Risky Regencies

Mad Bad and Dangerous to Read

“Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people’s idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back that is an outrage” –Winston Churchill

“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them” –Joseph Brodsky

This past week was Banned Books Week. (For more info, check out the ALA’s official site). I always enjoy this week–not because I think banning books is a good idea (!), but because most of my life has been so white-bread boring that I enjoy feeling a bit subversive just for reading a book. 🙂 In preparing this post, I spent a fascinating hour or so scanning lists of banned books on the Internet. Here are a few from around the Regency period:

Candide, Voltaire–In 1930, US Customs seized a shipment of Harvard-bound copies claiming obscenity. Two Harvard profs mounted a spirited defense of the work, and Customs later admitted a different edition

Fanny Hill, John Cleland–written in 1749, this tale of a prostitute was known for its frank sexual descriptions and its parodies of books like Moll Flanders. It wasn’t cleared from US obscenity charges until 1966.

And speaking of Moll Flanders–Defoe’s novel was banned from the US Mail under the Comstock Law of 1873 (the same law that banned the dissemination of birth control devices and information)

Rousseau’s Confessions–seized by US Customs in 1924 as being “injurious to public morality”

And a few I just got a laugh from:

Ibsen’s A Doll’s House–in 1983 members of the Alabama State Textbook Committee called to ban this play because it “propagates feminist views”

These geniuses also tried to ban Diary of Anne Frank (also in 1983) for being “a real downer”

Vasilisa the Beautiful: Russian Fairy Tales was challenged in Mena, Arkansas in 1990 because it contains “violence, voodoo, and cannibalism” (the perfect story, IMO!)

D.T. Suzuki’s Zen Buddhism: Select Writings, challenged in Canton, Michigan in 1987–“this book details the teachings of the religion of Buddhism in such a way that the reader could very likely embrace its teachings and choose this as his religion.” Because, of course, the last thing we need in this world is a bunch of peaceful Buddhists meditating all over the place.

What are some of your favorite “dangerous” books?

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16 years ago

Someone else mentioned the Banned book week and had a link to one group/site’s list of banned books. Some I read in high school, catholic high school amazingly enough. LOL 🙂

My favorite though, is the dictionary. Really. I couldn’t get off that someone, somewhere banned the dictionary. Geez, no one has any common sense in the world. Like I told them, I don’t agree with it at all banning books, but I can understand why some do it for certain things, however for most, I swear people have way too much time on their hands.


16 years ago

Many of the books on the ALA list are children’s books, most of which I own & have read. I enjoy the idea of being subversive in my own quiet little way.

Like Lois I too went to Catholic HS & read many titles on the list as required reading. I think my favorites are Native Son by Richard Wright & To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Diane Perkins
16 years ago

Mine is D H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover. This book first taught me about sensuality and the pleasure of lovemaking. It made a very big impression on me!

16 years ago

File this one under irony:

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 – Expurgated at the Venado Middle School in Irvine California. Students received copies of the book with scores of words – mostly “hells” and “damns” – blacked out.

Janet Mullany
16 years ago

I think this is true, that the apartheid government of South Africa banned “Black Beauty” but allowed “Animal Farm,” which they mistakenly thought was a harmless kids’ book.

Cara King
16 years ago

Hmm…. Going from the list of most challenged books of the 21st century… I’m a big fan of the Harry Potter books, the Chocolate War, and Of Mice and Men. (Haven’t read most of the rest!)

Going by the 1990 – 2000 list, I particularly like Huckleberry Finn (poor Huck, he still ain’t respectable), The Giver, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Outsiders, A Light in the Attic, James and the Giant Peach (okay, who complained about that, the apricot lobby???), The Face on the Milk Carton (why, did the “Dairy Advisory Board” a.k.a. milk lobby complain???), How to Eat Fried Worms, and The Headless Cupid.

Okay, it’s my new life goal to get on that list. Think of the company! Mark Twain, Caroline B. Cooney, Chris Crutcher, Toni Morrison, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Roald Dahl, John Steinbeck, Louis Sachar, J.K. Rowling!

Well, I can dream, can’t I?


Pam Rosenthal
16 years ago

Thanks for reminding us of Banned Books Week, Amanda. And I’m with Cara — I’d like to make the list.

My vote’s gotta be for THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, because its opening sentence really WAS a shocker for me and my husband when we read it as teenagers – the absolutely right kind of shocker, one that made us think about writing in a whole different way:

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

As my husband said, “I didn’t know you were allowed to write like that.”

And it seems that perennially, with each generation, there are people who think you shouldn’t be.

Amanda McCabe
16 years ago

Too true, Pam.

And “Black Beauty” was probably also banned for being a “real downer” :))

16 years ago

If we’re banning books for being a real downer, could we PLEASE ban the book “Sounder”? I was totally traumatized by that book as a child! I’d much rather have read “Huckleberry Finn.”


Pam Rosenthal
16 years ago

Well, if you want to get into downers, how about the movie Bambi? Or Dumbo being wrested away from his mother?

It’s probably unAmerican to disclose this, but when our son was very little, we tried to keep him away from Disney. Not just the scarey stuff above, but all that coy tushie-wagging always sorta weirded us out, and we wanted him to develop a few defenses first.

We preferred Warner Brothers cartoons — all those fast-talking neurotics like Bugs and Daffy Duck — we figured they’d be just like family to him.

16 years ago


I always preferred Warner to Disney as a child, too–I love Bugs Bunny. The whole helium voice thing kind of put me off of Mickey Mouse. 🙂

But then I married a Disney Loyalist (growing up near Disneyland can do that to you, apparently), who always thought Bugs was too mean. I guess it’s a matter of taste.


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