Taboo: Adventures in Banned Books

Guest post by our Facebook friend Samantha Heise
I remember sitting in English class the September of my junior year of high school. Our teacher explained to us that it was Banned Books Week, and that as good students, we should expand our literary horizons by reading these controversial books. She even noted that the administration wouldn’t be thrilled with her for teaching such things. Luckily for Mrs. Happeny, she was tenured and well liked, so any administrator reprimanding her would have ended in nothing short of a student riot.

As I listened to her stories of these taboo writings, my inner rebel perked up – a list of banned books? What was this list all about? I could hardly wait to get home and find out.

My search led me to the ALA website, where I learned as much as I could about challenged and banned books. From the site, I printed the map to the next decade of my life:  the Top 100 Banned Books from 1990-1999. I hung it on the closet door in my room, where the two-column list was almost as long as my full-length mirror. The task seemed daunting, but I was up for the challenge of reading every single one.

I felt accomplished on my first search through the titles to see that I had already knocked about ten books from the list. Having crossed them out, I wrote down several selections and headed to the library. For the next two years, in between reading and writing papers for Mrs. Happeny, I dove headfirst into the worlds of Mark Twain and Toni Morrison. Sometimes I doubled my efforts, completing Lord of the Flies for class and digesting Brave New World in my free time. It was complicated, exhausting, and glorious.

When I packed up and went to college, the list came with me. My progress slowed with my heavy course load, but I at least managed to take care of several young adult and children’s novels. When you check out with the likes of Blubber, the librarian just assumes you’re an education major.

In the years after graduation, my life slowly fell into place, and I found myself with more leisure time for reading. The list was getting shorter and shorter, and before I knew it, I was coming to the end. It didn’t all go perfectly; books like Sex by Madonna are such collector’s items that you can’t find them in print, so I resorted to online copies of the pages to fill that requirement. I know I probably didn’t fully appreciate the themes of some heavier novels like Slaughterhouse Five, but I still took something away from every book I finished.

And as I cracked the spine on My Brother Sam is Dead this January, nine and a half years after beginning this journey, I felt a pang of sadness to know it was the last on the list. Luckily for me, however, the list for years 2000-2009 is now available!

*Note* The above guest post is from our Facebook friend Samantha Heise. This content does not necessarily reflect the views of Better World Books (as our lawyers make sure we say). We love having guest bloggers and invite you to email if you are interested in covering a book or topic on the BWB Blog. Thank you, Samantha, your banned book challenge and success are amazing, keep it up!

Have you read any of the top 100 banned books? Why do you think they were banned? Please share your thoughts on this controversial subject by commenting below. Thanks!



  1. Good for you Samantha. I have to laugh with all the videos and video games out there, they still have a banned books list. Give me a break.

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