Banned Books: Animal Farm by George Orwell

I ADORE THIS BOOK. Okay, yes, I know. I adore all my banned books. Partly because they’re banned, but mostly because they’re fabulous. And Animal Farm by George Orwell. Considering that we haven’t done a list since my banned books post on Twilight, how about we mix it up a bit and do another one! hehe. Plus, man do I really love lists! So, may I present to you:

FIVE THINGS ANIMAL FARM CAN OFFER THE PEOPLE WHO READ IT

  1. This book taught me the art of deep, close reading. I mean, alright, sure, the whole farm animal/communist thing isn’t exactly buried miles below the surface. But, given that I had my first introduction to this book as a freshman in high school, it was crazy to me that an author could be saying ONE thing and meaning something TOTALLY different! And not only that (I was at least vaguely aware of subtext then), but that an author could do that for a whole book, for everything from the setting to the characters to the dialogue – and could create a story that could fully and really be read in two different ways – was just mind blowing for me! I think that, at least in some small way, this book was responsible for my being and English major, wanting to do just this kind of close reading for the rest of my life.
  2. The communist secret-but-not-secret plot was my gateway to the genre of dystopian literature. I mean, not only did I read 1984 soon after Animal Farm, but the land in which this story takes place is the multimeter example of a world that is, truly, horrible. I didn’t really think so at the time (I was quite the revolutionary in my younger teen years), but the horrible nature coursing under the surface of these farm animals was enough to make me thirst for more books that could show society as what it was by telling the story of what it could be (and not in a good way).
  3. Talking farm animals! I mean, come on! Who doesn’t love that? And it’s one of the only good ways I’ve ever seen it done.
  4. Animal Farm is one of the books I always bring to the table when talking to people about intersecting disciplines in the academic world. It’s the perfect book for seeing intersections between history, politics, economic structures, and literature, especially geared at slightly younger audience. Furthermore, it’s a great example of what can happen when ‘border’ books, as I like to call them (books capable of being read and enjoyed to the upmost by both adults and teens, in a way that does a disservice to neither set of readers) get in to the hands of children and parents who are willing to talk about what they really mean. For someone like myself, who is deeply interested in possibly homeschooling one day, an idea of so many talking points in one book is just phenomenal.
  5. As a banned book, Animal Farm is a book that expresses a possibly unpopular idea freely. It may face it’s set of challenges, it’s set of setbacks and disappointments and people who don’t like it (I’m hoping you can see where this horribly corny anthropomorphizing is going!), and yet it’s still on shelves all over the world, being read and loved and studied and taught. I think there’s a message for people in there somewhere, if you really look at it.

And that, my lovelies, is it! That’s Banned Books Week all wrapped up, and as fun as it’s been talking about some of my favorite banned books (and why the people who ban them are silly), I’m ready to get back to blogging about some of the amazingly great other books I’ve been reading this past week. So hold on to your hats for what’s in store, folks, and happy reading!

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Banned Books: The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Oh, goodness. The Awakening. What good time I’ve had with this little gem of a novel over the years. It’s not very long, but from the ninth grade to the eleventh grade to my junior year in college, I’ve spent more than my fair share of time with the wonderful women in the world 0f Kate Chopin. For those of you who haven’t been having this book stalk you like a sociopath most of your academic career, here’s the Goodreads for you:

This story of a woman’s struggle with oppressive social structures received much public contempt at its first release; put aside because of initial controversy, the novel gained popularity in the 1960s, some six decades after its first publication, and has since remained a favorite of many readers. Chopin’s depiction of a married woman, bound to her family and with no way to assert a fulfilling life of her own, has become a foundation for feminism and a classic account of gender crises in the late Victorian era.

Edna Pontillier and all of her societal friends (and slightly less societal affairs) are, by many, considered to be a foundational part of the feminist canon. I also know quite a few people who don’t think of it that way, and instead see her choices as selfish, and her ability to be a mother ultimately non-existant. As far as my thoughts, I think it changes from woman to woman, or even from read to read. While yes, I do think that ultimately Edna’s choice is a selfish one, I don’t know if that absolves society of all the pressures, expectations, and constraints that it put around Edna’s life until she got to feeling that selfish and desperate. At the end of it all, this book is about the right for women to make choices, even those choices happen to be selfish ones. For that reason, and that reason alone (okay, and because it’s set in New Orleans, which is not only one of my favorite literary cities, but also one of my favorite series in real life) I think that all people owe it to themselves to read this book.

I’m sure this book is banned for a whole number of reasons. The primary one, I expect (although I’m sure you’d never see it listed as a reason) is because this is another book about a woman who sets out and carves her own path, who makes her own decisions and deals with the consequences and chooses not to be what society believes that she should be. And while obviously this would have been controversial at the time of publication, I think that this idea still does ruffle a lot of (male) feathers in our world. While I don’t like to sound pessimistic, I think that all too often people are willing to be complacent about feminism, believing that whole ‘woman’s lib’ thing to have been accomplished. I think, if you look deeply at the situation of many women in the world, you’ll find that this isn’t all the case. And sometimes society needs a book to remind it just how far it hasn’t come, just how much of the race there is left to run. As a side note, I’m sure the ‘promiscuous sex’ (again, relative to when it was published) also has something to do with it’s frequent challenging.

Happy reading!

Banned Books: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

When I was a really little girl and thought I wanted to be a lawyer (I have since learned that I’d much rather put my verbal skills to good use in the English department, with, of course, side trips to BookBlogLand), my dad sat me down with this movie and told me it would be “all the inspiration I need”. He was right, of course, in a number of ways.

The story of Scout, her brother Jim, their father Atticus, their maid Calpernia, and the local weird-kid neighbor-boy Boo Radley is an adult tale of race, trust, truth, bravery, and politics, all hiding in the viewpoint of Scout, our resident young narrator. The movie, starring the impeccably attractive Gregory Peck, was and is fantastic. But the book is so, so much better than that. I’ve read multiple reviews of this book in my blogroll, and it seems to be of the “love-it-or-hate-it” variety of stories. Let me plant my flag now and firmly in the “I LOVE THIS BOOK” camp.

This book, much like The Color Purple was and is ostensibly challenged because of it’s discussion of a sexual crime (the rape of a young white woman in the town by a local African American handyman) as well as it’s language where race is concerned – again, I don’t really think that’s a good enough read for banning a book, especially when context is taken in to consideration. It’s a very similar reason (in fact, the exact same reason) there was almost an edition of Huckleberry Finn put in to publication where every instance of the word “nigger” was replaced with the word “slave”, which does a disservice to every single reader who gets their hand on a copy of that particular volume. It is important, I believe (as does most of the English class where we had this debate last year) that these books not be sanitized – not be white-washed – because it robs readers of a sense of the history, location, and context that these books (To Kill a Mockingbird included) provide us with. And, if we are to learn from history, we must keep history as it was.

Moving on from that bit of a rant-y, ramble-y point, lets move in to a bit of the review. I love this book first and foremost because of Atticus Finch, Scout’s father and the lawyer who defends the accused African American racist in court against his white female accuser. Why do I love him oh so, so much? Consider the following:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

Some readers may consider it prostletyzing, or pedantic, or sacchrine. I think that Atticus’s advice is stuff that we all need to hear more often, and that are important foundations to being good people. I also love that, when she’s told these things by Atticus, Scout actually takes them in to her, learns them (or tries her hardest to). It’s awesome to see a father-only household where the family is solid and respectful, rather than broken.

The second thing I love about To Kill a Mockingbird is the importance it places on acceptance – and on things not being exactly what they seem. Scout and Jim must first learn who Boo Radley is, and then they must learn that really they knew nothing about him. They were frightened by the rumors they heard and the things their minds had formed, but all of these turned out to be false pretenses. In fact, at the end of the novel, Boo ends up saving the day and proving to everybody that just because somebody may be the “weird” kid, doesn’t mean they can’t also be the hero. In fact, most frequently they often are.

Unlike The Color Purple, which I do think takes a bit more of a mature reader, I would be getting this book in to every hand I could, if I had unlimited bookish people I knew and an infinite amount of money to spend on copies of To Kill a Mockingbird. I think that it’s a story that every age should know. If you haven’t read it, please do. You’ll be doing your inner you a huge favor.

We’re down to our last two days of Banned Books Week! Can you believe it?! I’ve been loving reveling in all of the banned bookishness, but I also can’t wait to review some of the fantastic other books I’ve been reading in the meantime! Whatever you’re reading – hope it’s making for happy reading!

 

Banned Books: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Oh my goodness me, Mr. Holden Caulfield! The angsty panty-twister of my pre-adolescent years! The man who made me want to rent a cheap NYC hotel room, wander the city, call as many former flings as I could in the hope of sleeping with them, and dwell on how burdenoning my life was. And don’t you judge – you know you did it to! If not with Holden, then with one of the many brooding teen males that have come down the line in his image. And we’ve all got one. Here’s the Goodreads:

The hero-narrator of THE CATCHER IN THE RYE is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. The boy himself is at once too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story. Perhaps the safest thing we can say about Holden is that he was born in the world not just strongly attracted to beauty but, almost, hopelessly impaled on it. There are many voices in this novel: children’s voices, adult voices, underground voices-but Holden’s voice is the most eloquent of all. Transcending his own vernacular, yet remaining marvelously faithful to it, he issues a perfectly articulated cry of mixed pain and pleasure. However, like most lovers and clowns and poets of the higher orders, he keeps most of the pain to, and for, himself. The pleasure he gives away, or sets aside, with all his heart. It is there for the reader who can handle it to keep.

That’s such an elegant description! Man, Goodreads really hit it on the head this time.

When we begin Catcher in the Rye, Holden has been expelled again from yet another school. So, instead of calling his parents and going home like he’s supposed to/tells everyone he’s going to, he goes to the city to wander and to go visit his little sister, who he feels strangely bonded to. You see, Holden has real tragedy in his life (not like I did, when I was his age and pining after him miserably) – his brother has died, and he’s been haunted ever since then by dreams of being ‘the catcher in the rye’, of saving kids in his dream. So, he goes to New York, wanders for a good long while, calls up a number of girls he used to date, takes them to various places around the city, and visits his little sister at her day school. There is also a good conversation with prostitute, for those of you who are in to that sort of thing. However, by the end of it, Holden returns home and ends his story by telling us he won’t tell us the story of what happened after he went home. The book ends contentedly, if not happily.

I think that every teenager should be made to read this book. To tell you the truth, I can’t really figure out why it’s been banned/challenged. Maybe because he’s a young teenager who runs away? Maybe because he talks about sex, or tries to have it with women he isn’t married to? Perhaps its the rather depressing mindset that Holden stays in throughout the entire novel. Who knows. None of it seems salacious enough to ban, to me, even given the time the book was written (let alone that it keeps being challenged to this day). Thoughts? Anyway, that being said, I don’t think that this book is meant to be read by adults. I’ve tried. I wanted to shake Holden and tell him to get over it (this, for me, is a complete 180° transformation from where I was at 16). But the book is true to that tragic (I use the term loosely) voice of teenagers figuring out themselves and where they belong in this big crazy world. If you’ve got a teenager in your life (or are willing to spend your hours basically ‘conversing’ with the angsty-est of teens) then this is definitely the book for them! Happy reading!

Banned Books: The Color Purple by Alice Walker

As you can probably tell, the past few Banned Books posts have dealt with more modern banned books. However, I thought it was especially important to include quite a bit of discussion on classic banned books, as well, because these are books that have faced years – if not decades – fighting to have their voices heard. Plus, there has got to be a reason that these books have been fought against for as long as they have! For those of you who haven’t read the book (or seen the bad-ass movie featuring every great African American actor ever with the exception of Morgan Freeman), here is the Goodreads breakdown:

Celie is a poor black woman whose letters tell the story of 20 years of her life, beginning at age 14 when she is being abused and raped by her father and attempting to protect her sister from the same fate, and continuing over the course of her marriage to “Mister,” a brutal man who terrorizes her. Celie eventually learns that her abusive husband has been keeping her sister’s letters from her and the rage she feels, combined with an example of love and independence provided by her close friend Shug, pushes her finally toward an awakening of her creative and loving self.

This book, I’m sure, was banned for a number of reasons (articles here and here). The profanity is intense, as is the violence and a lot of the sex (most of which, given the context, is sexual violence). There is also drug use, alcoholism, and discussion of imperialism and all of the problems frequently associated with that. This time, I’m not saying that everyone should have unfettered access to this book – it’s a mature story, and requires a mature reader. But who is to say when this maturity comes? I read this book for the first time when I was in the 9th grade, and it changed the way I understood the world around me. It introduced me to African American literature, and how much it was different than the stories I already knew. And, of course, this is one of the things that great books do so well – open our eyes to a world we wouldn’t have known otherwise.

I think that part of the reason this book has been repeatedly challenged the way it has is because a lot of the book is about fighting back. Miss Cecelia, Celie’s stepson’s wife, after being accosted and mocked and beaten in her own home for years, fights back against white men in the street performing the same actions. Shug Avery spends her entire life fighting back against people (and her father’s) expectations of her, as a woman and as an African American woman to boot. But it is Celie herself who finds the independance and strength she needs to fight back. Not only physically. In fact, not physically at all. Celie never hits “Mr”, as she calls her husband, I think mostly out of fear of the fact that he really will kill her if he gets the chance – he spends years abusing her physically, emotionally, and verbally. And we’re talking pretty hard-core abuse. But Celie does find the strength to rediscover a sister she believes lost to her (her only friend in the world, who “Mister” kicks out of his house after she rebukes his attempts to seduce and sleep with her), to find friendship with Shug, and most importantly to get the hell up out of the house that has been her prison and personal hell for her entire life.

The idea of rebellion, especially rebellion from women, especially from women of color, is a scary idea to a lot of people. Especially when these are women who, as anyone who has read the book knows, have been treated their entire lives as if independence was not only not in reach, but a concept too foreign to understand. And I think that, perhaps more than the language and the sex and the racism, is why this book has been as challenged as it has. As my mom would call it, this is a kick-ass book about kick-ass women. Or, at least, women who learn to start to be kick-ass. Wherever you are, happy reading!

PS: Also, one of my favorite color quotes comes from The Color Purple!: “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” — Shug. Now, how’s that for truth AND sass?!

Banned Books: The Perks of Being A Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

I first read this book in late junior high, early high school, and I’ve read it I don’t know how many times sine then. I had a bit harder time finding news on this book being banned, but I was able to find a few: like this one. Actually, what made me really happy to see where multiple articles like this one, which talk about communities that fought back against the banning of Perks. For those of you who haven’t been lucky enough to have this slim, small green friend in hand, here is the summary from Goodreads:

Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie is navigating through the strange worlds of love, drugs, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, and dealing with the loss of a good friend and his favorite aunt.

Usually I love Goodreads, but that summary just doesn’t do justice to what the book is really about. Charlie is a shy kid, and the whole book is written like a diary, or a letter, to someone who is never named, and who we never see. Charlie, shy in school and having already faced a number of difficult issues in his life (the death of an aunt, a friend’s suicide), is friends with really only three people. His English teacher, who knows how brilliant Charlie is, and feeds him different, more challenging books than the rest of his classmates, Patrick, and his stepsister Sam.

Patrick, Sam, and Charlie make up the heart of the novel. It is with Patrick and Sam that Charlie experiences drinking, driving (sometimes at the same time, sometimes not), smoking pot, and being truly open with people. They are in The Rocky Horror Picture Show together. They have Christmas and Halloween parties together, drive together to infinity. Charlie loves Sam, and learns about the homosexual experience from Patrick. And, at the end of it all, Charlie is usually too innocent to even know what he’s looking at. But  that’s part of his charm – Charlie is the eternal wallflower.

I’m sure this book was banned mostly because it was honest to the lives of a lot of teenagers. Granted, not all teenagers drink or smoke pot or break curfew. But many do, including the ones in this book. I can understand parent’s reacting strongly to themes like these, especially because the book, while being honest about the consequences of these actions, doesn’t have every night of drunk driving end in a horrible death. However, to deny teenagers and their predecessors (I often think it’s the most important for pre-teens to have honest access to this kind of information, as it comes up to them, as opposed to teenagers who have already cemented their own ways of dealing with the issues that come to them) access to these kinds of stories – teenagers living a teenage life and facing both the negative and the positive consequences that come their way – denies them the ability to broaden their concept of how to say no, and ways to avoid situations they don’t want to be in.

Mostly, I hate that this book is banned because it’s really, really beautiful. Charlie, as a wallflower, almost lives inside his own mind, as in doing so, has become incredibly lyrical in spite (or perhaps because of) his innocence. Take, for example, the following quotes:

"We accept the love we think we deserve."

I walked over to the hill where we used to go and sled. There were a lot of little kids there. I watched them flying. Doing jumps and having races. And I thought that all those little kids are going to grow up someday. And all of those little kids are going to do the things that we do. And they will all kiss someone someday. But for now, sledding is enough. I think it would be great if sledding were always enough, but it isn't.

I laid down on his old bed, and I looked through the window at this tree that was probably a lot shorter when my dad looked at it. And I could feel what he felt on the night when he realized that if he didn't leave, it would never be his life. It would be theirs. At least that's how he's put it.

I know that I brought this all on myself. I know that I deserve this. I'd do anything not to be this way. I'd do anything to make it up to everyone. And to not have to see a psychiatrist, who explains to me about being "passive agressive." And to not have to take the medicine he gives me, which is too expensive for my dad. And to not have to talk about bad memories with him. Or be nostalgic about bad things.

As you can probably tell, this book isn’t necessarily a happy one. But it’s a truthful one, and one that leads, in my experience, to an examination of one’s own life – the things and places that make you happy (or unhappy) and, most importantly, why. I strongly encourage you to pick this one up if you get a chance (as I do with all banned books!) and hope that, whatever you’re reading, you’re having a great time doing it!

Banned Books: Twilight by Stephanie Meyer (Yes, Really.)

I have to admit, when I saw that Twilight had made the list of the most challenged/banned books in 2011, I almost snorted Diet Coke out of my nose and wet my pants. Simultaneously. I mean, COME ON. This is a list that includes such amazing titles as The Great Gatsby, Beloved, and The Grapes of Wrath. And here it is, sparkly vampires and teen angst and all. And yes, I’ve read them. Every last word of every last one.In fact, I’m pretty sure you have to, so no summary. And if you haven’t (or even say you haven’t but really totally have, even going so far as to tape a print out of the cover of War and Peace over the cover of Twilight so you wouldn’t secretly be discovered), then you’re on your own!

Why would you ban Twilight? I suppose for the same reason as Harry Potter, but that’s an entirely separate issue we’ll have to get in to later*. But, here it is. Being challenged. Also here. And here. And, apparently, here. Man people are in a stink over Twilight. This post, in order to mix things up a bit, here is a top five list of the reasons that I think people wanting to ban this book are absolutely crazy.

  1. NOTHING NAUGHTY HAPPENS! I felt like this one needed to be in all caps, as this is the primary frustration I had with the book, as well as the number one reason I see no need to ban them. I mean, other than a rather disgusting scene involving popping eye blood vessels (that for a while turned me off to the idea of EVER having a baby, let alone one that’s half vampire), it’s all pretty PG. I mean, we get no sex, very little direct violence, very mild scary scenes, and just a whole lot of teenage angst. Unless I missed some huge death scene/battle/pornographic interlude between Edward and Bella, I just don’t see why this is all such a big deal.
  2. They’re make believe characters anyway. I mean, for the very few ‘death’ scenes we do get, there isn’t any actual blood. Unless, of course, Bella has just fallen down and hurt herself, and that’s just because she’s an idiot. When the vampires die, it’s all ‘off-camera’ and, compared to the things shown on TV, movies, and *gasp* the news, it’s all relative tame. See: my footnote on parental responsibility and the difference between reality and truth.
  3. The book champions not having sex until you’re married and was written by a Mormon mother. The religiously antsy should now be pacified.
  4. The Cullens, Carlisle especially, provide a really excellent platform for young people of faith to discuss issues like the soul, the afterlife, and the value of good and evil in the life we currently lead. Instead of fearing these conversations, you’d think that they’d be more encouraged amongst us all (those that want to have them, that is)
  5. The book gets kids reading. Alright, sure, I bet a bunch of books do that. Or do they? Think of all the major series that have up-heaved the children of America. Gotten them staying up until all hours of the night reading? Gotten them to read above doing things like watching TV or playing video games? Gotten them to bookstores at midnight, or hours before, gathered in anticipation? Yeah, I can only think of a few, too, and one of those few is Twilight. And there is merit in that.

Now, if only I didn’t think that Bella was a horrible heroine, or that Edward and Bella fashioned an outline for obsessive teenage relationships everywhere. But STILL! Banning Twilight? Really? Happy reading!

*: I don’t want to step on anyone’s beliefs here, so I’m largely trying to avoid a religious conversation. Mostly because I don’t really think the books are read like that by a wide cross-section of their audience, and also because I’m a Christian who doesn’t think this book violates and central tenants of the faith. The whole debate over things like Twilight and Harry Potter comes, for me, down to an issue of parental responsibility. As long as you can explain the different between real and fantasy, and that sometimes things happen in fantasy that wouldn’t be okay if they happened in real life, there shouldn’t be a problem. But that’s just this blogger’s humble opinion!

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