Happy Banned Books Week!
Oh hey it’s Banned Book Week! Since we’re a little starved for content around here, with me starting school and all, I figure I should probably do a little something. So that something is this: I’m going to list all the books from the ALA’s List of Banned and/or Challenged Classics that I’ve read, and a few words about each. Numbering follows the order in the ALA list (which is, in turn, based on the Radcliffe list of 100 best novels.)
1.The Great Gatsby – I never read this book in high school, though it’s required reading in a lot of classes (and, in fact, may have been in the other English classes at my school.) I didn’t actually read it until college, when we read a Fitzgerald short story in an American Lit class. I went out and bought it that same week and read it in about two days. It’s a fantastic, fantastic book, and I suspect—like most books we’ll be coming across in this list—the people trying to ban it have never actually read it, nor (if they have) understand it.
2. Catcher in the Rye – Okay, I’m lying here. I read most of this one. During a Spanish class. When someone else was studying the book for a different class. Basically I stole it from them and read it while doing my best to not pay attention. I should probably get around to finishing it one day. Maybe then I’ll get to the parts about why they keep banning it.
3. The Grapes of Wrath – Read it as a sophomore for class. While my teacher was pretty heavy-handed with the symbolism in the book (aren’t they all?), I really enjoyed it. Apparently people take offense to one of the leads having the same initials as Jesus Christ. C’mon people, that’s pretty common. Or maybe it’s because the book is overtly socialist. Yeah, that’s probably it. I’m sure the Okies would have been okay if they would have just worked harder to keep all that dust from flying off their fields.
4. To Kill a Mockingbird – People literally don’t read this book or don’t comprehend it. There’s no other way to explain how the book that gave us Atticus Finch can be challenged. I mean, I understand that the word “nigger” is used in it, but doesn’t this fall under the category of “teachable moment”? Isn’t that what critical thinking is for? Isn’t that why we go to school? Isn’t that the point of the book?
8. The Lord of the Flies – I really enjoyed this book. The social interaction within it is exactly what should be read and understood by high school students (and everyone, for that matter.) Just because some of the kids happen to display behavior unbecoming to a good British child doesn’t mean the overarching point of the book fails. There’s a term for that, it’s called “gestalt”. I realize it’s German, and therefore scary, but it’s quite applicable here. Also, as a personal note: Carleen Matts, if you happen to be reading this, I apologize 100% for being such a shit when we read this. I still believe that sometimes a story is just a story, but this is not one of those times.
12. Of Mice and Men – Read the same year as Grapes of Wrath, and I absolutely detest it. *SPOILER* Lenny dies in the end. On the last page. With no resolution past that. I have never been more angry at the way a book ended. I realize that’s the point, but still. Screw you, Steinbeck. Maybe that’s why it keeps getting banned/challenged: people are just pissed off at the ending.
19. As I Lay Dying – Read this in the same Am Lit class I mentioned earlier. In fact, I kept my Norton Anthology from that class because it contains the entire text of the novel (and because it has some other choice bits of a zillion great books and poems). While I’m used to books and films that have a narrative that is disjointed and may have many different viewpoints, I really like the way Faulkner pulled this one off. It’s one of those books that makes me stop and say “Why don’t I read more of this guy?”
And if there’s anything that should be taught in school, it’s that how people perceive you is not how you perceive yourself, and how you see others may not be how they really are. Even bumbling fuckups might be trying their hardest. (Or they might be bumbling fuckups. It could really go either way.)
29. Slaughterhouse-Five – Read as a palette cleanser while in the middle of a Hunter S. Thompson kick in college, partially because I had a friend reading it for class. I instantly fell in love with Vonnegut’s prose style, and his conversational tone, and I’ve gone on to get other books of his. They are all amazing, and you should feel bad if you haven’t read them.
I suspect the biggest reason this one gets challenged/banned is because of either a) the fact that humans are kept as zoo animals, or b) that there’s a pair of crudely-drawn boobs toward the end. I suspect it’s more the latter than the former.
40. The Lord of the Rings – Yes, I read the whole thing, including the Hobbit. I’ve tried getting into the other stuff Tolkien has written, but I just don’t have the wherewithal for it. Maybe one day. What I find most funny is that people cite it as anti-Christian, even though it has many of the same themes as the Bible. (Like, the actual Bible, not the one people wave against whatever they don’t agree with.)
49. A Clockwork Orange – Again, this falls down to people simply not reading the book or comprehending it. I’ll give a little leeway on that, though, because the language is about as easy to understand as calculus is to a third-grader. I’m still not sure I get exactly what is said, but I get the big picture. I also get that the final chapter was omitted from the US printings of the book (and as such, from Stanley Kubrick’s movie adaptation), and without it, the whole point of the book fails. Instead of it being a book about a rough gang member who gets caught and goes through a failed indoctrination by the state, only to relapse and then come to his own decision on his way of life, it’s just about violence and fascism. Burgess hated the book, and hated what it turned into, and I think he’s right. But I think his book is more like Catcher in the Rye than he realizes. It’s a book about growing up.
50. The Awakening – While I respect the themes of the book, and find it to be a great work of literature, I absolutely despise the character of Edna. I’m not sure that Chopin even wanted the reader to like her. She’s just so “Fuck you, I do what I want” that I can’t really identify with her. I realize that a lot of it comes out of the Victorian culture and her being so antithetical to it, but, well, put it this way: I can only listen to about four Rage Against the Machine(NSFW) songs before I just want to find something else.
Now that’s only eleven books, but I either own or have on the To Read list about a dozen more from the ALA list. But you know what? The ones I have read made me a better person. Too many people (parents especially) are caught up in trying to legislate away critical, individual thought—too busy trying to watchdog everyone else’s morality while ignoring their own.
The point of school is to learn and entertain new ideas. The point of teaching a book is to understand it. The organized movement against both education and understanding in this country (the US) is appalling, and parents are shirking in their responsibilities on raising children that are capable of understanding concepts like racism, sexism, sexuality, war, death, drugs, society, politics, and control.
Maybe then, one day, we could live in a “civilized” society where unarmed people don’t get blasted with pepper spray by the people that are paid to protect them, where the right choices are made beforehand so the sort of situation that allows for such things don’t happen to begin with.
But who am I kidding? That will never happen. In the meantime, go read a book, so when someone tells you you’re wrong for reading it, you can tell them they’re a fascist asshole that are actively undermining their own freedoms.