Readers’ Block: Childhood’s Forbidden Pleasures

Growing up, before my parents became extremely lenient and our residence became ‘the party house,’ my parents were sometimes weird about what I could and couldn’t read. Although they were incredibly awesome about my purchasing books: weekly we’d visit the local independent store Chevaliers that was within walking distance of our house.

I don’t know why my parents decided The Baby-Sitters Club was “trash,” but I have vivid memories of my parents refusing to purchase, or even let me read, the series. At the time, all the cool girls discussed during lunchtime whether they were a Mary Anne or a Stacey kind of girl. (There are some hilarious online pieces here and here about where those characters might have ended up.) Meanwhile, I desperately tried to become a part of the in-crowd with my Slap Bracelets and Pogs collection, despite being utterly clueless about what shenanigans those babysitters were up to (which probably included activities like–the horror!–babysitting).

I asked my mom about it years later, and she said that she didn’t want me growing up reading “fluff.” Other books she considered fluff included the Christopher Pike series, a slightly racier version of the Lois Duncan books I was addicted to. (Somehow, Lois Duncan made the reading cut because her characters never seemed to go past first base.) My best friend, Johanna, would invite me over to secretly read pages of serial killer characters engaging in heavy petting. We’d giggle over the sex scenes (which, in retrospect, were extremely tame), then watch reruns of “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.”

I asked if anyone else in our office was forbidden from reading certain books as a kid. Surprisingly, most people’s parents let them read whatever they wanted. (Mom and Dad, I’m looking at you for denying me a proper childhood.)

What about you? Were you forbidden or discouraged from reading certain books in your childhood?

Megan Fishmann, Publicist

I don’t remember so much being forbidden to read any certain book, but I was forbidden to open my father’s desk, and when I did open it—I mean, “Don’t open it,” for a pre-teen kid is tantamount to saying “Open this, and you will be amazed”—I found a copy of a book that surely would have been forbidden had my parents even dreamed that I might read it. To give this whole thing a bit of context, it was during Christmas break; I was 11 years old; I’d received several Hardy Boy books as gifts that season and had read them all immediately; I was bored and looking for something new to read. Inside the forbidden desk I found a paperback copy of Erskine Caldwell’s novel, God’s Little Acre, which, if you are not familiar with it, was considered the epitome of raciness in this innocent 1950s world in which I grew up. (I read Lady Chatterly’s Lover a year or two later, but that’s a whole other story.) After reading breathlessly and wallowing shamelessly for several hours in a Depression-era world where people did unimaginable (and, okay, occasionally incomprehensible to an 11-year-old) things to each other, I was stunned. After that, I don’t think I ever read another Hardy Boy novel.

Chuck Adams, Executive Editor


At my Catholic grade school, Judy Blume was strictly forbidden. Which means I read as many of her books as possible. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret was taken away from me in the 6th grade (before I could even find out what a “period” was) and Tiger Eyes was taken away from me in the 8th grade. The worst part? Ms. Bowles–the meanest teacher in the school–was my 6th grade teacher and my 8th grade teacher. I still have nightmares about her to this day.

Michael Taeckens, Online & Paperback Marketing Director



There wasn’t much censorship in my house growing up. In fact, because I had three younger siblings, I don’t think my mom knew what I was reading half the time. Case in point: the summer I was 12 and had nightmares for a month after reading Pet Cemetery. But, I do remember being denied one book. In the eighties there was a long-running commercial for L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics. There was fire on the cover, and reading it would change your life! I mean, why weren’t we all reading it? Well, my mom wouldn’t let it happen, although I don’t remember her ever explaining Scientology either. I think she used her patented next-time-maybe-later stall tactic until I lost interest. Years later, when I finally did find about Scientology, I remember thinking, Whoa, that’s what that book was about? But I still kind of wonder if it would have changed my life.

Kelly Clark Policelli, Assistant Managing Editor


I think my parents were thankful for anything they didn’t have to explain to me, and I don’t remember any book that was expressly forbidden. But I do remember books being described as “tacky”–meaning they had strong kid appeal. I also remember my parents weren’t particularly pleased when they discovered that their eleven-year-old was about three-quarters of the way through Jaws, which had some racy bits I won’t quote here. I also discovered Roald Dahl’s Switch Bitch, which was a departure from the books of his I’d been reading. Who knew! They weren’t pleased.

Brunson Hoole, Managing Editor


My parents  placed very few restrictions on my reading. In fact, I was the one who in Junior High brought racy books to school and let other kids read the parts their parents had forbidden them to read. I remember in particular Judy Blume’s Forever, and, oddly, Scruples, about which I remember nothing except the one scene I had ear-marked for my friends. I do remember my father putting his Carlos Castaneda collection on a high shelf and then somehow convincing me that they were boring anyway.

Kendra Poster


I was a book-a-holic from about 3rd grade on. Alas, I was also discovered to be nearsighted the same year. So I was put on an across-the-board book diet: only ONE book from the library per week. Consequently, I took stuff off my mother’s bedside table and read whatever it was under the covers with a flashlight (none of it memorable–she loved detective stories). Probably why I’m now legally blind! If they had just let me take … oh, say … five books out a week I might never have had those coke-bottle glasses.

Shannon Ravenel


I don’t think anyone ever told me I could not read a book. I may have been guided and gently urged down a certain path but I was never aware of being told, No.

I do remember feeling completely lost when I was informed I had outgrown the children’s section of the library. I seriously missed the solid guidance of our librarian, the amazing Heddie Kent, who always kept me challenged with a large pile of books throughout the long hot summers. I can vividly recall the first time I went up and down the aisles of the adult section and I discovered almost immediately that there was definitely more going on upstairs and hot summers had a whole new meaning for me.

Laura Williams


My parents didn’t forbid me from reading anything, but there was a phase in middle school when I was drawn to books that explored the dark side of adolescence—mental illness, anorexia, drug use—and they were frequently disapproved of after the fact. My father would see me with my book and say “Hmmm … I’d like to have more of an influence over your next book choice, okay?” The two books from this period that linger in my psyche are Go Ask Alice and The Best Little Girl in the World.

I also remember when I purchased Pocahontas by Susan Donnell to read during a family vacation to Europe—I was probably in 6th or 7th grade. I was intrigued by the history and wanted to read about the lives of Native Americans, and didn’t realize that there would also be some tantalizing sex scenes. I remember blushing when my mother saw what I was reading and said, “Ooh la la.”

–Sarah Rose Nordgren

5 Comments On This Post:

August 15, 2011
10:50 am
A. C. Parker says...

Ah, Judy Blume. My mom encouraged me to read her books, but they gave some trouble to a few of my elementary school teachers. I had a 6th grade teacher (male) who tried to ban Judy Blume. This was around the time that some girls were discovering Forever. Naturally, I wanted to know what the fuss was about, so… my mom, bless her, bought the book. My best friend and I would read parts of it during lunch, behind the classroom bungalow buildings. At that age, we just thought it was funny, and a little “gross.” But this and ALL Judy Blume books remain among my favorites. She helped me understand that the changes happening in my thoughts and body were normal. Can’t imagine childhood or adolescence without her!

Thanks for a great post, Algonquin!

August 15, 2011
10:56 am
Jana says...

I had a pretty liberal mom who, as a librarian, thought that any reading was good reading…as long as I put book covers on so the people at the pool couldn’t see the covers. I made my own covers out of paper grocery bags.

I remember reading Phil Donahue’s ‘Donahue: My Own Story’ autobiography and deciding to become an atheist in junior high. Also, I also read Judith Krantz’s ‘Scruples’ and still remember the pages of each sex scene (11, 42, …).

A failure of her philosophy was a 1970s title called ‘The Room’, which featured sex scenes that troubled me for years (kind of like creepy Will Self scenes). I truly don’t know where I got that book! I took ‘The Room’ to school and passed it around, traumatizing dozens of other kids until the book was confiscated by the principal. I don’t remember if I got blamed.

August 15, 2011
12:39 pm
patty says...

My very liberal parents didn’t forbid me from reading anything, but I do remember my grandmother very hesitantly letting me borrow her copy of Love Story, making sure to say, “Just remember, Patty, nice girls don’t talk like that.”

By the way, I think I am a nice girl, but I talk like that all the time. Sorry, Grandma.

August 17, 2011
6:07 am
Mandy says...

Love this post, especially Megan’s lead off. Babysitters Club, Pogs, slap bracelets–took me straight back to middle school!

August 17, 2011
1:19 pm
Katie Pegram says...

Love this post. I don’t think my parents ever banned me from reading anything, though they did raise some eyebrows over my budding interest in vampire novels back in middle school. Didn’t stop me though–I’m currently plowing through Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian and loving every word of it.

Miss you guys!

Post A Comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *