UT faculty and grad students name their favorite banned books

Eleanor Dearman

What do “Beloved,” “The Kite Runner“ and “Captain Underpants” all have in common? These three books all made the list of the most frequently challenged books in the United States for 2012. According to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, 464 books were challenged in the U.S. last year. 

Banned and challenged books are very similar. Banned books have been removed from public shelves, while challenged books are books people have attempted to remove from public shelves.

This week is National Banned Books week. It serves to remind people about the consequences of censorship, draw attention to books that are currently banned and celebrate the frequently challenged books that remain on bookshelves today.

The Daily Texan asked seven UT faculty members and graduate students about their favorite banned and challenged books.


Randolph Lewis, American Studies, “1984”

“I am going to go with ‘1984’ by George Orwell, which has been banned in schools because it’s thought to be sympathetic to one political ideology or another. It is misunderstood often, yet I think it is one of the essential books for understanding the 20th century and the world we are living in now.” 


Jacqueline Jones, History, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” “Beloved”

“Zora Neale Hurston’s book, ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God,’ is a very evocative novel about a black woman in Florida in the early 20th century and her struggles. Certainly, ‘Beloved’ by Toni Morrison [too]. It’s based on a real incident where an enslaved woman kills her own child rather than [let it] grow up and allow it to be a slave. I was struck by the number of books on the list called banned and challenged classics that I’ve actually used in class.”


Sara Saylor, English, “Fun Home”

“I would say my favorite is Alison Bechdel’s book ‘Fun Home.’ This is a graphic memoir. The reason people object to this book, especially for high school age, or younger readers, is partly that it represents sexuality in picture form. It’s really one of my favorite books across the board. It just happens to be banned. In particular, this is a story about a young woman who goes to college and experiences some major challenges in the way she understands her own sexuality and her relationship to her family.”


Maley Thompson, English, “The Witches”

“I would say my favorite banned book is ‘The Witches’ by Roald Dahl. It is a children’s book, but it is so funny, and it is so scary, and it is so engaging and it takes you away to this other world. I remember reading it and other Roald Dahl books as a child and again as an adult, and he really captures what it’s like to be a child in a scary world. This book was banned because it said witches could only be female. Books get banned for smaller reasons than that. People should be able to determine for [themselves] and I guess for their own children what constitutes a useful book.”


Lance Bertelsen, English, “Essay on Woman” 

“My favorite is a poem called ‘Essay on Woman’ by John Wilkes, a famous radical politician in 18th century Britain. It’s a lewd parody of Alexander Pope’s famous poem called ‘Essay on Man.’ It was so notorious that Wilkes was actually prosecuted by the House of Lords for its publication. Not a lot of people know about it, and it’s pretty funny, so if you do know about Pope’s ‘Essay on Man’ you can see the kind of crazy things that Wilkes is doing with it. And then there’s a lot of inside stuff that wouldn’t mean a lot to the general public that makes it interesting as well.” 


Julia Mickenberg, American Studies, “Harriet
the Spy” 

“I started looking at some list of banned books, and it’s amazing how many there are to choose from, but I picked ‘Harriet the Spy,’ partly because one of my specialties is children’s literature. It’s my favorite for some of the same reasons it was banned. At the end, Ole Golly, her nurse, tells her sometimes you have to lie. But the book, I think, as a whole is controversial because it sets up a new dynamic between adults and children that had not been seen before. I think it’s great literature, and it gives great insight into how some people were starting to think about children and the role of children and adults in the 1960s.” In honor of National Banned Books Week, UT’s English department will host a Banned Book Q&A Session on Sept. 26 in the Perry-Castaneda Library between students and
censorship experts.