Art, music, movies, literature
Title: Women in Love
Author: D.H. Lawrence
Challenge status: #75 on Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century, and frequent target of banning attempts (frequently challenged classics) according to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Book #34 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.
Why: A-ha! was seized by John Summers (Sumner??) of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice and declared obscene (1922). Check out this gig: the Society was chartered by the New York state legislature, allowing the group to search, seize and arrest…and get 50% of all fines levied in resulting cases. Hmmm!!! At least the conflicts of interest are writ large for this group established to police the morality of the public.
First line: ”Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen sat one morning in the window-bay of their father’s house in Beldover, working and talking.”
Let me just start off by saying that D.H. Lawrence has not just one but THREE novels in the Radcliffe Top 100 and they are ALL on the ALA OIF frequently challenged classics list, as well. I’d read one of them already (Lady Chatterley’s Lover), but, had to read at least one more to fulfill my summer project. Lawrence is a good writer but getting through some of these books is like getting through molasses.
So, Women in Love. Imagine, if you will, a classic Jane Austen set-up. Two nearly spinster (i.e. almost 30 years old) sisters who are frightfully well-bred, a little too educated, a little too proud for their neighborhood. They end up meeting their respective matches and go through a hyper-extended courtship, after which one pair ends up “happily” married and the other pair ends up in a longish-term love affair, not quite as happily. And then something bad happens, which, seems almost fated given the horrible karma associated with love gone bad.
Title: In Cold Blood
Author: Truman Capote
Challenge status: Capote’s Edgar Award winning work (1966, for Best Fact Crime book) is #53 on Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century, and frequent target of banning attempts (frequently challenged classics) according to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Book #33 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.
Why: In Georgia (2000) challenged for sex, profanity, and violence. Banned, but later reinstated. In 2012, was challenged in California (a Glendale high school’s AP English curriculum) as “too violent for a young audience;”…but the school board approved the book for Advanced Placement students anyway.
First line: “The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plans of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there.'”
In Cold Blood was hailed as the creation of a new genre, “true crime”. Certainly Capote evokes the drama of the heinous crime (nighttime home invasion and brutal murder of a family of four) and the resulting shockwaves that ran through the community and the nation, as investigators and neighbors waited for the criminals to emerge and be brought to justice.
If you’ve read or seen “Breakfast at Tiffany’s“, (one of Capote’s other famous works) you might be surprised that such a clever and urbane novelist would, inspired by a short article in the New York Times, opt to spend years painstakingly researching the details of a crime that occurred in the middle of Kansas. In fact the “nonfiction novel” was Capote’s last major work, though some short stories and articles were published later.
All right peeps. I’ve finished round 4…and the final home stretch has begun. Check the Summer of Banned Books project page for an overall overview. Banned Book week starts 9/22 (NEXT WEEK, YO), you can check for any local events here. Bill Moyers, co-chair of Banned Books Week, created this video essay in honor of the 30th Anniversary of Banned Books Week and for the Banned Books Virtual Read-Out.
- Their Eyes Were Watching God
- Go Tell it on the Mountain
- Winnie the Pooh
- The Giving Tree
- Invisible Man
- Song of Solomon
- Where the Wild Things Are
- The Lorax
- Where’s Waldo
- A Light in the Attic
Reading all the kid’s books was fun, and a nice break from the heavy-heavy of banned books. Apparently, books that are controversial can’t just be profane and funny. They seem to be meaningful and thoughtful, and have great, weighty messages about life. Of course, the kid’s books – the best kid’s books – aren’t all fun and games either.
Ok. Last round. Turns out to be the hardest core round of all, “the books I put off to the last minute” plus some poetry. I mean, what’s up Walt Whitman? Leaves of Grass is almost 700 pages? *Couldn’t you have just written some haiku??*
So here it is:
- In Cold Blood
- A Separate Peace
- Women In Love
- Rabbit, Run
- Brideshead Revisisted
- Les Fleurs du Mal
- Naked Lunch
- Leaves of Grass
- The Naked and the Dead
- Sons & Lovers
I realized this morning that I have Norman Mailer sitting square between me and the end of this project so I’m giving myself to the end of Banned Book Week (vs finishing next weekend, as I’d originally hoped. It’s going to be a week of power-reading, that’s for sure.
Wish me luck!
Title: Where the Wild Things Are
Author: Maurice Sendak
Challenge status: The Caldecott Medal winning (1964) children’s book was Included on a recent article about classic children’s books that have been banned in America. Book #32 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.
Why: The book was (un)shelved for being frightening or “too dark” for young children, challenges also suggested that the book had supernatural themes. *Where* the book has been challenged recently is a bit vague, around date of publication “in the South” is as much as I can find right now. I would label this challenge as suspect except for the facts that as recently as 2004 Sendak made the ALA’s list of most frequently challenged authors and his book “In the Night Kitchen” was #24 on the Top 100 most frequently banned/challenged books of 2000-2009 and #21 for 1990-1999.
First line: “The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another…”
Max has a temper tantrum and is sent to his room to go to bed, with no supper. In his imagination, he is wild, terrible, sets sail on his bed for an island where he is welcomed as the king of beasts, and they dance wild and terrible dances, and have monstrous fun. But then he opts to sail back home and awakens to dinner, and understanding that he’s been loved all along.
Title: Invisible Man
Author: Ralph Ellison
Challenge status: Ellison’s U.S. National Book Award winning novel, was named #19 on MLA’s list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century, is #24 on Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century, and frequent target of banning attempts (frequently challenged classics) according to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Book #31 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.
Why: Generally for explicit accounts of profanity, sexuality, violence, and racism. Challenges on record in Pennsylvania (1975), Wisconsin (1975), and Washington (1994).
First line: “I am an invisible man.”
Invisible Man is Ellison’s brilliant, tragic, sharp, cynical, satiric, furious send-up of a young African-American man’s search for self in a jazz-fugue-like journey from the South to New York City. The protagonist, the self-proclaimed invisible man, is nameless and acts as a chameleon as he changes (not quite evolves) from a deferential college student into a worker in the military-industrial complex into a leader and spokesperson for the inspirational socio-political movement engineered by “The Brotherhood”.
Title: Where’s Waldo?
Author: Martin Handford
Challenge status: Included on a recent article about classic children’s books that have been banned in America. #87 of ALA’s list of the 100 most frequently challenged books of 1990-1999. Book #30 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.
Why: Nudity, and/or implied nudity. Was removed from libraries in Michigan (1989) and New York (1993).
First line: “Hi, Friends! My name is Waldo. I’m just setting off on a worldwide hike.”
Seriously? I mean, I don’t even..wha?
So I went through the whole book, found all the Waldo’s and tried to find the nudity that led to the challenges. Turns out the later versions of the book edited it out. Oh well. If you want to see that kind of nudie filth you can check out this blog post.
Title: The Lorax
Author: Dr. Seuss
Challenge status: Included on a recent article about classic children’s books that have been banned in America. Book #29 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.
Why: Unpopular with the logging industry, the book was apparently challenged or removed in timber-dependent communities, and specifically was challenged in 1989 in Laytonville, California on grounds that it was “anti-logging.”
First line: “At the far end of town / where the Grickle-grass grows / and the wind smells slow-and-sour when it blows”
As parables go, Dr. Seuss lays it on pretty thick in “The Lorax”. The greedy Once-ler takes down an entire species of trees for their fabulous fibers – to make “Thneeds” (which bear a suspicious resemblance to the modern day snuggies). And no more Truffula trees means no more Bar-ba-loots, Swomee-Swans, Humming Fish…and ultimately no more blue skies, green grass, clean clouds, or fresh breezes.
The Lorax tries to get the Once-ler to see reason, but…”business is business, and business must grow”. It occurs to me that the Lorax might have tried to foreshadow the ultimate doom a little bit earlier, I mean, introduce the concept of reforestation before the Once-ler had cut down ALL the trees, but, that might not have had the same Call to Action that total annihilation had.
Side note: when I visited Brazil I visited a paper manufacturer. It was one of the most interesting stops on the trip. The company was really excited to share their advances in technology, specifically how quickly their trees re-forested. They had scientists working on developing trees that grow to harvestable size in a very short time – I can’t remember exact details, but 5-7 years comes to mind – so that they can work within the same footprint and limit environmental impact of their operations. I was not entirely convinced, but it was heartening to see investments being made in that area.
Title: Song of Solomon
Author: Toni Morrison
Challenge status: Morrison’s National Books Critics Award winning novel, which was cited by the Swedish Academy in awarding Morrison the 1993 Nobel Prize in literature is also #25 on Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century, and target of banning attempts (frequently challenged classics) according to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Book #28 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.
Why: Several challenges on record (Ohio, Georgia, Florida) in the 90’s relating to racism, sexual themes and generally being “filth”, “trash”, and “inappropriate”. In the 2000s (Michigan), suspended from a curriculum but reinstated as long as parents signed a waiver acknowledging the book’s content. In 2010 was removed from an Indiana school district mid-semester because administrators found the content offensive.
First line: The North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance agent promised to fly from Mercy to the other side of Lake Superior at three o’clock.
What is most significant about this book to me is not what has made the book controversial to parents and school district administrators, but that the book, written by Toni Morrison (who has traditionally written books about the black experience in America from the female perspective) is written from the point of view of the male main character, Macon “Milkman” Dead III. Typical of a Morrison book, the narrative is driven by many strong female characters who shape Milkman’s life from birth to his death, but I was impressed by the sharpness with which Morrison evolves Milkman from child to adult, and gives him his own voice amongst the strong influences surrounding him.
Title: A Light in the Attic
Author: Shel Silverstein
Challenge status: Included on a recent article about classic children’s books that have been banned in America. Book #27 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.
Why: In 1993, the was challenged in Lake County, Florida because the book allegedly “promotes disrespect, horror, and violence”; the book was subsequently removed from a Fruitland Park library, but then later returned. According to the ALA, the book of poetry anked number 51 of The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000. Generally the objections raised against the book of poetry for kids are related to subject matter: disobeying/disrepecting parents, dying and morbid humor, and the presence of supernatural themes, including demons, devils, and ghosts.
First line: “There’s a light in the attic / Though the house is dark and shuttered…”
Over 130 poems and Shel Silverstein’s original artwork throughout. I remember this book fondly along with Ogden Nash, who also wrote clever, tender poems for young readers. In fact I have vague recollections about memorizing the poem “Squishy Touch” for a class project – where the speaker bemoans her King Midas-esque fate of having the power of turning everything she touched into Jell-O.
Most of the poems are outright silly, but, like other children’s books have pointed and wise messages, for example this line from “How Many, How Much”
How much good inside a day? / Depends on how you live ’em.
How much love inside a friend? / Depends on how much you give ’em.
There are times where the humor is morbid. But, one of the things I like about poetry and well-written kids books is that the best authors are not squeamish, and don’t treat children like babies. Children are people on their way to becoming adults, and not everything is pretty princess candy coated; treating them as if they are made of sugar does them no favors. Answering questions they have about the world is much more useful.
Title: The Giving Tree
Author: Shel Silverstein
Challenge status: Included on a recent article about classic children’s books that have been banned in America. Book #26 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.
Why: Generally the Internetz thinks this book has been challenged due to being sexist (the boy is too selfish/the tree is too accommodating), or for undermining parental/religious authority. I wasn’t able to find many specific references, though, only a banning occurrence in Omaha, NY in 2007. The other event was the book was removed from a locked reference collection in Boulder, Colo. Public Library (1988).
First line: “Once there was a tree…”
So there’s a tree that loves a boy so much that she (the tree, that is – is a she), over the course of the boy’s lifetime, gives everything she has for his happiness: apples, branches, trunk – until that is left of her is a stump. One interpretation: the tree is selfless in her (?) love for the boy. Another interpretation: the tree and the boy have a sadomasochistic relationship. Wikipedia had not just one but THREE references for this second opinion, including one text entitled “Gyn/Ecology: the Metaethics of Radical Feminism“, which I think is a fantastic title. Gyn/Ecology, see what they did there?
Apparently Shel Silverstein is way more controversial than I ever realized. But actually here’s my favorite bit, courtesy of Elizabeth Bird’s article in the School Library Journal: “[The Giving Tree] is also notable for this infamous author photo of Mr. Silverstein on the back. Those of you who read the third Diary of a Wimpy Kid book will remember the passage where Greg’s dad kept him from getting out of bed at night by threatening him with the back of The Giving Tree, telling him Shel Silverstein would get him if he left his room. You can see it here in this image of Tracy Morgan.“
I think worrying too much about the motives of the apple tree and the selfishness of the boy is absurd. But I will say, there’s probably someone in your life who would have given you their branches and would love it if you would just sit with them for a while. Related note: call your mom (or dad, or whoever that person is).