Three More Banned or Challenged Books I’ve Enjoyed

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This was a super fast read back in 2011, but what a VOICE Sandra Cisneros has!  Vignettes of a child’s view of immigrant poverty–one or two of which were simply too painful for me. You want to hug the girl telling the story and pick her up and whisk her out of there. This book is challenged for being inappropriate for the age group, but again, the girl in the story is young. She–and real children in our own country–are still enduring such things today.  This book has truly earned the label “classic.” The House on Mango Street.

 

 

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I did not enjoy Hemingway in high school. But, many years after graduating, I listened to this book with my son who was then a high school freshman. I finally “got it” where Hemingway was concerned. I enjoyed this book quite a lot–both the story and the prose. I also enjoyed my son’s comments and our discussions. Later we watched the movie version as well. The descriptions of war are what often gets this book challenged. But to a generation who has seen Saving Private Ryan and worse, they are not a big deal. To me, who “feels” the prose as much as reads it, they still are. But they are magnificent in that awful way of war stories. The romance, too, I felt as much as read. A Farewell to Arms.

 

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a fascinating biography and science story all rolled into one. I know almost zip about science, but found myself sitting in the car listening to “just a little more” each day. A cell culture taken from a low-income African American woman turned out to be the golden-egg-laying-goose for science. That’s the simple part. The more intriguing part is the story of how Mrs. Lacks family dealt with this. Mrs. Lacks grew up in an isolated, impoverished area of Virginia that was kept cut-off from mainstream society by first slavery, then reconstruction and finally Jim Crow. Even in her current-day descendants there is a surreal innocence about science so much so that listening to it brought to mind not contemporary conversation, but a journal of Margaret Mead written on some forgotten island.

It’s the harsh reality of what was done (and is still done) to African Americans in this country that makes this story so riveting. The Lacks family has endured some of the worst treatment this country can dole out. Henrietta, her elder daughter and consequently her younger daughter have suffered in ways that no middle class white woman like myself can even comprehend. This story will continue to beckon to Book Clubs for generations. Every woman alive should read it and be grateful for the medical advances that came thru Henrietta and to atone for the ill-treatment this family has suffered.

This book was sadly misidentified as “pornography” by an under-educated woman who felt gynecology equaled pornography. Sad. Even sadder that it was a woman objecting–a woman who indirectly benefited from the research done with Henrietta Lack’s cells.

. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. (This review originally appeared on my old blog on February 28, 2012.)

 

Have you read any banned or challenged books this year? Not sure? Find out here on the American Library Associations Banned and Challenged Books Lists.

 

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Which banned book would you give your younger self?

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If I could go back and give my younger self a book, it would be Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane. [Of course it wasn’t yet written when I was “young.”] I read this book right after Peace Corps. It would have been good to read this as a teenager to show just how that fabled other half lives.

Not many kids in suburban America in the 1970s knew about South Africa. Fewer still knew that in the late 20th century there were mothers who stood in line at the abattoir for a bucket of blood to boil to feed her starving children. That, had a big impact on me even AFTER living in Southern Africa. I cannot imagine how it would have rocked my world a decade earlier.

We would have understood the separation of the races known as Apartheid. The 1970s saw even more racial problems with court-ordered busing, so we would have at least had a little inkling of that. But eating boiled blood? No one would have known of that.

Sadly, this is one of the reason this book is challenged. Too graphic. That old “not appropriate for age group” label. What age group is it appropriate for? Little children are living that life still today. High School kids need lessons like this.

I’d also give myself his sequel, Kaffir Boy in America. Passing up a scholarship to Princeton because he lacked the sophistication to determine why one college was better than another was only the start of his problems. Sadly, the problems he experienced in this book are also still happening.

Which banned book would you give your younger self?

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Awakening Edna: Lunch With a Banned Book Character

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Recently, a blogger I follow, Book Club Mom, reviewed the Awakening by Kate Chopin–it was her choice for her summer reading challenge’s book with bad reviews. Her review of the book got me to remembering when I read it as a Freshman in college in a literature class on self-discovery. Later in college, I read many of the feminist classics in another class and understood some of the book better. That was 35 or so years ago–I’ve been thru a lot since then! I’ve been a wife and later I became a mother. I’m also a writer who is fascinated with older man, younger woman relationships. Therefore I’ve chosen Edna Pontellier, the main character who experiences the so-called ‘awakening’ as my lunch guest.

I’d want to interview her over lunch–like Jane Pauley or Barbara Walters would. I’d want to draw her out on why life with Leonce was so horrible.I’d want to know why she was so bored with everything. Was she completely unprepared for the [wink, wink] “ways” of marriage? Was Leonce a tyrannt? Why Robert? And what about Alcee? What did they have that Leonce lacked? Had she wanted children? If she’d not been expected to marry what would she have done?

Honestly? I don’t really care why she walked into the water. She struck me as too vapid too think of a better solution. But, then again, she could have been pregnant by her lover or could have contracted a social disease from him. At least that wouldn’t be boring. I thought she was a martyr to self-pity. I really think Edna was just not really interested in solving her own problems. But then, anti-depressants hadn’t been invented yet so that could be the very real reason for her lethargy and hopelessness. She probably had enough brains to leave morphine alone–or maybe Leonce forbid it in the house? Maybe over lunch she could tell her side and I’d finally feel some sympathy for her after all these years.

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The Awakening has been called “morbid, vulgar, disagreeable, and scandalous” (source). It did not do well when published. In the 1960s it was rediscovered by the women’s movement as a model of the oppression of wives and mothers. It showed how Edna was stifled  and belittled by marriage and motherhood.

Objections to the book come mainly from those holding traditional views of marriage and motherhood. Women should always be there for their children and husband, no matter what. Edna dared to be different, but not really. What did she do? Had an affair? Lots of upper class women had affairs, but they didn’t kill themselves over it. See, I can’t come up with sympathy. I need to interview her. There has to be more to her story than just being married to an older man and being “burdened” with managing a houseful of servants.

In recent years it has been challenged for silly reasons–an exposed breast on the book’s cover and for supposedly for something a school board member read on the internet! Silly or not, these landed it on the list of most challenged classics. [I was hoping they’d want it banned for being dull].

I’m not recommending you go and read it. Trust me, The Sparks Notes version is more than adequate–probably even the Wikipedia entry will do. At least until my lunch with Edna is over….hmmmmmm…. maybe someone should find Edna’s long-lost diary and write the real story of her life and its true awakening. Not me though.

 

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Who would you take out to lunch? Do you have a favorite banned book character? Leave me a comment.

 

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Which book would I go to jail defending

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While none of us can say with 100% certainty what we would do if our lives were immediately at risk, I hope and pray that I would go to prison to defend the Bible. Whether you believe it as literal truth, whether you are a person of faith by whatever term or whether you see it merely as a foundational cornerstone of the Western Canon, it is worth defending. At least to me it is. If my post on Dietrich Bonfhoeffer wasn’t enough of a clue then maybe you didn’t have time to read that post. You can read it now by clicking here.

I hope, if I were ever challenged, that I would stand up for my belief–stand up for this book. No other would truly be worth it. Not my favorite novels. Not the nonfiction I collect on Churchills and Roosevelts, not my Royal Family books. Only this one. It’s words sustain me. It’s story entertain and enthrall me. It’s message buoys me with hope in all circumstances. I have more of it memorized than of any other book. There is poetry, music, history, romance and much more within its covers.

You can argue back that it has caused more pain than any other. Certainly it has caused pain. It can be divisive. It can be used to manipulate, to harm or to cast others in bad light. All of that is true.

It’s believers were made to be imperfect so they are hypocritical, judgmental, greedy and other bad things Yes, that’s true. Yes, they ARE supposed to leave judgement to their God. They should never hold themselves up as examples–only God is the example. But God made them imperfect–just like every other person who has walked the Earth. Don’t judge a book based on that “one” believer you knew when. Don’t judge a book based on the popular media’s misrepresentation of its believers. “The is Nothing New Under the Sun,” this book says. It’s true. Everything old is new again–and everything is in here.

So, yes, I hope I would be strong enough to go to prison for this book. Maybe I’d be like Judas–maybe a gun to my head would get me to say “I don’t know Him.” Maybe. I hope not.

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The Bible has appeared on nearly every list of banned or challenged books ever published. Some people claim it is the single most challenged book. Others claim its believers are the only people to challenge books (not true by any means). Every race, creed, color, political view, sexuality and probably even every profession has challenged some book, some where at some time–or so it seems. Yes, liberals do challenge books–conservative ones. And yes, conservatives do challenge books–liberal ones. But this book, the Bible remains not only one of the most challenged books, one of the most banned books, but also one of the most influential and best-selling books in human history. Everything else was written after, so to speak. No matter the translation, no matter the version, the Bible is, in my opinion, the single most important book in human history. Flame me if you like. It’s my blog, my opinion.

Before condemning it–read it. You can read the Bible for free in any number of versions online. I normally read the New International Version, but I love the Psalms in the King James Version. I learned various verses as a child in the American Standard Version. Here’s a great place to read the Bible and decide for yourself. Bible Gateway.

 

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Banned Books Week Begins

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Banned Books Week is a catchy title for a list of books challenged or out-right-banned by various schools and libraries. Books that some say don’t belong in school or public library collections. Last year I posted daily on various so-called banned books.  I hope you will join me in reviewing books that others have challenged–usually without reading them, but not always. I never mind when a parent objects for his or her own child, but to ask for it to  be made unavailable to all is another matter entirely. For the record, I asked twice in all my kids’ school years for them to be given a different book and to not be present when the offending book was discussed. Neither the teacher nor the district had a problem with that.

In a public library I watched as members of a church peacefully, civilly and at no cost to the community, kept borrowing, “losing” and paying the replacement free for a young person’s book on sex and sexuality. It consistently made the book unavailable which I did not feel was right, but they did it in a polite and no-cost manner so they were not stopped.

Today I’m linking to Banned and Challenged Books I’ve reviewed elsewhere on this blog during the past year or so. Click the linked title to view the previous post with my full review. To see all such books reviewed on this blog, click on the phrase Banned and Challenged Books in the tag cloud in the sidebar.

 

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The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle is a book on the expericoence of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America that aims to echo the Grapes of Wrath.

 

 

 

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. An incredible coming-of-age story.

 

 

 

 

 

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Looking for Alaska by John Green, another coming-of-age story, but one with a punch.

 

 

 

 

 

What do these books have in common? All are about outcasts of some sort. Even if they are outcasts only in their own minds. They are about differences from a perceived norm. They are also all brilliantly told stories. What’s more all have helped readers far more than they have supposedly hurt them.

All this week I will again be featuring banned and challenged books–and I hope you’ll do the same. Civil disobedience is fine, as long as it is civil. Civil disagreement is not very common any more. That’s tragic for it was long part of the strong fabric of this country.

If you are posting on Banned and Challenged Books this week, please leave a link in a comment. I’d love to read your post–whether it is pro banning or adamantly against! Civil disagreement still occurs in my world.

 

Banned and Challenged Book Week: The Current Top Ten Most Challenged Books

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Source: Banned

1)      The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

Reasons: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying”

2)      Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi

Reasons: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint. Additional reasons: “politically, racially, and socially offensive,” “graphic depictions”

3)      And Tango Makes Three, Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

Reasons: Anti-family, homosexuality, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “promotes the homosexual agenda”

4)      The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison

Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “contains controversial issues”

5)      It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris

Reasons: Nudity, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group. Additional reasons: “alleges it child pornography”

6)      Saga, by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Reasons: Anti-Family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group. Additional reasons:

7)      The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited to age group, violence

8)      The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “date rape and masturbation”

9)      A Stolen Life, Jaycee Dugard

Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group

10)  Drama, by Raina Telgemeier

Reasons: sexually explicit

Explore the following pages for listings of banned/challenged books:

The ALA condemns censorship and works to ensure free access to information. For more information on ALA’s efforts to raise awareness of censorship and promote the freedom to read, please explore Banned Books Week.

We do not claim comprehensiveness in recording challenges as research suggests that for each challenge reported there are as many as four or five that go unreported. In addition, OIF has only been collecting data about banned banned books since 1990, so we do not have any lists of frequently challenged books or authors before that date.

Banned and Challenged Books Week: High School Banned Book Memory

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Wifey_book_coverBack before Snapchat and other similar services, girls passed around books with certain parts underlined in red. I blush to the roots to admit I participated in this with the book Wifey. To be honest I don’t remember much of this novel–just the giggling that went with it. And that she goes to a party with no panties on–only a tampon for “protection.” In 1978 or so that was pretty darned racy. No one talked about tampons and such in books. What did we learn from what is undoubtedly a pretty tame book today? We learned that temptation doesn’t get easier with age. That yes, our parents probably still “do” and yes, people older than us–whether parents or no, have to go out and find it just like teenagers! So you could say we gained insight into the world of adults. Wifey by Judy Blume.

Banned and Challenged Books Week: A Surprise Favorite

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I freely admit it. I’m not a fan of science fiction or of fantasy. They just aren’t “me.” I’ve read some. I had to read Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy in Intro to International Relations (it shows neatly all the possible ways power can be distributed among nations, in case you were curious) and The Book of Three, for a fantasy example, wasn’t awful, it just wasn’t my thing. So it’s no surprise that I skipped Wrinkle in Time when I was in school in spite of being in the generation for whom it was written. I came to it after reading Madelleine L’Engle’s Crosswicks Journals, which I was sad to learn later, her children consider largely fictional. Never mind.

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Wrinkle in Time caught my attention at the cream cheese and liverwurst sandwich with onion salt. Yes, you read that right. Early in the book Charles Wallace makes his mother such a sandwich (Meg opts out of the liverwurst in case you wondered) because it was so like my Mom. She had an annual liverwurst session and taught us to appreciate its richness.And cream cheese IS a gift from God. Onion salt, well, ok, Mom would have used real onion as I would today. And ours would be on really nice crackers.

It took FOOD to get me into a great read all because it is labeled “science fiction.” Labels do that to things–and to people, too. In Wrinkle the sci-fi was irrelevant to me. Here was a family where intellectual attainment mattered. Not the resume-building, grade-grubbing upper-class, suburban- Ivy-League-or-you-are-a-loser type “attainment,” but the real thing. Thought. Reading. Ideas. And appreciation of same. That kind of attainment. Here too was Meg, a girl like me–a girl who never fit in at school.  And,like my family, the father traveled. This would really have resonated with me in 5th or 6th grade because I missed my Dad when he was away (even though we had much better food when he was gone!).  But that label, “sci-fi,” got in the way.

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I enjoyed this book then, and it’s first sequel, as an adult. My son and I watched the movie version too, though of course it was a disappointment. Meg and Mrs. Murray are both taken seriously and Mrs. Murray does serious work. Charles Wallace looks up to his sister. All of this was HUGE in the children’s literature of the 1960s. I have often wondered if challengers to this book didn’t/don’t have as much to do with this fact as with the more obvious reasons–the Mrs. W’s and “IT” who is often challenged as a rival to God. Happily, kids are generally way brighter than the folks raising these challenges. They understand the fact that (pardon the pun) it’s all fiction. Imagination. Not real. They don’t confuse “IT” with God anymore than they think Spiderman has the same powers as God (though our long-ago Christian school disallowed all things superhero for that reason).

I hope students today can be left in peace to read this great book–sans labels. In an era in which Common Core is taking away fiction for such stimulating reading as EPA reports, and in which the acronym STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering & Math] is everywhere, I fear the label will be even more prominent. In our era of bludgeoning others over our beliefs and of being offended by everything, I’m sure, too, that there will be more challenges to this book. All of that is a shame. Wrinkle in Time is simply an outstanding book. It’s not too late. Read it now if you skipped it as a kid. You won’t be sorry.

On minor criticism–don’t go for the author reads the book audio version. Sadly, she was not an enjoyable reader. Let a professional read the words if you want an audio version.

Banned and Challenged Books Week: My second beloved book

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It’s funny, but in spite of there being no homeschooling and only the beginnings of a Christian School in town, I don’t know that ANY parent seriously challenged a book assigned in class. “But Wait! Things were simple and wholesome in the public schools of the 70s!” True, we had openly lesbian gym teachers who bought a house in our neighborhood with no one protesting and a few Moms even took casseroles over to welcome them. But in terms of books there was quite a lot to protest if you look at the times. For example–integration and busing were huge topics–and many parents did move or put their children in a private school if they could afford to do so. My small town near a college campus saw public housing integrated by two African American families and a family from India bought a house in our district–the father was a professor at the University. The son endured a lot–he was named Sirhan and Bobby Kennedy’s murder was fresh in people’s minds.

Now, too, we were seeing images of African Americans in our text books [sadly, these were often “white” faces that had been “colored” …sigh….]. While certain words had never been allowed in school, teachers corrected us anew to not say other words that had once been considered “correct” or “polite.”  For me this was not new–my father was very liberal and did not allow talk like that. Some people in my extended family did not like that, but we were taught to respect and value everyone.

Suddenly we were reading books like Soundermy school and most local schools had a field trip to go see the movie at a special showing for elementary schools. I remember being affected by Sounder–it was a depressing book in the right way–you felt for the characters in it.Children understand injustice even if they can’t put it into words. I remember being unsettled by the events in the book–wanting to know why? and how could they? And, being a pet-lover, I cried for Sounder, too.

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The emotions this book evoked helped me to grow up, to dislike wrong and value right. The bad helped me to understand why the Golden Rule should guide us in life (and I came from a non-religious family).

For the record, I have on two occasions asked that my children not be made to read a certain book. I asked that because for one child it brought on PTSD and for the other my child was singled out for being “an orphan.” Both children, then in grades 5 and 3, read other books with another class. At no time did I seek to have the book removed from the curriculum or banned in any way. My children endured a lot before they came to me–they didn’t need to relive it. Sadly, this is the case with much of the literature today. There are many, many children who NEED to see the “other side.” But there are those who have lived that an need to see the other positive side.

My children went on to read other “relevant” “gritty” books with no problem and in many ways they were strengthened and helped by them. Those “other” realistic books were therapeutic. I have no idea why the one book caused problems but all the others did not. The “orphan” thing was a well-meaning teacher who over-stepped sense and sensibility and singled my child out before the whole class–my child was understandably upset at being asked what it was like to be an orphan!

Banned and Challenged Books Week is not about one parent or student asking for a different assignment. Few would ever debate that. It’s about seeking to deny access to books for ALL. Objecting to content on behalf of ALL students.

Wayne State College has a nice visual list of banned books. You can view it here.

Banned and Challenged Books Week: My first challenged book!

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As a kid I wasn’t a big reader. I did love to have my Mom read to me though. In Middle School I finally became a reader. My Mom read good literature to me and my older brother and we both became life-long readers. My parents never censored what we read–my brother read the Godfather in 7th or 8th grade and went on to read other books that have been challenged. I read Gone With the Wind and the Winds of War in Middle School along with a few Bruce Catton titles on the Civil War. My Mom choose books for me sometimes–Eric by Doris Lund is still a favorite of mine, but she chose it. One book my Mom bought for me shows up on numerous banned or challenged book lists. It is the first such that I recall reading: A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck. It was newly out in paperback so I’m guessing the year was probably 1974–the summer before 7th grade. A neighbor read it–I can still recall this, and said she had thought it was something about the Bay of Pigs!

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An odd story for a mother to pick for a girl who loves animals? Maybe. Maybe she “didn’t think it through!” Who knows. What stays with me was the rather gross scene of Robert’s mother (or someone) picking nuts out of the stomach of a slaughtered animal–a squirrel if I remember correctly, and using them on a cake!! Not something done in suburbia, you can be sure of that!

Let’s be frank here–I can understand why some parents would not be in favor of this book. But, as I always say, ask for an alternative assignment for your child and ask that they not be in the room when this book is being discussed. The merits of this book are Peck’s great prose, his vivid characters and scenes. Children today do not equate food with the killing of animals unless its the silly “I don’t eat things with faces” sort of comment. This book would, therefore, be educational and could be a good spark to a serious discussion on all aspects of food security, ethics and farming.

A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck.