12 Banned Books Every Woman Should Read

12 Banned Books Every Woman Should Read

While it would be great if we were past the whole "banning books" thing, the fact remains that hundreds of books have their places in libraries or on school reading lists challenged each year.

According to the American Library Association, books are most commonly challenged for being "sexually explicit" or containing "offensive language." But some of the books that are most often challenged are also literary classics, containing storylines that almost everyone can learn from.

In honor of Banned Books Week 2014, we've pulled together a list of controversial books that every woman should read. They cover sexual freedom and women pushing back against prescribed roles, oppression against women and people of color, and what it means to be a woman in different places and times. Above all, they are stories well told.

Here are 12 banned, censored and commonly challenged books every woman (and person) should read:

Beloved -- Toni Morrison, 1987
This 1987 novel won the Frederic G. Melcher Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for its stunning narrative of a mother haunted by her young child's death. It also contains violence, sexual content and discussions of bestiality. As recently as 2013, parents have tried to remove Belovedfrom high school reading lists.
The Handmaid’s Tale -- Margaret Atwood, 1985
In a dystopian society ruled by the religious right, a woman is kept as a "handmaid" by a family in the ruling class in the hopes that she'll provide them with a child.The Handmaid's Tale was considered too "explicit" and anti-religious to be read in a Texas high school.
The Color Purple -- Alice Walker, 1982
The Color Purple follows the lives of several African-American women in the 1930s South. Racism and sexism are key themes, and the novel's violent scenes have made it a target for censors -- even though the book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983.
The Lovely Bones -- Alice Sebold, 2002
After a teenage girl is raped and murdered, she watches from her own personal "heaven" as her friends, family and community come to terms with the tragedy. Parents at high schools in Connecticut and Massachusetts asked for the book's removal from libraries and reading lists due to its "frightening material."
Lady Chatterley's Lover -- D.H. Lawrence, 1928
The story of a sexual relationship between an upper-class woman and a working-class man was considered too scandalous for many. The book was banned by U.S. Customs from 1929 to 1959, and the full text was not available in Britain until 1960.
Our Bodies, Ourselves -- Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, 1971
Written by women for women and intended to provide the basis for a women's health course, the book covers health and sexuality topics like gender identity, birth control, sexual pleasure, menopause and childbirth. Pretty racy stuff in the early '70s. The book was challenged in West Virginia in 1977 “because someone thought it was pornographic, encouraged homosexuality and was filthy."
Their Eyes Were Watching God -- Zora Neale Hurston, 1937
In Neale Hurston's novel, an African-American woman tells her tumultuous life story to a close friend. The book has been challenged due to "sexual explicitness."
The Awakening -- Kate Chopin, 1899
The Awakening's main character is searching for a role outside of that prescribed by society -- a wife and mother. The novel was censored for its "immoral" storyline and sexual content, and called "poison" in one of many critical newspaper reviews.
Tropic Of Cancer -- Henry Miller, 1934
First published in France in 1934, Tropic Of Cancer -- which follows a young struggling writer's sexual encounters -- wasn't distributed in the U.S. until 1961. Even then, more than 60 booksellers in 21 different states faced obscenity lawsuits for selling the novel. When the Supreme Court ruled in 1966 that the book was not obscene, Pennsylvania state Supreme Court justice Michael Musmanno dissented, writing: "Cancer is not a book. It is a cesspool, an open sewer, a pit of putrefaction, a slimy gathering of all that is rotten in the debris of human depravity."
Speak -- Laurie Halse Anderson, 1999
This YA novel about the aftermath of a teen girl's rape is a New York Times Bestseller, but has nonetheless been challenged in Missouri schools for "glorification of drinking, cursing, and premarital sex."
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings -- Maya Angelou, 1969
Angelou's biography and coming-of-age story features many of the trials of her young life including her rape as a child. Parents and schools have argued that the book contains too much profanity and encourages "deviant behavior."
The Well Of Loneliness -- Radclyffe Hall, 1928
This novel about lesbian relationships in the 1920s was just too much for some. A British court found the novel obscene for alluding to "unnatural practices between women," and the book was challenged immediately after publication in the U.S.

Before You Go

18 Books Every Young Woman Should Read

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