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15 Most Controversial Books In The Western Canon

from Shmoop

10. It’s Paining Men

Who: Alice Walker

What: The Color Purple

When: 1982

Why: Rape, incest, homosexuality, and an unfavorable portrayal of men

How: Cutting right to the chase, The Color Purple famously opens with a graphic firsthand account of an incestuous rape. After bearing (and being separated from) her father’s children, Celie is forced into a loveless marriage where she is beaten and suffers spousal rape by her husband.

Her freedom eventually lies in having a lesbian affair with her husband’s mistress and leaving him to start her own business. For many readers, the mother/daughter/lesbian lover dynamic leaves little room for any male protagonists, which critics argue reinforces negative stereotypes about black men.


11. Still Haven’t Found What They’re Looking For

Who: Salman Rushdie

What: The Satanic Verses

When: 1988

Why: Irreverence toward Islam

How: In addition to other offences, Rushdie refers to the prophet Muhammad as Mahound, a derogatory, Crusader-era term, and names various prostitutes after Muhammad’s wives.

Initial backlash included rioting, bombings, and book burnings. In 1989, the Ayatollah of Iran issued a fatwa against Rushdie and “all those involved in its publication,” resulting in the assassination of one of the book’s translators and attacks against others.

Although Rushdie was unharmed, he spent the next nine years living in undisclosed locations under police protection, reportedly even staying at Bono’s house in Dublin from time to time. You know you’re in trouble when Bono’s letting you hide out in his mansion.


12. Lady in Red

Who: Bret Easton Ellis

What: American Psycho

When: 1991

Why: Extremely graphic descriptions of torture, murder, mutilation, cannibalism, and more

How: Although American Psycho can be characterized as a satire of American machismo, odds are you’ll be too distracted by the detailed first-person accounts of a serial killer to really appreciate the underlying message.

After Simon and Schuster backed out of the project, Vintage Books got the publishing rights to the novel – as well as a lot of heat from feminist groups for its portrayal of violence against women. (To be fair, the narrator also kills a few men and a dog.) As with guns, spray paint, or huff-able glue, many stores require that you be 18 in order to purchase this novel.


13. On the Origin of Pieces

Who: James Frey

What: A Million Little Pieces

When: 2003

Why: Intentionally deceptive marketing

How: Famously dubbed “A Million Little Lies,” James Frey’s so-called memoir incurred a horrible retribution after it was revealed that many of the more scandalous events in the story never actually happened.

Particularly damning was the fact that Oprah, who’d previously featured the novel in her book club (and bolstered its sales by about n-teen percent), made it her personal mission to rip Frey and his publisher into a million little pieces on national television. The media carnage and book returns that followed taught Frey one of the most important facts of American life: don’t mess with Oprah.

[ click to read full list at Shmoop.com ]

Posted on May 26, 2010 by Editor

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