story The Lottery (not on the list).

    It taught me at an early age to always think and act for myself. Just yesterday I found a man “playing dead” sprawled out face up on the sidewalk, snoring like a log. Was this man drunk? Probably, but he didn’t look homeless. You can’t just walk past and do nothing like I could see many many people do as I waited for an officer to arrive from my apartment window.

    This isn’t to say I’m not guilty of the same thing, or am somehow superior, but it’s one of those virtues you strive for. It’s an aspect of human nature that is ugly and people apparently felt extremely threatened by at the time the story was written.

  9. Nonprophet says:

    Wow that is Crazy BBB. I was spidering through wikipedia today and saw a link to this list. 2 minutes later I go to check your update and it’s the very same list. Are you watching me?

  10. Stupid Mage says:

    I can’t believe Judy Blume is on that list.

    So what if she named a penis Frank?

  11. Stealthfire says:

    I’m amazed how many of those books are required reading in school. Of those in the list, I’ve read Of Mice and Men, Bridge to Terabithia, My Brother Sam is Dead, The Catcher in the Rye, The Giver, A Wrinkle in Time, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Outsiders, Flowers for Algernon, Brave New World, and Lord of the Flies sometime during elementary/middle/high school, and I will be reading Huck Finn sometime this year (junior in high school).

    Flowers for Algernon…I haven’t thought of that story in while. I believe I read it in 7th grade, and it’s probably my favorite short story from school (Harrison Bergeron is close). I loved the way it was written, and the ending was heartbreaking.

    It’s funny, a lot of the novels that I read in school I’m generally sort of indifferent to. Yet pretty much all of the ones I liked are on this list xD. Why doesn’t anyone want to ban Billy Budd?

    Hmm…you’re making me want to go back and reread all of those books from middle school. I remember liking them, but I think I’d understand them better now.

    I’m kinda surprised that 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 aren’t on there.

    I’m gonna go back to sneezing my head off now. Aren’t colds fun?

  12. Saresa says:

    Glad to see that someone else believes The Great Gatsby is shallow (I hated that book when I had to study it in high school). As for the concept of banned books, I truly believe that almost no book should be banned. When I look at the list, I have to wonder if most of them were put on there as a sneaky attempt to make kids read them without having to look at them in the classroom.

  13. The Wild One says:

    5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
    7. Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
    9. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
    13. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
    19. Sex by Madonna
    22. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
    32. Blubber by Judy Blume
    33. Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
    41. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    43. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
    47. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
    51. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
    53. Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)
    55. Cujo by Stephen King
    56. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
    57. The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell
    61. What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons by Lynda Madaras
    62. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
    69. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
    70. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
    77. Carrie by Stephen King
    83. The Dead Zone by Stephen King
    84. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
    87. Private Parts by Howard Stern
    88. Where’s Waldo? by Martin Hanford
    96. How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell

    I’ve read all these. Frankly, I don’t see why many of tem would have been banned, or even challenged.

    I mean, ‘Where’s Waldo?’ COME ON.

    ‘The Anarchist Cookbook’ I could understand, though. My buddies and I damn near blew ourselves up making homegrown “stuff”, and there’s STILL a crater where our first test took place. (It was quite spectacularly successful.)

  14. ech says:

    Huck Finn is frequently challenged because of the language used to describe blacks, and use of one word in particular. The fact that many consider it the finest novel ever written by an American is of no import to the banners, nor is the fact that it is a strong plea for respecting the dignity of all humans. The use of certain words, appropriate to the time and place of the novel, makes it anathema to some.

    I’ve read about 10-12 of the books. Most are teen books that were published after I was in college. Many are already irrelevant (Madonna’s “Sex”). Of the list, maybe 5 are important books that will be read and discussed 50 years from now: Twain and Steinbeck for sure and possibly the Potter books, Morrison, and Vonnegut. Potter is kid lit and that rarely ages well, though it could end up like Pooh and Peter Rabbit and pass into the English language canon. Vonnegut is pretty well tied to the post-WW II culture of the 60s and we now know that Dresden was as valid a target as any in Germany for the bombing campaign. Morrison I’ve not read, but she seems to be popular. I thought the film of “The Color Purple” to be OK, and a scathing indictment of rural racism and sexism, but how relevant will that be 50 years from now? Hard to say.

  15. Jack says:

    I’ve only read 9. I recognize many of the others as being on Language Arts reading lists for kids and quite highly recommended by reading teachers from middle school through high school. I’m glad I read the books I did from this list. I do recognize some objectionable content in them . . . personally I’ve thought that content was a great catalyst for some in depth discussions about standards, where they come from and why we have them. The kind of conversations parents should be having with their kids.

    Or they can just try to hide their kids from it. I guess.

    The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
    Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
    A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
    Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
    To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
    The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
    Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman
    How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell

  16. Relmstein says:

    Willo Davis Roberts had another great book that ends up on the Banned list every once and awhile, The Girl With the Silver Eyes. Its funny how often some great young adult authors like Judy Blume and Roald Dhal end up on this list so often.

  17. tara says:

    My favorite book on that list is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. It’s a dystopian story about what might happen if Christian fundamentalists took over. So yeah, the crazies who are up in arms against sex education and Harry Potter’s demonic influences are not impressed. Hehe :)

  18. Mannyac says:

    Books that were REquired reading when I was in school: 5,6,13,41,43,47,52,69,70
    Books I read just because: 7,23,34,37,55,77,83


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