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Ulysses Anniversary: 6 Surprising Banned Books

  First Posted: 02/ 2/2012 4:50 pm   Updated: 02/ 3/2012 12:57 pm

By Daniel Lefferts for Bookish:

James Joyce’s "Ulysses" turns 90 today. The nearly 800-page behemoth, long regarded as one of the best (and most difficult) novels of all time, has spawned an international annual holiday (Bloomsday, on June 16) and enjoys a permanent place in English Lit syllabi around the world year after year.

But before it became part of the canon, the novel was banned in the United States and the United Kingdom for its explicit sexual content. For those who have taken the plunge, this doesn’t come as a too big a surprise. The story revolves in large part around Leopold Bloom’s struggle to come to terms with his wife Molly’s promiscuity. Masturbation and scatological imagery abound, and the novel closes with a 50-page rant from Molly expounding on her long sexual history and insatiable carnal desires.

The book legally debuted in the U. S. in 1932, a decade after its initial publication, after a landmark censorship ruling that found that, far from being merely prurient, the novel successfully portrayed each character’s “stream of consciousness with its ever-shifting kaleidoscopic impressions.”

In the decades since, censorship laws have largely relaxed, and yet every year hundreds of books are pulled from library and store shelves, including a surprising number of cherished young-adult titles and bestsellers. Here, the unusual suspects:

"The Giver," by Lois Lowry: Too Much Suicide Talk
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Lois Lowry's 1993 novel, about a dystopian society in which the government has outlawed love and grief, was one of the year's bestselling young adult books and won the coveted Newbery Medal. But communities in several states took issue with the book's focus on suicide and euthanasia. The government of the novel routinely "releases" many innocent civilians for arbitrary offenses (twins, for instance, are illegal, and one is always killed). But parents found a scene in which a young girl suffering from painful memories and melancholy injects herself with a fatal chemical particularly ruffling, arguing that it promoted suicide as an escape from grim circumstances. Efforts to ban the book, though, have mostly failed, with one South Carolina librarian pointing out that "if we waited for every kid to be ready, we'd be in the same kind of world" as the novel.
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