Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Banned Books: Extreme Mini Reviews

In celebration of Banned Books Week, I thought it would be fun to simply tell you, and give an extreme mini review for, some of my favorite banned and/or challenged books. I don't pretend to know why these books give some people issues. Mostly, I think they deal with hard, real, emotional subjects which can make some people nervous. Perhaps they don't like how certain groups are portrayed. Maybe that portrayal is right, and maybe it is wrong, but still it seems like it might be a good starting point for some nice healthy discussion, not the catalyst for censorship.

So here are some of my most favorite books that show up on the list here and here:

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck: A heart breaking portrayal of the hardships and frustration one family goes through during the drought of the 1930's. I don't think I've ever read a book that left me feeling more frustrated and helpless for the characters. It was intensely emotional.

The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank: Here's a book that I would love to find time to routinely re-read. (I should have put it on yesterday's list!) A perfectly normal girl gets a diary for her birthday and starts writing (granted her writing is amazing) in it about her perfectly normal life. Then the Nazi's come to town and suddenly she is documenting one of the world's most darkest moments. It never fails to amaze me that this young teenager has become so well known just for preserving her spunk and spirit by simply writing in her diary.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: Because this was a book I (re)read since blogging, I do have a full review here, but let me just say quickly that yet again, here's a book that packs a powerful punch to the feelings and emotions taking place during the civil rights era, through (yet again) the eyes of a young girl. Not an easily forgotten one, this book.

The Giver by Lois Lowy: This is probably the first dystopian book I read, way before dystopian was cool and trendy. And I was blown away by the idea of a world where memories are taken away, where people lose their choices, where kids can't be kids and old people can't grow old. It's a haunting powerful book.

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George: Here's a book that brings back memories of childhood when I was discovering the joy of reading. It was on the list that I got from a relative which listed a bunch of good books to read (aka Newbery Award winners.) I remember it basically being about the coming of age story of an Eskimo girl and the stuff she had to go through... wow. I should read it again so I can remember better.

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell: I read this one the summer after ninth grade, and was sucked in! Then we (my friends and I) went and saw the movie which suddenly was playing for fun at the dollar theater. Ah, the memories! One of the best novels ever to give you a feeling of the craziness that was the Civil War.

I could go on and on! What a bunch of awesome books are on those lists! Now, granted, there's also some on there I'll probably avoid, but that's okay. I don't have to read them. But the key part is, I don't get to tell YOU not to read them! :)


  1. I think I know why Grapes of Wrath makes it onto banned lists- that one scene at the end where a starving man is fed by a woman who just lost her baby...

    but why, why is Julie of the Wolves banned? I can't figure that one out.

  2. I often have a hard time figuring out why books are banned. I have even read some and didn't even know they ever made the list... They always seem fine to me.

  3. I have a problem with making a big deal out of reading "banned" books. Randy's English teacher is having a banned books segment. My alarms went off. The surest way to stoke curiosity is to hype up the illicit nature of something. The books they'll read will probably be fine, but labeling it a "banned books" unit is turning the whole thing into a criticism of the people who wanted to ban the books. You have to understand the cultural milieu that existed when said books came out. You have to consider the local culture of the districts that questioned the book. One of the lists you linked to has the book "The Joy of Gay Sex". I would still advocate that my middle school not carry such a book. By expressing that sentiment, I am now a "book banner"? Most of bans were talking about are for kids. Parental control over kids is not the same as squelching free speech in the general public. That that distinction is not being made makes me question the motives of the ALA. The list is really "books considered inappropriate for some ages by some people at various times".

  4. I agree that I have no idea why some people have a hard time with those books. I remember reading Julie of the Wolves in elementary school (which was a while ago, so I don't remember a lot about it). Same with To Kill a Mockingbird. You and Jenni are making me want to reread that!

  5. Jeane: I know that scene is shocking... VERY shocking... but banned because of it? With all the graphic sex you find in books? Crazy! And as for Julie, I remember as a girl being shocked at this one because the girls are isolated when their period first starts. It freaked m out. Do you think this is it?

    Kailana: Strange isn't it. People can find very small things sometimes.

    Nathan: I think this week is simply a celebration for the fact that we live in a country that prides itself on freedom of speech and not necessarily to make a big deal out of books that have been banned. Of course, parents have the right to say what they feel inappropriate for their own kids, but they can't tell others what they should or should not read or what should or should not be appropriate for THEIR kids. The thing about the books on these lists is that people were trying to make them unavailable to everyone. I'm sure most libraries try to keep books age appropriate, and I know public libraries have closed stacks for certain books, but it's still available. That's the key. And that, as book lovers, is what we are celebrating.

    Kathy: It's an awesome re-read, I got tons more out of it the second go around.

  6. You're being contradictory. You just said librarians have "closed stacks". Sounds to me like there are community standards that apply to your kids as well as mine. I just get upset when people confuse freedom of speech with the freedom to listen. When a library chooses not to carry a book, it is not infringing on the right of the person to publish a book. The community that funds the library DOES have a right to choose what speech they invite into their homes.

    You are free to advocate any book. But don't invoke free speech to force me to use my tax dollars to purchase content that I don't want to support.

    What I'm saying is: advocate the virtues of the book itself, and convince me of it merits rather than trying to shame me and my kids into reading it based on our shared love of free speech. The idea of glorifying banned books is simply another way to thwart parental control and push liberal ideas onto kids.
    Don't get me wrong, you have the right to do that. But I'm trying looking at the other side of the coin denfending the rights of parents and communities.

    You're basically saying that if anyone likes a book, no matter how controversial, the school library has buy it and make it available or else it is tantamount to telling a group of people that they can't read it. We're not talking about destorying printing presses here. Were just talking about the freedom to listen. When we gather into communitites we have to embrace diversity, but the concept of majority rule allows for shared community standards.

  7. Great post, Suey! I've only read 1.5 of the books in your post. The others are on my TBR list.

    Nathan: Not everyone in the community feels that certain books shouldn't be available to them or their children. Just because you believe "The Joy of Gay Sex" should not be available to middle schoolers doesn't mean every other parent feels that way too. You can argue that if someone wants to read one of these books, they can purchase it at a book store. However, every book should be available to anyone and everyone regardless of their class or financial situation. Libraries and schools give people that chance.

    Everyone needs to make their own decisions as to what types of books they deem are worthy to be read because I believe, above all, in choice. I may not choose to read a particular books, such as "The Joys of Gay Sex," but I don't believe I have the right to tell someone else they can't read that book either.

    In the case of children, I believe that parents have the right to and should limit the books their OWN children read, but not other children. Not all children are the same. As a child, I wouldn't have been able to handle particular topics, but my older sister would have. Therefore, it was up to my parents to make that decision, knowing where my sister and I were at mentally, not based on our age.

    You may also want to consider that controversial topics are a chance for parents to teach their children, to help them understand the atrocities in this life, and most importantly, to more fully appreciate the beauty and love this life can offer. You cannot appreciate the good without knowing the bad, and you cannot always shelter your children against the atrocities of this world.

    I think adults often err too much on the side of caution and think children and teenagers cannot handle the cruelties in this world. And, rather than preparing their children to face those cruelties, parents act as if they don’t exist, hoping their children won’t be influenced or taught by someone else (e.g. teachers, friends, TV, books) or the awfulness in this world. Just because you don’t talk about something or you can’t see it, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

    Isn’t it better to arm your children with the skills and coping mechanisms needed to deal with these atrocities instead of hoping they’ll be able to figure it out on their own when they’re older or when they encounter them?

    I would much rather make sure my children are prepared to handle this world. Now, obviously, I'm not going to expose my children to prostitutes, porn, drugs, or stuff like that, but I would talk to them about those things and explain the harm that can come from participating in those activities.

  8. And, books that are often banned, are a good avenue to start those kinds of discussions.

  9. I have one more thing to say, sorry. But, just like you, you can choose to take what I say or leave it. It's just that simple. That's the beauty of choice. I, personally, just don't want to limit other people's choices by telling them what they can and can't do. Otherwise, I feel like we're no better off than Nazi Germany.

  10. Awesome comments and discussion! Just wanted to say that as a librarian, you DO take into account the values and needs of the community as you select resources for your library. Often libraries in more conservative communities will not get certain books because they will not be in demand. However, they will still get titles that may anger other patrons, because obviously not every member of a community has the same values and ideas about what is acceptable.

    It's even more of a fine line to walk when you build the collection in a school library, because you are serving a particular age range.

    Personally, I like to celebrate Banned Books Week by reading whatever I want, challenged or not!

    Wow, I really rambled.

  11. A few of these books are books that I read back in high school and want to reread at some point. I've read The Giver a few times and think that it is an amazing read. And I think that one of the great things about Banned Books week is that it gets people reading and talking about books. That is what is important. Great post!

  12. BTW, I think most of the books were talking about here are great books. I've read most of the ones listed above. I think they should be celebrated as Newberry winners, or critic's choice winners. Singling out the "banned" nature of them is what I took issue with. I know it's just another marketing campaign that tries to bring you in with something titillating. But unfortunately, these kinds campaigns have the real effect of masking more extreme situations where books really ought to be questioned. Even Amazon has decided that some books go to far. I'm sure you've heard of this book

    Would you really want to patronize that guy because of a sense of duty to make all books available to anyone who wants them? And in our middle school library? Should we stock "how to commit suicide" books? You know as well as I, that there is a line. And the community should have the right to pick it. OR else, I will never vote for another library bond again!

    But I totally agree that kids need not be sheltered. You'd probably be surprised what is said at our kitchen table.

  13. Nathan: Thanks for all your comments and sparking such a fun discussion here! :) I still maintain that this week is NOT "titillating" in the least, but simply a time to stop and celebrate our freedom to read... and to read whatever we want. I could go on and on debating with you on this one, so maybe we'll have to do it next time you come for a visit since there's just not enough space here!

    Jenni: Lovely comments! Thanks for you thoughts.

    Melissa: Thanks for the input from a librarian's point of view. It is a fine line.

    Samantha: Yes, it does get people thinking and reading, which is truly awesome.



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