Banned Books Week is almost over, but I figured I would join in the celebration of being able to read without censorship. Throughout history, gothic books have often been prime targets for book-banners, given that they tend to feature discussions of violence, death, and all things terrifying, as well as related taboos such as sex and sexual desire. Even today, gothic books—especially those that fall under the modern genre of horror—are among those most likely to be challenged or banned. Below are five great gothic reads that show up on the American Library Association’s lists of banned or challenged books:
1) Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series by Alvin Schwartz (illustrated by Stephen Gammell)
This series is at the very top of the “100 most frequently challenged books: 1990-1999” list from the ALA’s website, and quite near the top again in their list for 2000-2009. But what would a childhood be like without these books? I know I had at least three of them growing up and absolutely loved reading from these stories and songs at parties or all by myself at night. A number of the stories have stuck with me, made more memorable by the perfectly creepy illustrations accompanying them.
2) Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine.
Another series to make it onto the Most Frequently Challenged list for the last two decades. For some reason, I wasn’t as huge a fan of these during my childhood, although I definitely read a few and enjoyed them. An absolute horror master, R. L. Stine pumped out over sixty of these books throughout the nineties. Now the series is seeing some renewed attenttion with the announcement of a Goosebumps movie coming out this year!
3) Carrie by Stephen King
This one only made it onto the MFC list for 1990-1999, but we can see that these lists tend to become almost a guide to everyone who’s anyone in the horror world. With the double taboos of violence and menstruation, it’s no wonder that Carrie is a popular target for banning. This book has become one of America’s most well-known horror stories, with its infamous pig’s blood scene being seared into the American consciousness by a number of film adaptations—reminding us that amidst the horrors of abuse, violence, and uncontrollable powers, one of the scariest things in the world is how cruel high schoolers can be to one another.
4) Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam (illustrated by Lane Smith)
Middle grade and YA horror aren’t the only books to get challenged. Books for younger readers are held to even closer scrutiny. I had never heard of Halloween ABC before I started combing through these lists, but apparently it caused a lot of trouble in the ’90s. Sounds to me like the perfect addition to my Gothic Children’s Books shelf! In this book, Merriam celebrates each letter of the alphabet with a rhyming poem about various Halloween creepies and crawlies.
5) As I Lay Dying by William Faulker
This classic Southern Gothic is often taught in schools, which is probably how it ended up on the ALA’s list of “Banned & Challenged Classics.” As I Lay Dying follows the story of a poor Mississippi family in the 1930s as they travel across the countryside with the body of their matriarch, Addie, on their way to bury her. Told disjointedly from the perspective of each family member—including Addie’s corpse—this story is definitely one of the most memorable you’ll encounter in the classroom.
What are some of your other favorite banned books? How have you been celebrating Banned Books Week? Let me know in the comments!