5 Classic Challenged Books You Should Read

September 29, 2016









Between the Lines is a series of posts focused on better understanding books, trends in writing, and the labels associated with these.

banned-books-featured-image Banned Books Week is almost over. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t continue to read banned and challenged books! I hope that you will continue to keep reading and talking about banned and challenged books through the rest of the year.

In this post, we will explore some of my favorite Classics which have been challenged or banned.


1 — The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien


What is it? The Lord of the Rings is the fantasy series that completely changed how fantasy is written. J.R.R. Tolkien was a linguistic genius who spoke over 10 languages. He began inventing functional languages for fun, and then developed a world in which they were spoken, which required a series of legends to support it… which led us to the creation of High Fantasy. The pinnacle of High Fantasy Adventure stories, we follow Frodo Baggins on a complex journey to destroy the One Ring. It’s a work of genius.

Why is it challenged? The Lord of the Rings has been challenged for various reasons since its publication in 1954/1955. Reasons include for drug references (ah, that lovely pipe smoke) and for being satanic. I don’t make this up, people.

Why should I read it? If the fact that this series completely redefined a genre of literature doesn’t do it for you, I can keep listing reasons. This series teaches the importance of education, travel, cultural diversity, loyalty, friendship, and honesty. Tolkien’s characters are complex and well-developed; ever changing throughout the series. And, lastly, The Lord of the Rings is an incredible stimulator of the imagination. Just read it.

2 — Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut


What is it? Part memoir, part war story, part historical fiction, part science fiction– Slaughterhouse-Five is Kurt Vonnegut’s self-defined magnum opus. This complicated book addresses Vonneguts feelings on the fire-bombing of Dresden and how the war affected him and his writing.

Why is it challenged? Slaughterhouse-Five has been challenged for discriminating religious references, explicit language and profanity, and sexual references including illustrations involving naked breasts.

Why should I read it? Yes, it’s a short novel. Yes, at times it can be challenging to understand. But that’s what happens when you are the master of pop-fiction and smash multiple genres together to try and express the complexity of emotion you felt from the war. Just saying. Written in a unique style, this novel philosophizes about life and the human mind, about war and power, about aliens and humanity. It’s worth your time.

Bonus: Check out my review here! And, there are also discussion questions, so you can get your friends together to read and discuss some banned books.

3 — The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie


What is it? Salman Rushdie’s best known and most galvanizing book, The Satanic Verses is a dense and complex book that follows the lives of two Indian Muslim actors who just survived the explosion of an airplane. What follows is a brilliant tale following these two men as they piece their lives back together following this horrific accident.

Why is it challenged? The Satanic Verses are subject to some of the most publicized literature bannings in history. In the United States it has been challenged for blasphemy and criticism of Islam. But in 1989, the year after publication, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie. The government-backed this fatwa for a decade. In 1998, the government stated it no longer supposed the killing of Rushdie, but the fatwa is still in place to this day.

Why should I read it?  If that super intense controversy isn’t enough to pique your interest, the content of the book should be. This story addresses identity, alienation, brutality, compromise, conformity, identity, anonymity, and survival all at once. It’s a complicated exploration into the needs and experiences of migrants. Hailed as “Rushdie’s largest aesthetic achievement” (quote: Harold Bloom) The Satanic Verses has influenced many writers to this day.

Bonus: Interested in learning more about the fatwa and how Rushdie survived? Check out this fascinating article from The Guardian reflecting on the fatwa. It includes comments from Rushdie’s UK peers and fellow novelists.

4 — The Color Purple by Alice Walker

the color purple

What is it? Winner of many awards, The Color Purple tells the life story of Celie, a poor black woman in 1930’s Georgia. An epistolary novel, we explore her life and experiences from age 14 through old age, including all the joy and pain that ties together with this.

Why is it challenged? The Color Purple is challenged due to explicit language, violence, explicit and troubling ideas about race relations, sexual references (one challenged called it “smut”), and for drug abuse. Strangely, nothing is written about this being challenged for being anti-family, like Saga, but I won’t question the challengers.

Why should I read it? This book is incredibly powerful, and the theme is something everyone needs to hear repeatedly, starting when they are young: You own your own life. The Color Purple encourages us to explore how we can create our own identities and define who we are and what we become. All the while we are exploring how we can develop ourselves, we also get to see what life was like for a poor, black woman in the 1930’s rural south. And let me just say, it’s not always pretty.

Bonus: Check out my review here! And, there are also discussion questions, so you can get your friends together to read and discuss some banned books.

5 — The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger


What is it? Holden Caulfield has been expelled from another school. Depressed and uncertain how to be true to himself, Holden wanders around Manhattan for three days having misadventures and really just attempting to find some way to push down his depression for a little while, even if it’s just by being drunk. 

Why is it challenged? The Catcher in the Rye is called “a favorite of the censors” by the ALA. Why? It has been challenged almost every year since the ALA started collecting these statistics in 1963. The most frequent challenge reasons are for being blasphemous, sexually promiscuous, obscene, profane, and defamatory. However, I do love one challenge reason of being “centered around negative activity”. Lovely.

Why should I read it? Holden Caulfield is the confused kid who doesn’t get it. He doesn’t know where he belongs in life or what to do. He is caught in a whirlwind of mental duress and spends all his time complaining about everything around him. It sounds depressing, and there are certainly times I want to throttle Holden. But Holden is a game-changer. A teenager narrating his own story in the most flawed way possible. He lacks motivation, doesn’t fit in, doesn’t understand the world around him, and is running from his problems. All young people can relate on some level to what Holden is going through. It’s painful and tragic, but it’s real. Holden allows younger people the opportunity to finally connect the literature and understand that this is more than just words on paper. Literature helps us understand who we are and who we can become. Holden will get you there.


Need to understand more about banned and challenged books? Check out this post.

What do you think?

  • Have you read any of these books before? If so, what do you think of the reasons they were challenged?
  • Are you interested in reading any of these now? If so, why?
  • Any additional suggestions for challenged Classic literature we should prioritize reading? What are your favorite banned/challenged classic books?


  • Lost In A Good Book September 29, 2016 at 11:15 am

    Slaughterhouse 5 has been on my TBR for a while. I remember all the hullabaloo around Satanic Verses, but I never actually read it.

    • Jackie B September 29, 2016 at 12:21 pm

      Confession: I’ve never finished The Satanic Verses! I read portions of it for a class in Uni, but I never read the whole thing. I adored what I did read, though. It’s also on my TBR. 🙂
      I look forward to your *eventual* Slaughterhouse-Five review!

  • M @ A Blog Of One's Own September 29, 2016 at 11:27 am

    Fantastic selections <3 Holden is such a fascinating character. I'm actually even writing a paper for uni about him now 😀

    • Jackie B September 29, 2016 at 12:23 pm

      I really need to re-read Catcher now that I better understand the age we live in. I think reading it now I will have a great appreciation than 18-year-old Jackie.
      Do you plan on sharing some of your paper’s reflections on your blog, M?

  • Jasmine September 30, 2016 at 12:06 pm

    Great choices of books! I hope to read Lord of the Rings one day because I loved the movies. The Color Purple is such a tiny book and yet I haven’t made time to read either . Have you read them all?

    • Jackie B September 30, 2016 at 12:37 pm

      I have read all of them but The Satanic Verses. I’ve only read passages of that book from classes in Uni. I loved those passages! So, The Satanic Verses is something I really want to read someday but it will require a lot of mental energy, so I keep putting it off to read authors like Marie Lu and Marissa Meyer. Oops!

  • M @ A Blog Of One's Own September 30, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    I’m pretty sure I never got a notification of your reply to my comment. Weird. Anyways. I don’t have a problem sharing parts of my paper with the world 😛 Although I’m afraid most people will find it boring. It’ll be a while still, too. I had to get an extension for that paper because I’m so swamped with other stuff and papers and ugh, but once I’m done I’ll be sure to incorporate at least parts of it into a post 🙂

    • Jackie B October 2, 2016 at 10:41 am

      No worries about not responding promptly, we all have lives outside of the blogs. Besides, Word Press was certainly acting up last week, so I’ll blame that. 🙂
      I’m definitely intrigued to at least hear a bit about your paper. I’ve heard a lot lately about how Catcher might not be aging well, but I disagree- I think that Holden’s anxieties and confusion are fairly timeless. But, I want to hear what you think. 🙂 Good luck at Uni! I know that can be overwhelming sometimes. You got this.

  • wordsandotherbeasts September 30, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    Great post! I haven’t actually read any of these which I feel awful about, but they’re definitely on my list of things to read, especially The Catcher in the Rye! However, I adore the LOTR films but I just cannot get into the books, Tolkien’s style isn’t for me which is so disappointing. If you want more banned classics recommendations, I recommend The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall. It was banned back in the 1920s for its depictions of lesbianism and transexuals, it’s a really interesting read!

    • Jackie B September 30, 2016 at 6:19 pm

      Tolkien’s style certainly isn’t for everyone, that’s for sure. I really struggled with them the first time I read the series, but I eventually adapted to his writing style. I don’t blame you for not being able to get into his books!
      Thanks for the recommendation. I’ve never heard of the book or Radclyffe Hall– I definitely need to get reading. After all, apparently this book is also on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. I’m not working on that list yet, but I know I will eventually.

  • Read Diverse Books September 30, 2016 at 8:00 pm

    I love this series of posts!

    Again, I am baffled that The Lord of The Rings is banned. It’s such a cultural phenomenon at this point. Almost everyone loves it!
    The Color Purple is one of the classics I still haven’t read!! Aahh, I do have a copy because it’s such a prominent book and you can buy it almost anywhere, but I haven’t made the time to read it. I have a huge problem with focusing on modern books and ignoring older ones. I’m talking modern as in the last 10 years. Those are the kinds of books that attract me me most, I can’t help it! But I must make exception for important works like The Color Purple.

    Are kids today still reading The Catcher In The Rye??? I never cared for it. 😡

    • Jackie B October 2, 2016 at 10:49 am

      There is nothing wrong with being attracted to modern books, Naz! I can relate to that– but maybe for a different reason… I struggled in school with literature critique and assessments. Since we only read classic books, I feel like I have a bit of a mental aversion to these sorts of books as an adult. A little voice in my head tells me, “You’re not smart enough to understand this.” Silly, I know.
      Also, diversity is so much more open and prominent in modern books! I have many friends who are on a “I will not read a book written by a cis white man” kick. Not because they are opposed to those authors, but because they want to view the world differently. It’s much harder to find older books (like 100+ years) written in English with diverse themes. Anyway, I digress. You should read The Color Purple. I think it would be enlightening for you and not quite what you expect.
      And yes, kids today are still reading The Catcher in the Rye. I didn’t like it that much as a kid, but I think I read it too young in school. 16-year-old Jackie would have liked it waaaay more than 13-year-old Jackie. There is a lot to be said for a kid who can’t connect to the adults around him even today. But, there is debate Holden isn’t aging well and should be replaced… well, at least in my school districts. We shall see.

  • Amanda @Cover2CoverMom October 2, 2016 at 1:12 am

    Great post! I had a hard time getting into The Fellowship of the Ring…. I really do need to get around to reading books 2&3. I loved The Hobbit though! The Color Purple is such an amazing book. I read it back in 2009, so I’m due for a re-read! Same with The Catcher in the Rye since it’s been 12 years since I read that one in high school

    • Jackie B October 2, 2016 at 10:44 am

      The Lord of the Rings can be fairly niche for some people, so don’t feel bad about it. Do you like fantasy, Amanda? If so, you should certainly finish the trilogy. It was definitely written for a very different audience in a very different era, but LotR completely changed fantasy as we know it. It’s like knowing Shakespeare or the Bible in many ways.
      I look forward to hearing your opinions about The Color Purple and The Catcher in the Rye after so much time has past! I wonder how your opinions and interpretations will have changed…

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