From the Archives in Butte, Montana: America Reads

Last summer I was at the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives to research a book that I am writing about Mary MacLane, Butte’s Wild Woman and Famed Literary Woman. I am lucky because Mary MacLane has been well-documented. When I asked for guidance in researching her, the director of the archives disappeared for a minute and came back with three file folders full of articles about Mary MacLane and the time during which she lived.

She was censored in her own hometown, with the Butte Public Library initially refusing to put her first book on their shelves. People across the nation both loved her and felt shocked and appalled by her.

I’m guessing that’s why a list of books censored 90 years after her debut ended up in her file. I’m also guessing that many people who disagreed with censoring books then would disagree with censoring books now.

The books:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Other Works by Mark Twain: First published in the United Kingdom in December 1884 and in the United States in February 1885, it is commonly named among the great novels. “Civilized” society, the evils of slavery, and the innate value and dignity of human beings are among its themes. “The Brooklyn Public Library banned the book in 1905 for the use of the word “sweat” (instead of perspiration) and for saying, “Huck not only itched but scratched.”

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare: Possibly written in 1595, Romeo and Juliet is a love story for the ages, banned because Romeo and Juliet have premarital sex.

Deenie and Other Works by Judy Blume: Deenie was published in 1973 as a young adult novel. Deenie’s mother wants her to be a model. Deenie wants to be a cheerleader and enjoy her friends. Both plans are thwarted when Deenie gets scoliosis and starts to learn about her body, including menstruation and masturbation. Deenie was banned due to Blume’s teenage girl characters engaging in masturbation.

Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger: Catcher in the Rye was published as a novel in 1951. Holden Caufield, seventeen, is expelled from prep school and rails against the phoniness of the world. From a mental hospital, he details the events of the two days after he is expelled. The book was banned for “excess vulgar language, sexual scenes, things concerning moral issues, excessive violence, and anything dealing with the occult.” I can still see the red cover of the copy I read.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck: Published in 1937, takes place during the Depression when two migrant workers in California, George and Lennie, search for jobs. Lennie’s impulsiveness gets him in trouble and George gets him out. The book has been banned because of its vulgarity, racism, and its treatment of women. Other topics considered offensive include ableism, violence, assault, murder, and death. The cover of the copy I read was pink.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley: Published in 1932Brave New World warns of the dangers of giving the state control over new and powerful technologies. Huxley creates a society where emotions and individuality are conditioned out of children at a young age. “Brave New World” is a term often heard when discussing the overpowering reach of technology. It was banned in 1980 because of its characters’ acceptance of promiscuous sex.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published in 1969. It is an autobiographical book that tells of Angelo’s life from ages three through sixteen, recounting unsettling and traumatic events, including rape and racism. It was banned in Alabama because the Alabama State Textbook Committee determined it incited ‘’bitterness and hatred toward white people. ‘’ It was banned in Bremerton, Washington for “the graphic depiction of molestation.” Banning books is disturbing, but banning them because they tell a personal account of sexual violence, racism, and caste injustice is especially atrocious.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding: Lord of the Flies was published in 1954. A group of boys survive a plane crash with no adults. As the boys try to fashion their own society, their attempts at establishing a social order gradually devolve into savagery. It was banned due to excessive violence and “bad language.” I have been known to use the term, “It was a real Lord of the Flies out there,” not for the bad language, but for cutthroat behaviors.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker: The Color Purple was published in 1982. It is a feminist work about an abused and uneducated African-American woman’s struggle for empowerment. Celie, an African American teenager writes painfully honest letters to God. The book was banned for its sexual content and situations of abuse and domestic violence. This book broke my heart wide open and filled it with compassion. I never once regretted reading it.

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder: The novel was published in 1935. It is about the months the Ingalls spent on the Kansas prairie. Laura describes how her father built their one-room log house in Indian Territory, having heard that the government planned to open the territory to white settlers soon. It was challenged to be banned due to being viewed as discriminatory to American Indians.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut: Published in 1969, Slaughterhouse-Five is the semi-autobiographical account of the firebombing of Dresden, Germany by the British and American air forces in February of 1945. Named for the slaughterhouse where Vonnegut and the other Allied POWs were kept in Dresden, this novel explores the trauma that war can inflict on individuals and the ways in which people deal with that trauma. It was banned for explicit sexual scenes, violence, and obscene language. Despite the attempts to ban it, there are nearly 300 editions of the book, including translations into over 20 languages.


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