Read These at Your Own Risk

by | February 13, 2022 | General | 2 comments

Any book worth banning is a book worth reading — Isaac Asimov

Writers of erotic romance must deal with the possibility of their work being banned at some point. Some of what we write isn’t appropriate for certain age groups, or our material may rub religious readers the wrong way. I make the content clear to customers when working book festivals and author signings. Better to lose one sale than ten potential readers because someone got offended by my books and trashed me to their friends.

I recently ran across a magazine from 1984, and it contained an article titled “The Dirty Thirty.” It listed 30 books that were the most frequently censored titles in high school libraries at the time. Most of the objections focused on alleged obscenity, but some of the philosophical and political ideas being presented were also considered unpopular. When I attended high school and college in the ‘70s, most of these so-called inappropriate books were required reading.

John Steinbeck is regarded as one of America’s pre-eminent authors, but two of his novels—“The Grapes of Wrath” and “Of Mice and Men”—consistently get banned for racial slurs, stereotypes, and obscene language. Mark Twain made the ’84 list with “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” along with Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five,” J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye,” Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms.” I once had to write a book report on “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, and Dalton Trumbo’s “Johnny Got His Gun” was recommended by my civics teacher for its anti-war theme. Yet there they both were, on the naughty list.

What books currently have the Puritan’s panties in a twist? Here’s the Hot 21, as compiled by the American Library Association, along with the reasons why they were banned. I was surprised to discover that some of the same books were still making the cut (no pun intended). As you scan the list, you’ll see some themes emerging.

“George” by Alex Gino (LGBTQ content and a transgender character).

“Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds (for the author’s public statements concerning racism, and claims that the book contains ‘selective storytelling incidents,’ whatever that means)

“All American Boys” by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (profanity, drug use, alcoholism, and promoting anti-police views.)

“Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson (contains a political viewpoint that is biased against male students, and includes rape and profanity)

“Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice” by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard (divisive language and promoting anti-police views)

“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee (perennially cited for “racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a ‘white savior’ character, and its perception of the Black experience.”)

“Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck (racial slurs and stereotypes, and their negative effect on students)

“The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison (considered to be sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse)

“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas (profanity, and promoting an anti-police message)

“Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out” by Susan Kuklin (LGBTQ content, the effect on any young people who would read it, and being sexually explicit)

“A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo” by Jill Twiss. This one and the next title, “Sex is a Funny Word: A Book about Bodies, Feelings, and You” by Cory Silverberg, shared the banning distinctions of “LGBTQ content, political viewpoints, themes that are ‘designed to pollute the morals of its readers,’ not including a content warning, and discussing gender identity and sex education.” Makes you wonder if the authors did anything right.

“Prince & Knight” by Daniel Haack (for “Featuring a gay marriage, LGBTQ content, and being a deliberate attempt to indoctrinate young children with the potential to cause confusion, curiosity, and gender dysphoria.” Wow!)

“I Am Jazz” by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings (LGBTQ content, a transgender character, and confronting a topic that is ‘sensitive, controversial, and politically charged.’)

“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood (profanity, vulgarity and sexual overtones)

“Drama” by Raina Telgemeier (for “LGBTQ content and concerns that it goes against family values/morals.”)

The “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling (“For referring to magic and witchcraft, containing actual curses and spells, and for characters that use nefarious means to attain goals.”)

“And Tango Makes Three” by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson (LGBTQ content)

The “Captain Underpants” series, written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey (“The series was challenged because it was perceived as encouraging disruptive behavior, while ‘Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot’ includes a same-sex couple.”)

“Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asheri (for addressing teen suicide)

“This One Summer” by Mariko Tamaki (“Profanity, sexual references, and certain illustrations.”)

Full disclosure: I’m not in favor of censorship, but I realize there are situations where limiting a young person’s access to certain books is best. However, the reason given for compiling this list in the first place really confused me: “Because schools and libraries should not put books in a child’s hands that require discussion.”

Isn’t that the point of getting an education in the first place?

Tim Smith

Tim Smith is an award-winning bestselling author. His books range from romantic mystery/thriller to contemporary erotic romance. He is also a freelance photographer. When he isn't pursuing those two careers he can often be found in The Florida Keys, indulging his passion for parasailing between research and seeking out the perfect Pina Colada.


  1. J.T. Benjamin

    I could write an essay or make a PowerPoint presentation about the history of censorship and book-banning and book-burning, and I’d be happy to include a detailed analysis of the motivations behind such movements, the stated motives, and the actual motives. I’ll save it for another time.

    Instead, let me share a relevant anecdote. When Beloved Offspring #2 was in high school, she told me “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand was assigned for the class reading project.

    I hit the roof. This was about ten years ago. Several conservative politicians of the time had been bragging about being acolytes of Ms. Rand and devotees of her “bible” of selfishness as a virtue. I went to my daughter’s teacher to negotiate a compromise for my daughter.

    It wasn’t just that Ms. Rand’s contribution to U.S. Literature was controversial, or that “Atlas Shrugged” could hardly be considered “great American literature” to be compared with, say, “Huckleberry Finn” or “The Grapes of Wrath” or “The Good Earth.” It’s just a badly written book. All those adverbs. Ugh. Those stiff characters and all that windy dialogue. Blarg.

    I told the teacher, “I’m not looking to make waves. I’m not demanding you change the curriculum for your entire class. Just give my daughter an alternative book to submit for a report.

    To her credit, my daughter’s teacher was willing to work with me and we came up with a suitable alternative. To my daughter’s credit, she aced the book report (“To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee) and the class.

    It wasn’t a complete victory, however. One of my suggestions was either “Song of Solomon” or “Beloved” by Toni Morrison. I argued both were definitely American works, and you couldn’t argue with the bona fides of a Nobel Prize regarding Ms. Morrison’s credentials as a writer.

    Oh, no, the teacher said. Toni Morrison was unacceptable. One of the mothers of another student in the class (a woman who happened to be a prominent member of the church I was attending at the time) forbade us from offering Toni Morrison. She’s the one who suggested ‘Atlas Shrugged.'”

    Sigh. The war goes on.

  2. Lisabet Sarai

    One of the fascinating things about this present day list is that both so-called conservatives and so-called liberals have gotten into book-bashing. Banning a book because it has a “white savior” simply prevents students from reflecting on both the strengths and the weaknesses of the tale.

    I have a speculative fiction short story called Divided We Fall that I wrote in the aftermath of the original Trump election, which presents a world in which minorities have been pushed into ghettos and encourage to hate each other. The story portrays a relationship between a Vietnamese young woman and a Black young man. And it contains racial slurs as part of its portrayal of the deliberately cultivated hostility between the two main characters.

    I’ve had readers complain because I used the N word, and had him call the woman a “chink”. I just shook my head and sighed. That is the whole POINT, people! Without the slurs, the story wouldn’t be authentic.

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