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5 Banned Books That Will Inspire You in Your Career


Every year since 1982, the American Library Association joins forces with other literary-minded organizations to promote Banned Books Week, a celebration of reading and free speech. Whatever your favorite genre, you’re likely to find some example of it on one of the ALA’s most-challenged books lists. Also on those lists: plenty of books, classic and otherwise, that can guide, inform, and inspire you to even greater heights in your career.


(Photo Credit: photosteve101/Flickr)

Here are just a few examples showing that Banned Books Week isn’t just for students:

Do You Know What You're Worth?

huckleberryfinn1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

One of the most banned books in America, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn often runs into censorship due to language issues. says that the book is frequently alleged to be “racially insensitive” and “oppressive.”

Why It’s Inspiring:

The banning of Huckleberry Finn has to count as one of the greatest examples of irony in censorship: banned for allegedly perpetuating racism, the book features a title character who decides, in the face of massive social opposition, not to turn his traveling companion Jim over to the people who would sell him down the river. In doing so, Huck’s going against everything he’s been taught about right and wrong, and breaking with the “sivilized” world. Not a bad book to have your in memory bank, when you’re faced with a moral crisis in your career.


[Tearing up the letter that would reveal Jim’s location.]

It was a close place. I took … up [the letter], and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: “All right then, I’ll go to hell”—and tore it up. It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming.

cagedbird2. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou

“I’m always sorry that people ban my books. …Many times my books are banned by people who never read two sentences,” Maya Angelou once said.

Her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird sings has been banned for everything from “profanity,” “descriptions of drug abuse, sexually explicit conduct and torture,” and most bizarrely, accusations that it promoted “bitterness and hatred toward whites.”

Why It’s Inspiring:

Maya Angelou’s story could be one of bleakness and despair – but it isn’t. In the course of her memoir, she endures abandonment, violence, and racism. The book ends when she becomes a mother at the age of 17; later, Angelou went on to become a civil rights activist, poet, singer, dancer, and actress, as well as write six more autobiographies and receive over 50 honorary degrees and multiple national and international awards. It’s hard to think of a person who went through more and rose higher.


You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.

callofthewild3. The Call of the Wild, by Jack London

Jack London’s adventure story of mining in the Yukon at the end of the 19th century was banned in Italy and Yugoslavia less for its content and more for London’s socialism. It was also burned in Nazi Germany.

Why It’s Inspiring:

If being on the do-not-read list of dictators isn’t enough, The Call of the Wild offers adventure, crisp prose, and a brave dog.

“To my thinking, Call of the Wild is just about as American as it gets,” writes Brian M. at Mid-Content Public Library’s website. “It’s about a dog named Buck who is kidnapped from his home in California, and sent to pull a dog sled in the Klondike gold rush. The setting of the story is very ‘Manifest Destiny,’ and the Klondike gold rush was something that author Jack London experienced for himself firsthand. As for the plot, what’s more American than an adventure to seek treasure in the unexplored regions of our country?”


He was beaten (he knew that); but he was not broken. He saw, once for all, that he stood no chance against a man with a club. He had learned the lesson, and in all his after life he never forgot it. That club was a revelation. It was his introduction to the reign of primitive law, and he met the introduction halfway. The facts of life took on a fiercer aspect and, while he faced that aspect uncowed, he faced it with all the latent cunning of his nature aroused.

catch224. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller

“I wasn’t interested in the war in Catch-22,” Joseph Heller once said of his novel, set in an Army Air Forces squadron in World War II. “I was interested in the personal relationships in bureaucratic authority.” His novel was banned was banned in Ohio in the ’70s for indecent language.

Why It’s Inspiring:

If you work for an organization with more than two people in it, you’ve probably used “Catch-22” to describe a problem, often bureaucratic in nature, in which any logical solution wipes itself out. You have Heller to thank for the handy term, which he coined to describe the conundrum of the pilots in his novel: “crazy” pilots would be grounded, but anyone who had the sense to be afraid enough to apply to be relieved from duty would be declared sane.


There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he would have to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.

“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.

harrypotter5. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling

Who would ban a children’s book? Well, a lot of people, it turns out. J.K. Rowling’s saga about the boy wizard and his friends is, collectively, the most-banned book of the 21st century, according to the ALA. Various groups claimed the series contained satanic or occult references and subtexts.

Why It’s Inspiring:

You don’t have to be a child to warm to a story of an overlooked and underappreciated person who turned out to be the only one who could save the day, and who wouldn’t want a magic wand to wish their troubles away? More importantly, Harry’s true strength was never magic, but bravery and teamwork and the love of his friends. Pretty inspiring on both a personal and professional level.


It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.

To learn more about Banned Books Week, check on the ALA’s site.

Tell Us What You Think

Which book would you add to this list? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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