Another great post for Banned Book Week.
“I think the question surrounding Banned Books Week and what’s happening in the schools is the same: can young people handle the difficult, even sordid truths about the human condition? ”
And “I have a question for those adults: at what point is it okay for kids to learn how to think, not what to think?” are two points that especially stand out to me!
This week is Banned Books Week, a week to contemplate the various works of literature that for whatever reason have historically been deemed too dangerous for public consumption. Where the Wild Things Are, The Diary of a Young Girl, and The Old Man and The Sea are among them. The one that surprised me the most was A Light in the Attic. Many of these books were written for young readers and placed on banned lists by adults claiming to guard the interests of said young readers. Tuck that away for later because I’m coming back to it.
Something else has happened this week, and I’m trying to decide if its overlap with Banned Books Week was planned or coincidental. In the suburb of Denver where I grew up, teachers and students from several high schools, including the one from which I graduated, are striking and staging protests against a…
Wow.. I’ve never seen one of these “here is what this book is actually about” sheets taped into a book! Interesting reflection… and as always, it’s interesting to learn the way that things can differ so greatly from region to region.
Doesn’t that sound like a Harry Potter title? 😉 Bear with me through the Harry Potter remembrances, I do have a point.
Over the weekend, while Banned Books Week was getting under way, I saw various blog posts listing popular and well-respected books that have been challenged. Harry Potter is usually on the list, and there have been SO many comments saying “Harry Potter? Really? Why?” and things of that nature.
If you missed the Harry Potter controversy, I envy you. (Not only) in Alabama, it was a huge deal. Parents had meetings. There were ban attempts. People wrote and read books about whether or not it was demonic or would entice children into witchcraft. (Thankfully they seem to have fallen off the radar — I can’t find the one I remember most or I would link it.) It was common to broach the subject in a deeply apologetic…
I wanted (want?) to read tons of books this week. Seeing lists of books that have been banned and challenged I’ve been doing a lot of: “Oh! I remember that book! I should read that again!” or “Oh! I’ve been meaning to read that one!” If I had all the time in the world I would read them all (yes, every single one… I’ve got all the time, right?) But, I don’t… I have rather limited time honestly, so instead I will settle with reading one of them (To Kill a Mockingbird) and explore some memories and thoughts about a handful of favorites that made it to the 2000-2009 top 100 list of banned books. These books spoke to me, for one reason or another, and have stuck with me (even though some of them I haven’t read for over 20 years).
I came to these books a bit late, the first few were already out when I started reading them sometime late in college. I love this series, fun stories, and I really appreciate how seed were planted in the early books that become important and relevant books later. I very much admire the books from a writing perspective. But even more than that — I remember Harry Potter being the first books that I saw everywhere. Kids that I knew normally hated reading were burying themselves in these stories. Addictive tales that introduced so many to the magic of reading.
As for the reasons for it’s challenge… I am always challenged by the idea of “occult/Satanism” behind a ban, and know that those who present this reason are generally coming from a religious understanding that I just can’t wrap my head around. As a lover of, and writer of, fantasy stories, where I create magic systems and gods, I don’t think I need to say much about how I feel about that argument. But the anti-family themes kind of surprises me. Yes, there are certainly some challenging families in the stories, but the series can also, very much, be read as being about the power of family — and the power of created families.
I read this in 8th Grade, as part of an after-school Honors English program. It was powerful. I don’t even remember what it was we were focusing on within the text, but I know a few things still stand out to me, foremost among them the beauty of Maya Angelou’s language. Her writing drew me in, and even through parts of her life experience were very hard to read, the language had a beauty and power to it.
And one of the reasons for this book being challenged is one of the ones that often makes me want to stand up and shake people. HAve you notice how books that talk about race, and a great many books written by people who happen to not be white get on the list for “racism”? Is this a case of “if we pretend it doesn’t exist it doesn’t exist?” because, that’s certainly how it seems to me. No, you can’t talk about racial inequality… you can’t have characters that face racism… that is inappropriate. How does this make sense?
I dislike that such a thing needs to exist… but I welcome the chance to celebrate some of those books that I love, which have made their way to the Banned and Challenged books lists. The freedom to read the books which call to you is important to me. So I love the chance to participate in the Banned Book Blog Party, hosted by Hannah Givens.
No books have ever been “off-limits” to me. I’ve spoken before about how one of our regular forms of entertainment was to go to the library. Mom would let us run loose through the building, the only limitation on the books we checked out being, “will you really read them all before we come back?” I would enter that place like someone stepping up to an oasis, thirsty to get as many books as I could. And I would leave like someone departing for a long journey, arms loaded with books of all sorts.
When I began to develop an interest in Holocaust Literature (at a ridiculously young age), Mom did nothing to stop me. She did, I would much later find out, read many of the books that I checked out, but never once told me I couldn’t check them out. When I began to express interest in writing Mom let me read the romance novels my aunt had written, because here was a published author that I knew. Perhaps some would have said the material was a little advanced for a middle-schooler, but that was no reason for me to not try — and it helped me immensely to be able to read something and say “My Aunt wrote this!” Taking the author off the pedestal and making me realize they are real person, that it wasn’t an impossible dream.
And when I look at the lists of books that have been banned and challenges… so many of them are books that held such important places in my life. I remember once, when I was in High School, writing a letter to the editor, which got printed in the Oregonian (the first time I saw my name in print, next to something I had written, in a non-school-related publication), in response to an article about a group trying to remove The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from the curriculum. The argument they made (as seems to be made often) was the use of “The N word.” But I had just finished reading this in school, and the conversations we had around the book, the language used in the book, and what Mark Twain was saying with this book had been powerful conversations.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume.
These books I list, not because I am surprised that they have all been banned or challenged… I knew that many of them were on that list (though there were a few surprised for me Junie B? The Upstairs Room? The Things They Carried? What?!) but I am somewhat surprised that over 1/4 of the list of frequently challenged books in those years are ones that I have read — many of them ones I really love and that helped me in some way. A few of these spark such memories for me, many I own, may even made the Big Move, and survived the purge of psychical-copy books because they were so important. It makes me sad, downright sad, and more than a little upset, that someone, somewhere, believed that they were doing right by trying to keep others from reading these books.
Bit by bit through the rest of this week I’ll take some time to visit the ones that spoke most to me — why I think they’re good books, important books.
For now, here are some other places that are exploring the issue of Banned Books today:
I don’t recall when I first read this story — I do know that I owned two copies of it. The first I still have, an illustrated copy that I always felt had “too many words” to be a children’s book , but I liked some of the pictures — and I adored the story.
The second copy I just recently got rid of, having carried it with me through a number of cross-country moves, it did not make the final cut this time. By the time I got rid of the book (after much debate and hard effort) it was well worn, showing that it had traveled much, and been read with fair regularity.
But I’ll admit, it’s been a few years since I more recently re-read this, and I’m glad that the Classics Club gave me the opportunity/excuse to do so. I found the story heartwarming (still) but also interesting to see what stood out to me more, the bits of story that I longed for more details about, and the way that the voice of the characters started to ease into my thoughts (seriously, I had to work very hard to keep a character I’m writing from slipping into Yorkshire like the Ben or Dicken).
What are your thoughts on adaptions of classics? Say mini-series or movies? Or maybe modern approaches? Are there any good ones? Is it better to read the book first? Or maybe just compare the book and an adaptation?
What was most interesting (and surprisingly enough, ties well to the Classics Club meme question for August) was thinking about the ways in which my understanding of the story have been influenced by the other adaptations of the story.
The first version of the story I was exposed to, that picture book version, was an adaptation, and there are — of course — a great number of movie versions. I know that the Warner Brothers version is fairly popular, but the one that I saw first — the one that sticks in my memory is the older, made for TV version. I wonder, in part, if this is because they chose to cast an actress with darker hair for the role of Mary (though she is clearly stated to be blonde), and since I have darker (though still very much just brown) hair I related a bit more to her.
Another reason I loved this movie has nothing to do with the story itself and more to do with the fact that it helped me understand some interesting things about memory. You see, growing up I would say that one of the reasons I really liked this movie, really felt moved by it, was because of one of the early scenes. As they are taking Mary out of India the locals are burning things, trying to get rid of the disease that has killed so many. As she is being dragged away from the house, clutching her one familiar possession, that item is snatched from her and thrown onto the fire.
For years I believed that what they took from her to throw on the fire was a book. It wasn’t until a more recent watching that I realized that memory was incorrect — it was a doll that got taken from her. But my mind could not understand the pain of having a doll taken from you. A book, though, that I could relate to — that made sense to me.
The largest influence on my understanding of the story in the most recent years, though, has been the musical adaptation. I have never seen it performed, simply listened to the music (a lot). The musical certainly makes alterations to the store — especially in regard to who is related to whom — but the core of the story remains the same, some of the lines are even directly drawn from the novel.
All these adaptions ran through my mind as I was reading the story, and it simply enriched the story for me. There is the story as Francis Hodgson Burnett wrote it, and then there is the story that has grown out of it — the shifts that people have made in their retelling, and the story that we make in our own minds when we recall such a familiar tale. When well done, they can feed off of one another, creating a story that stretches beyond the story. I also think that it speaks highly of the original story, which can spark such interest that people want to find ways to retell it through the years.
Ultimately, I think it is wonderful when classics are adapted — it’s a way to spread these great story’s and characters. A great many of the classics I’ve chosen to read in the next few years have been adapted into movies, plays, and musicals (actually, I debated having a whole section of “books I picked because of their musical adaption). Adaptions may not be “as good” as the original… I tend to try to treat them as an entity of their own — judging them on their own merits rather than in comparison.
…she didn’t know that she was disagreeable. She often thought that other people were, but she did not know that she was so herself.
It was delightful to get to revisit The Secret Garden in its original text form, to get to know these characters once again, human, ghost, landscape and animals are all characters in this story. It was amazing to experience the joy at the magic of growth, change and the coming of spring. I always find it interesting that the main character is a character that we’re not particularly supposed to like at the start. There are clear references to how unaware she is of just how spoiled and challenging a child she is — part of her growth comes as she realizes these things about the people around her.
“The rain is as contrary as I ever was,” she said. “It came because it knew I did not want it.”
I also loved how much The Secret Garden can be read as being about the power of story. For just one example, it is a story that holds Colin in bed thinking he is going to die — a story which he created for himself. It is the story of magic that allows him to be willing to find the strength that he did posses. I know that others will see other things in the story, the power of the natural world, draw to Mary’s love of the garden, and that is one of the great things about story’s like this one, they have a number of levels to connect to them on. For me, it is the power of story that stands out and keeps drawing me back.
The Classics Club is a group dedicated to reading and writing about “the classics.” It’s a great group, and I’m glad to be a part of it!
I’m participating in the Classics Club’s “Classics Spin” this week.
It’s kind of like a game, I list a bunch of books (following certain criteria) from my Classics List, and post them here. A number will be chosen on August 11th, and the book I have on that number I have to read by October 6th.
As good a way as any to pick another one of the books on my list that I’m going to read in August/September 🙂
So, here is my list, of books I really want to read, books I’m kinda dreading, books I’m fairly neutral about, and a few others thrown in for good measure. In no particular order.
A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
Don Quixotie – Miguel de Cervantes
Watership Down – Richard Adams
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
O Pioneers! – Willa Cather
The Jungle – Upton SInclair
Dandelion Wine – Ray Bradbury
The House of the Seven Gables – Nathaniel Hawthorne
Little Woman – Louisa May Alcott
Charlotte Temple – Susanna Rowson
A Little Princess – Frances Hodgson Burnett
Little Men – Louisa May Alcott
Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court – Mark Twain
The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
The World According to Garp – John Irving
The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
Persuasion – Jane Austen
[Edit: And the number chosen is 17. The World According to Garp it will be….]
This is one of those books that has been suggested to me repeatedly through my life, but never quite got around to reading it. Now that I have read it, and I enjoyed it. I also definitely have some thoughts!
“Oh, you good old friends, I’m glad to see your honest faces once more — yes, even you, geometry.”
— Anne, upon seeing her books again after tucking them away for the summer.
Anne of Green Gables isn’t the kind of book that you devour; if I were to liken it to anything it would a leisurely stroll along a babbling brook. I enjoyed getting to watch Anne grow through the story. From a talkative storyteller, to a slightly more reflective one — honestly she reminds me of some of my friends and I imagine I’d enjoy wandering around Avonlea with her, renaming all the features of the landscape and letting our imaginations run wild.
Perhaps it’s just because of where I am in my own life right now, but I found this story sprinkled with little bits and pieces of insight into religion, theology, reading and writing. I kept coming across lines that brought smiles to my face, breaking out into wide grins during my daily bus commute. And my kindle-copy is sprinkled with highlights and two-word notes of things to revisit, let roll around in my mind, and perhaps expound on at a later date.
“[M]aples are such sociable trees… they’re always rustling and whispering to you.”
–Another Anne observation
Of course, I was also reading this as a writer. Since I’ve been thinking about what makes a good plot, and different ways to lay out a story, I was reading with something of an eye to how the story was presented. And Anne of Green Gables did not disappoint, at least as far as stepping out of what I’ve somehow come to expect from a book. Anne meanders along, her story told in seemingly unconnected snippets of her life at Green Gables. But, there are threads that weave through these snippets — it is a story of a girl, and of family. With characters that are interesting, the promise that things would weave together, enough understanding of a larger arc, I am willing to meander on the journey. More than willing, I enjoyed the trip.
As Anne recognized her old friends, those books that had been tucked away for the summer, I know that I have found a new friend in Anne and look forward to continuing to read her journey.