Banned Books Week 2022
September 18-24 is Banned Books Week 2022, which celebrates the freedom to read and open access to voice and information to all. This year’s theme is “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us”. Below is a selection of five books from our collection that have been banned or censored at some point in time. We encourage you to borrow them!
Our first title to kick off Banned Books Week is Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. Published in 1949, it tells the story of Winston Smith, a worker in the brutal and hyper-surveilled superstate of Oceania. Considered one of the greatest works of 20th century literature and a pinnacle of dystopian and political fiction, the novel popularised the term 'Orwellian' and originated the concepts of 'Big Brother' and 'Thought Police'. As a consequence of its critiques of Stalinism, totalitarianism, and violations of freedom of expression, 1984 was banned in 1950 in Soviet Russia. View our copies in Library Search.
The second title is The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, one of the founding documents of the communist political movement and a revolutionary text of its time. Written in 1848, it was a document created against a backdrop of significant social and economic change. The idea of history as a series of class struggles between rich and poor, and that a move away from capitalist systems was the best way forward, was viewed as a threat in many capitalist countries, and thus this title was censored and banned in a number of jurisdictions, including Nazi Germany and in the United States in 1950s when hysteria about communism reached its peak. View our copies in Library Search.
Our third banned book title is Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. It was banned in Australia upon its publication in 1932 until 1937, primarily in response to its supposed obscenity and anti-religious and anti-family values. Huxley presents a dystopian future, born out of his anxiety about the extremes of war, science, disease, and technology. A forerunner to later dystopian novels such as 1984, its confronting themes still resonate with readers today, and despite still appearing on some banned reading lists overseas, it is now more broadly considered one of the great 20th century works of literature. View our copies in Library Search.
The fourth title is Giovanni’s Boccaccio’s The Decameron, the oldest story on the list, published in English in 1620, and first published in Italian in the 14th century. The text travels across 100 tales of men and women living in Florence during the Black Death of 1348. It is considered a masterpiece of early Italian literature, and even went on to inspire William Shakespeare. However, its depiction of sexual acts and lewd jokes was deemed offensive, especially by the Roman Catholic Church, and so it has spent much of the last 500 years being banned in multiple countries, most recently in Australia from 1927-1936 and 1938-1973. We are lucky enough to hold multiple copies in our collections, including in Rare Books and Manuscripts. View our copies in Library Search.
The final title for Banned Book Week is Salman Rushdie's 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses. The text explores the life of the prophet Muhammad, incorporating magical realism and Quranic verses. Although critically acclaimed and award-winning, Rushdie's novel has been banned in nearly 20 countries for religious blasphemy, leading to fraught debates about religious censorship and even assassinations and attempts on the novelist's life. Rushdie's work serves as a pertinent reminder of the continued importance of freedom of knowledge, criticism, and expression for all. View our copies in Library Search.