David Goldenberg on the FiveThirtyEight blog recently asked the question, What is the most banned book in America? This is a question that has interested me for several years, and I thought I would share my list of the 5 Most Banned Books in America.
Be warned, this is not a list of books that will give you warm fuzzy feelings for having read them, unlike The Kite Runner or the Saga graphic novel series, both of which appeared on the 2014 list of most challenged books [Note: the American Library Association (ALA) publishes a list of "challenged" books but celebrates the sexier "banned" books week; more about that here].
None of these books has ever appeared in any American Library Association banned books press release or list.
None of them are ever (or hardly ever) mentioned in stories about Banned Books Week in the press.
I doubt any of them have ever appeared in a library or bookstore Banned Books Week display.
A few of them are so completely banned that you couldn’t buy a copy if you wanted to.
If you believe in the ALA’s “celebrating the freedom to read” slogan and you believe book banning is wrong, your beliefs are about to be tested.
These are (mostly) vile, offensive books. You’ve been warned.
This list is the work of Scott Brown, and does not reflect the opinions of anyone else at Eureka Books.
The Most Banned Books in American Are:
1. The Pedophile’s Guide to Love And Pleasure: A Child-Lover’s Code of Conduct by Phillip R. Greaves II
I can’t tell you the content of this book because it has disappeared from the Internet (to be fair, I didn’t want to look too hard for fear of what else I might find along with it). It was described by law enforcement as containing “two graphic stories depicting an adult engaged in sex acts with children, specifically describing adult genital contact and oral penetration with a 9-year-old boy and with a 13-year-old boy. The book also defends, advocates, and trains adults regarding illegal sex acts between adults and children.”
The book was briefly available on Amazon as an e-book until public pressure resulted in its removal, but that didn’t stop Polk County, Florida, sheriff’s deputies from setting up a sting operation. The fact that the author lived in Pueblo, Colorado, didn’t stop them. As described in the sheriff’s press release, “Undercover detectives contacted Greaves and offered to purchase his book. Greaves mailed what he referred to as his own personal copy of his book, signed, after being paid $50, to an address in Lakeland, Florida.” Greaves was charged with a felony, Distribution of Obscene Material Depicting Minors Engaged in Conduct Harmful to Minors.
Polk County sheriff’s deputies flew to Colorado, had Greaves arrested, and extradited him back to Florida. Greaves was poor and mentally ill, living on disability, and could not afford $15,000 bail. He sat in jail for about 100 days before pleading no-contest. By this point, many of Polk’s citizens were wondering about the wisdom of importing someone suspected of pedophillic tendencies to Florida from Colorado. Greaves was given two years’ probation, with the requirement that he serve it back home in Colorado.
As best I can tell, Greaves served more time in jail for a book-related crime than anyone since the 1960s, and for that he gets the number 1 spot on the banned books list. That, and you can’t get his book anywhere.
The Lakeland Ledger newspaper has many interesting articles on the case.
2. Sixty Years Later: Coming Through the Rye by Frederik Colting (originally published under the pseudonym, John David California)
This is a not-too-interesting novel (I managed to read most of it), written as a sequel to The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger. Holden Caulfield is in a nursing home and narrates what happened after Catcher in a series of flashbacks.
Colting published the book in Europe (he’s Swedish), and when he attempted to issue it in the US, J.D. Salinger sued, seeking an injunction (Salinger died during the litigation, which was continued by his estate). An injunction! The bar for preventing publication before the fact is very high, yet Salinger won in court, only to have the injunction overturned on appeal.
With the costs of future litigation mounting, Colting settled out of court, agreeing not to publish the book in the US “until The Catcher in the Rye enters the public domain,” which is decades away. Notably, the settlement allows publication of the book outside of North America (you can order a copy from Amazon.co.uk).
For a long time, the book was completely gone from the US Amazon site. I see now that the e-book is available on the Kindle, at least until the Salinger estate notices and has it removed again.
Even though you can actually get Coming Through the Rye, it earns second place on the most banned books list because Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye is a frequently challenged book, held up as a symbol of the freedom to read. It is therefore deliciously ironic that an author who has faced censorship himself has used his wealth and expensive attorneys to effectively ban another writer’s work.
[While the ALA has never listed Sixty Years Later as a banned book, it did file an amicus brief in support of Colting's freedom of speech rights.]
3. Dog O’ War by Dale Bretches
Bretches is a convicted killer serving time at Pelican Bay, one of California’s supermax facilities. His hobby was training Presa Canario dogs to be ultra aggressive. He somehow managed to supervise continued breeding and training operations from prison, and one of his dogs attacked and killed a woman in San Francisco. So of course he wrote a book about it. It was self-published by iUniverse and went through two editions. Then prison officials banned the book, first because prisoners aren’t allowed to run businesses, and second because it was filled with vile, white-supremacist rants. Bretches sued and won on freedom of speech grounds. The court ruled that all proceeds have to go to charity, but that prison officials can’t ban books. Even though this ruling was made in 2012 (after five years of litigation), you still can’t buy the book.
4. The Federal Mafia by Irwin Schiff
Schiff is a serial tax-evader who wrote a book from prison called The Federal Mafia that offered a number of dubious strategies for not paying taxes. A federal judge ordered him not to sell the book, a ruling that was upheld on appeal. The ruling put restrictions on Schiff that should give civil libertarians pause:
Schiff and his associates were barred “from selling their tax scheme, which according to the court’s holding fraudulently claims that paying federal income tax is voluntary.” Schiff and co. were banned from selling his book and were required “to provide the government with a list of their customers.”
Used copies of the book can be legally sold and to get around the injunction, Schiff now gives the e-book away for free.
5. Demon Beast Invasion by Toshio Maeda
Demon Beast Invasion is pornographic Japanese anime, meaning cartoons for adults. In 1999, Jesus Castillo, the manager of a Dallas comic book shop sold a copy of this book to an undercover police officer, who arrested him on obscenity charges. Castillo just happened to be the unlucky person behind the counter when the vice officer made the purchase. Castillo was convicted on the grounds that he was attempting to sell obscene material to minors, even though the comic was in the adult section of the store, and the police officer who bought it was an adult. At Castillo’s trial, the district attorney argued to the jurors, “Use your common sense. Comic books, traditionally what we think of, are for kids. This is a store directly across from an elementary school, and it is put in a medium, in a forum, to directly appeal to kids. That is why we’re here. We’re here to get this off the shelf.” Castillo’s appeal went all the way to the Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case. He was given a suspended sentence of 180 days in jail and a $4,300 fine.
You can buy used copies of Demon Beast Invasion online, but I wouldn’t advise having it sent to Dallas, where the courts have deemed it obscene and the sale of the comic and (presumably) its possession is illegal.