The Macmillan Dictionary describes the word “controversy” as: a disagreement, especially about a public policy or a moral issue that a lot of people have strong feelings about.
Now to think that a book can cause a disagreement about social or moral issues is not all that astounding. Don’t get me wrong, but the multitude of such books has only risen with time. I know we say we don’t need reassurance from anyone regarding our selection of reading/writing books and our interpretation, but some books seem to have unknowingly fueled such flurry among society based on their content, the language used, or if there is too much of (graphic) violence and/or sexual descriptions, traces of racism, religious degradation or extreme political views and opinions.
Some books that I happened to come across include:
The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail
A non-fictional read, by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln, the book states that Jesus was not divine, married and had sex with Mary Magdalene, had children by her, and that these children or their descendants emigrated to Gaul (France), and founded the Merovingian Dynasty, which has two of the most famous Frankish kings, Charles the Hammer, and Charlemagne.
Now, this is sure to upset a lot of Christians, obviously. It wouldn’t have been so bad had the authors backed their information with hard facts. But sadly, all information gathered by them was dubious and notorious.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Surprised? Well, I was too.
Written by Mark Twain, the book has seen the usage of the word “nigger” quite frequently. No wonder this one ranks high amongst the list of book banned by schools. Due consideration should be given to the fact that at the time Mark Twain wrote the book, the word was the most common vernacular used for black people.
Also, the story shows Huck faking his own death, befriending a slave, and they both set out to seek liberation. Issues of equality, justice, human rights surface this children’s book, contrasting childhood dreams and harsh realities of life, mixed with some coarse language makes this one quite controversial.
The Catcher in the Rye
Written by J.D. Salinger, the book was intended for adults, but many teenagers ended up enjoying the classic because of its central character Holden Caulfield. He represented everything “anti-right” –he became an icon for defiance and rebellion.
Alcohol abuse, prostitution, sexuality, defiance, alienation, blasphemy, undermining of family values and moral codes, offensive language, premarital sex. Aren’t those sufficient reasons for banning this classic novel?
If I Did It: Confessions of a Killer
So O. J. Simpson swears that he did not commit the crime he was accused of, but the description of Simpson’s “hypothetical” scenario is so perfect and pristine that it’s as good as the actual confession. He puts forth the case that had he done it, this is how he’d do it. How weird is that?!
The Satanic Verses
By far, one of the most controversial of all books –for its controversial topic of course. The mighty unrest this one caused goes beyond measure.
Salman Rushdie tells the story of making an alternate Prophet Mohammad –a dispute between fact and fiction. The book was considered blasphemous since Rushdie referred to the Prophet Muhammad as Mahound, which is the medieval name for the devil.
In Pakistan, there were riots in 1989 over the book where a few people were killed, and many were injured in India. In spite of Rushdie issuing an apology, the Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini condemned the author publicly, and went to the extent of putting a $1 million bounty for killing the author, increasing that to $3 million if the assassin was Iranian. Even Venezuelan officials threatened 15 months of prison for anyone who owned or even read the book. Japan imposed a fine on anyone selling the English edition and a Japanese translator was said to be stabbed to death for getting involved with the book. Major U.S. booksellers removed this book from the shelves because they received death threats. Rushdie himself lived in hiding for almost a decade. Such was the animosity towards the book, and in a way it makes it all the more appealing. Despite all this the book was still listed for the Booker Prize in 1988!
This satirical novel, by Bret Easton Ellis, highlighted the farce nature of the yuppies in America through the story of Patrick Bateman, an insane yuppie and a serial killer. Upon its release, the book garnered huge controversy due to its extreme levels of graphic violence and sexual torture.
The Da Vinci Code
Dan Brown’s book gives a fictional account of characters revealing a hidden truth concealed by the Catholic Church for centuries, including the divinity of Christ, his celibacy, and the possibility of a genetic heritage. So why wouldn’t it be controversial?!
Many complained that the book has misinterpreted the history of Roman Catholic Church and the basic questioning of the tenets of Christianity. The book was also criticized for inaccurate description of history, geography, European art, and architecture. The book and the movie ended up topping the charts.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
Maya Angelou’s autobiographical work gives an account of her childhood and youth filled with trauma, tragedy, frustration, disappointment and eventually independence. She describes the racism she and her grandmother encountered, in spite of her grandmother being richer than her white counterparts. She describes how she was raped when she was just eight years old by her mother’s boyfriend and how her grandmother’s influence helped her overcome the hardships in her life.
So what caused the controversy? The graphic nature of the book, depicting details of abuse and rape.
This book was also nominated for the National Book Award.
Published in 1955 in France, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita caused a storm of controversy that still shadow the book.
This novel explores the mind of a pedophile (Humbert Humbert), who narrates his life and obsession for nymphets like the 12-year-old Dolores Haze.
The book was banned in France, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, South Africa, and Argentina. But in America, it was a huge success and is said to be the first book since Gone With The Wind to have sold 100,000 copies in the first three weeks.
Brave New World
Aldous Huxley’s most popular novel published in 1932 showcases Huxley’s vision of a future based on science and technology. The novel depicts drugs, sexuality, and suicide and reveals Huxley’s disdain for the culture of the United States. People challenged and tried banning the book on grounds of highlighting and accentuating negativity.
Then there are books around religion and divinity that have been the subject of discussions all around, like The Book of Mormon, The God Delusion, The Quran and The Holy Bible.
If you know of any, please let us know. You may add them here in the comment box below.