Forbidden Fiction: Why We Ban Books


20 Thursday 20th November 2014

Banning books because they might cause people to question established norms sounds like a practice reserved for the Third Reich. However, numerous texts have been declared verboten by various governments all over the world. Whether the book promoted homosexuality, communism, or perhaps just good old fashioned obscenity, if it sounds like a good read, you better believe someone on our planet wants to ban the living shit out of it.

While most bans have been lifted, thanks to that Free Speech thing everyone bangs on about, a couple of titles are still forbidden from bookstores in some corner of the globe. Here are a few of the most famed books that have been blacklisted, from the religiously inflammable, right up to the politically damning: 

Live in a religious country such as India, Bangladesh, Sudan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Kenya, Liberia, Pakistan, Qatar, Senegal, Indonesia, Kuwait, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Tanzania or Venezuela? Then there is no way in hell you want to be caught reading Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses.

The book's content was considered blasphemous of the Muslim faith, and Rushdie was soon targeted by his more zealous literary critics. While the author escaped several assassination attempts, he didn't escape the banning of his work for over 25 years. Apparently Rushdie's use of magical realism was lost on Ayatollah Khomeini, who placed a fatwa on him. 

Jesus and Mary Magdalene sharing a sexy look in The Last Temptation of Christ

Religion is a good way to get your masterpiece banned. Aspiring writers, if you want to shroud your first novel in controversy, throw in something that denounces Christianity. I mean look at Dan Brown. The Da Vinci Code was about as readable as hieroglyphics in a sandstorm, but because Jesus and Mary Magdalene did the dirty, it became standard issue in the West. Sadly, such sacrilege did not fly in Lebanon, where the book was banned. This no doubt lead to a huge sales boost outside Beirut. 

Patrick Bateman making a decision whether or not to fire his nail gun into his assistant Jean's head. Just Wall Street things.

Of all the places to find American Psycho unfit for public consumption, it seems weirdly specific that Queensland, Australia is holding up a ban of Bret Easton Ellis' highly controversial book. Protagonist Patrick Bateman's psychotic relationship with fucking prostitutes then murdering them does seem like the sort of content which may be forbidden, but the deep end note of "was it really him?" has saved the back of the Wall Street murderer in most places.

To be honest, if a book I'm reading doesn't have some sexual depravity and murder in it I struggle to stay interested. Queensland however has no time for business card politics or the brutal killing of dogs and homeless people, and have banned the book since its initial publication in 1991 (Although you can still purchase it in a hermetically sealed pack).

Green Eggs and Ham, the loveable Dr Zeuss book of everyone's childhood, the inspiration behind Kanye West's first rap aged 13 and probably the reason behind the monstrosity that was green E-Z Squeeze ketchup circa 2000, was banned in China from 1965-1991.

Green Eggs and Ham as an allegory for Communism is something that has gone over my head, but Chairman Mao and co figured it portrayed early Marxist ideals. I guess Sam-I-Am's genetically modified culinary skills winning over the narrator might loosely be associated with the destruction of Capitalism, but I'd like to see some more footnotes on the matter before I commit. 

Lolita enjoyed a brief stint of prohibition in the UK between 1955-1959. While the romanticisation of a young girl undergoing Stockholm Syndrome at the hands of her Stepfather may turn stomachs, Vladimir Nabokov's novel is still important today.

The book definitely fetishises the sexualisation of a paternal relationship, but it's an important study into a taboo subject, as well as brilliantly written. Unfortunately, a lot of its fans probably think its value lies in normalising these 'misunderstood' affairs.

George Orwell's book, Animal Farm, serves as an allegory for the dangers of totalarianism. Published just at the end of World War II, when every country was in a state of paranoia about their political future, its message didn't sit well with some of the less liberal nations. It is still banned in Cuba, Kenya, UAE and is censored in China. 

The gist of it is, if you're talking about Religion, Sex or Communism, you're probably going to get ban-hammered by some fear-mongering government. The Bible? Russia told it to piss off for 65 years. The Communist Manifesto? You better believe Turkey didn't want that filth near their libraries until 2013. The Well of Loneliness? Combining the double whammy of sex and lesbianism, it got kicked out the hands of the public for 21 years in the UK. After all, if a government can't control your sexual drive, your political persuasion and who you pray to at night, how the bloody hell are they going to stop the revolution? 

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