Society

The 10 Most Controversial Books of the 21st Century (So Far)

Here are some of the books that caused the biggest splashes when they were published, for better or for worse.

Nowadays, getting rid of an undesirable book is a tough task to achieve: "the only way to hide anything from the Internet is if it doesn't exist at all." It is also known that controversy picks curiosity: schools that attempt to censor books often produce the opposite outcome. A ban gives a book some intrigue, even if undue, which equates to more sales, more media, and more readers. 

Although there is no second edition of The Anarchist Cookbook or a new Lolita in our century yet, we put together a list of books that led to raised voices, complaints filed, and many comments left on Facebook pages.

Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner is a coming of age story which spent weeks on bestseller lists and won multiple awards. It was officially challenged in 2008 and 2012 for homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, and sexually explicit material. The opposing opinion argues that the themes of self-discovery, redemption, guilt, faith, and their complex interconnection in both personal and political spheres couldn't be presented to the degree the author intended without showing some less glamorous reality. 

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

The book portrays the slave era, the part of the American history that can hardly be described in pretty and comforting terms if the author intends to tell the hard truth. It attracted multiple arguments over its title, and other words deemed offensive. The Book of Negroes controversy went as far as burning books and changing the cover to accommodate the public outrage.

Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code

This fictional novel was sold in millions of copies. It came under heavy criticism from many religious organizations, including the Catholic Information Center in Lebanon. The Da Vinci Code follows a cryptologist as he attempts to decode an ancient message. The novel presents an alternative religious history where Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene, which the Catholic organization considered insulting. Some suggest that the scene was introduced intentionally to provoke a scandal and leverage it for the sake of free advertisement; it's hard to tell. 

E.L. James's Fifty Shades of Grey

It is difficult to talk about controversial books of the 21 century and overlook Fifty Shades. The first book of the trilogy easily beat The Da Vinci Code in sales. Fifty Shades of Grey is an erotic story of the relationship between a young college student and a wealthy CEO. The explicit sex scenes, many of which contain BDSM or power-exchange elements, are a large part of the book's content. Not only conservative groups and public libraries opposed the book; the BDSM community also expressed a very negative opinion of its content (although, most likely, for different reasons).

The Peaceful Pill Handbook by Philip Nitschke

The Handbook was intended to help the terminally ill in selecting the best way to end life where there are no legal options available. He argues that as a person has a right to live, they also have the right to make their own choice regarding the time and place of death. Philip discusses the selection of suicide options, including insulin or opioid overdose. He even describes how to make Nembutal, a strong sedative, at home and how to administer it with the intent of euthanasia. The Australian government made selling or distributing The Peaceful Pill Handbook within its borders criminally punishable.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature in 2007 for this book. It is a story of a Native American boy who leaves the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all-white high school. The story is semi-biographic and openly talks about the reality of the reservation: the upholding of ancient traditions, drugs, poverty, alcoholism, and the similarities and contrast between the two worlds the protagonist faces. The book has been challenged for drugs, alcohol, smoking, offensive language, racism, and being sexually explicit. 

Sonya Sones' What My Mother Doesn't Know

A typical novel with a teen female protagonist sharing her experiments, mistakes, and self-discovery, including her "young love." American Library Association deemed the story too sexually explicit and full of offensive language. Ironically, the same book was chosen as one of the American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults in 2002.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis is a reminder of the cost of war and political repression paid in absurd and horrifying human suffering of those far from the political debate. Marji recalls her life in Iran from the age of 10 when the Islamic revolution of 1979 reintroduced a religious state. Marji's parents, who taught her to believe in freedom and equality, realized that the new regime was more restrictive and unfair than the one ruled by Shah, and had to send their daughter to Europe to protect her. This story uses a graphic format with simple black-and-white illustrations, and find a unique way to show both adolescent rebellion and the horrors of war and totalitarianism. The controversy arises from the subject of opposing the cruelty or the religious state (that still governs Iran now) and the issue of asylum that many citizens of developed countries find uncomfortable.

The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump by Michiko Kakutani 

Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Michiko Kakutani was described as "an explainer on how the once-unthinkable came to pass." The author, known for her erudition and wit, portrays the time of the Trump administration when the very idea of truth is mocked and discounted by the White House. Conspiracy theories, propaganda, and forgotten ideologies are having a field day while the science and fundamental values come under fire and lose budget.

Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey

And to show how arguments can arise from minor disagreements, we finish the list on a lighter note. Captain Underpants, Dav Pilkey's popular series for beginning readers under ten years old with quite a few "toilet" jokes, frequents the American Library Association's list of most challenged books: the complaints claim offensive language and violence. A few school districts went as far as claiming that it causes an unruly behavior among the children. Details didn't follow. 

About the Author

Antonia is a sociologist and an anglicist by education, but a writer and a behavior enthusiast by inclination. If she's not writing, editing or reading, you can usually find her snuggling with her huge dog or being obsessed with a new true-crime podcast. She also has a (questionably) healthy appreciation for avocados and Seinfeld.

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