Monday, September 26, 2011

My Top Five Fantastically Filthy (Ban-able?) Books

An entire week dedicated to combating stupidity, censorship and narrow-mindedness? Yes, please!* To celebrate Banned Books Week, many bookish folk are reading from their favorite banned books and posting the videos on YouTube, which is awesome.

But I'm going to do something a little less high-road. What follows is my list of filthy, but fantastic, books that are (and probably at one point have been) easy targets for book banners. Just so we're crystal clear, I'm not AT ALL suggesting that these books be banned. I'm only suggesting that they're easy pickins for the type of people who do try to ban books.

That is to say, if people who tried to banned books actually read or understood good literary fiction, these would probably certainly be near the top of their list. But they don't, usually. So it's a pretty safe bet that some chucklehead in, say, Wakefield, Mass., who, say, banned Harry Potter, probably isn't going to have a good working knowledge of Philip Roth. In other words, he's ignorant of Philip Roth. And isn't ignorance the dominant characteristic of a book-banner anyway?

And, so without further adieu, here is my Top Five Books That Would Be Banned If Ignorant Idiots Had Their Way:

5. Sabbath's Theater, by Philip Roth — Everyone knows about the liver scene in Portnoy's Complaint, but Roth's National Book Award-winning (1995) novel is probably his filthiest. Mickey Sabbath, the novel's 64-year-old sex-tagonist, in one memorable scene, um, chokes the bishop on the grave of his dead wife. And that's one of the more tame scenes.When I finished this novel, I wrote: "I don’t know whether...I’m in awe of Roth, or terrified of him, or just grossed out by how perverted he seems to be." Good times!

4. Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami — This was the first Murakami book I'd read, and after hearing about his ethereal prose and how his novels hinge upon their own metaphysical logic, I was surprised by the sheer amount of sex in this novel. Careful: includes lesbians.

3. Lamb, by Christopher Moore — Lest you think I'd only consider dirty sexual novels ban-worthy, here we have a satiric look at the life of Jesus Christ, told by his childhood pal Biff. If the ultra-religious type gets itchy about Harry Potter, my God, reading (or kids reading, God forbid!) this novel would cause paroxysms of penance prayer on par with news that the Rapture is imminent.

2. Beat the Reaper, by Josh Bazell — There are certainly a lot of options for books that would meet the "way too violent" criteria, but I picked this one, because I loved it, and because it's so-over-the-top violent, I couldn't look away — including a ball-shrivelingly violent ending that will leave you fetal-positioned. I'll let Rachel of A Home Between Pages explain, as she did in a comment on my review: "When I got to the end of Beat the Reaper, I literally sat there with my mouth hanging open, holding the book over my head, going Oahhmaahhhgawd!!!!!"

1. Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates, by Tom Robbins — One of the funniest novels I've ever read is also one of the filthiest. It includes some, um, non-traditional, sex with a nun. And that's I probably all I need to say about this novel's gross-out factor. But it's awesome (the novel, not necessarily the fact that it includes nun sex). 
What would be on your list? 

*Banned Books Week, if you're unfamiliar, is an almost 30-year-old week-long celebration of books that at one point or another have been, well, banned. Check out this awesome map of censorship activity just in 2010 — 348 just in one year. Ugh!


  1. Can't believe I haven't read Lamb yet. I mean, I have it right here after my sister gave it back to me after she read it. She was guffawing about how fantastic it was and I STILL haven't read it.

  2. Love this post idea! And you make a good point that you won't normally see these books on banned lists even though they clearly meet some crazy book banners' criteria. I feel like this is a good TBR list. I've done Lamb (my personal fav book of any...), I'm reading Norwegian Wood now and I think Fierce Invalids will need to be tackled soon.

  3. I was just thinking I would enjoy celebrating Banned Books Week more if book banners cared about "grown-up" books. I loved Beat the Reaper (despite the frequent cringing) and can't wait to read the follow-up in February.

  4. Love this list! I haven't read any of these, but I'm intrigued (naturally). And you make a good point about these kinds of titles never being challenged or banned, because the kind of people that challenge and/or ban books are not the kind of people who read extensively.

    On the grounds of religious objections alone, I'd put Good Omens on the list -- it's basically an entire novel designed to mock the concept of the Apocalypse, son of Satan, and the like. And it's fantastic.

  5. I totally forgot about that comment I left about Beat the Reaper, but yes. That's still true.

    Also, I completely agree with Lamb. It's completely offensive if you get your panties in a bunch about things like satirizing religion. But it's also hilarious.

    I did see a list where Norwegian Wood was banned. But I'm sure the challengers were just saying, omg LESBIANS! NOOOOOOOOO.

  6. Oh, totally fabulous list. Unfortunately, most of my favorites are already on the list. Not so much newer ones but the likes of Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Orwell and such.

  7. The new novel I'm reading right now could be fastened onto this list with a rivet gun: Nicholson Baker's House of Holes. And you know what? It's pretty great.
    (Sabbath's Theater's one of the few Roths I'd never cracked open. Not that I won't, but I've read enough of his characters' geriatric sexcapades to last me a while.)

  8. I haven't read any of those - but I love the sound of all 5 books. What is it about "ban-worthy" books (though they should never be banned) that make them sound so appealing!

  9. This is great! I did a list of challenged or banned books which are not at all dirty, but this is much more fun!

  10. Pretty good list there,Greg-personally,I'm wondering if those ban happy folk would ever turn their attention to Jane Austen.

    She may not seem like an obvious candidate but there's a lot of cousin courtships and marriages in her books,not to mention some adultery,a love child and defiance of parental authority(a favorite pet peeve of the censorship set)!

    Not that I want anyone to attack Our Dear Jane but the extra attention would be rather amusing,especially since there's an army of Austen fans out in the world who would gladly leap into such a fray:)!

  11. What those ignorant do-gooders don't understand that by trying to ban a book they are probably doing the author and publisher a huge favor and bringing it to the attention of the masses.

  12. Love this post. And you're dead on about Lamb. It's obvious the book banners of the world haven't heard of it because those bonfires would be blazin'!

  13. @Natalie - It IS fantastic - silly/slapstick-funny at times, but also really smart-funny at times, too. Try it, you'll like it! ;)

    @Red - People are afraid of what they don't understand, and even people who have read and studied Roth, probably don't understand him - so someone with a book-banner mentality surely won't! How do you like Norwegian Wood?

    @nomareader - There's a follow-up to Beat the Reaper coming soon? YES! Best news I've heard all day. Thanks!

    @Kerry M - Thanks for the rec on Good Omens - sounds great! It's funny who "naughty" books are always more intriguing, isn't it? ;)

    @home - That's one of my all-time favorite blog comments. And I'm not surprised NW is banned in certain places - it really is pretty sexually graphic. And, therefore, great!

    @iwriteinbooks - Just 'cause they're older, doesn't make 'em any less legitimately bannable, right? Their bannable content may just be a little more subtle.

  14. @Doug - I've heard (naughty) bits and pieces about that book. Great, huh? And yeah, Sabbath's Theater seems to pull all of Roth's strange geriatric sexcapade fantasies into one place. It's an odd book.

    @Aths - The forbidden fruit... If you start with any on this list, I'd suggest Lamb. It's probably my favorite of the five.

    @Trisha - Ha - that's a worthy list, as well. But yes, talking about sex and making fun of religion is more fun.

    @lady t - The hell you say? Adultery? I'm sure it's (trying to ban Jane Austen) has happened - but, like you, I don't know of any specific instances. It'd be fun to watch that play out, though.

    @Man - That's definitely true - like that Missouri school district that banned Slaughterhouse 5 - the Kurt Vonnegut appreciation club (not sure if that's the proper name) send hundreds of copies of the book to the local libraries.

    @Emily - It's frightening to think what would happen of certain self-righteously pious folks actually read that book. But it'd be funny for the rest of us to "watch" their reactions.

  15. I'm still less than 1/2 way through it, but so far I'm really liking Norwegian Wood. Especially Midori. I kind of love her right now.