Category Archives: A Year of READING Dangerously

A Year of READING Dangerously: Update

Reading Dangerously Logo 2

I’m happy to report that we are one-quarter of the way through the ALA’s Top 100 banned or challenged books of 2000-2009 list!  I still need to write a review for the #15 Bluest Eye, but rest assured, it is read.

Here’s an updated, color coded list. PLEASE feel free to help us on our quest! Especially with those books listed in black (like #30 We All Fall Daown, by Robert Cormier) which are not in my local library.

Banned books COLOR 2 title list_Page_1

(not my library)

Banned books COLOR 2 title list_Page_2

(Also, not my library)

Banned books COLOR 2 title list_Page_3

 

Poster "The camp library is yours - Read ...

Poster “The camp library is yours – Read to win the war. You will find popular books for fighting men in the recreational buildings and at other points in this camp. Free. No red tape. Open every day. Good reading will help you advance. Library War Service, American Library Association.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


A Year of READING Dangerously: #17 The Color Purple

 

 

 

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Dear Reader, if you recall I came down pretty hard on #9 TTFN  a few reviews ago. I thought the way it was written — in faux text messages —  made it difficult to read and showed a complete lack of regard for the English language. Fast forward a few books to #17 on the ALA’s Top Banned/Challenged books of 2000-2009 and we find The Color Purple by Alice Walker.

 

The Color Purple

The Color Purple (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

I was really flummoxed on what to write about The Color Purple, because I really liked the novel.

Am I a hypocrite for liking Purple but not liking TTFN? Both:

  • are written in epistolary form (TTFN in text messages; The Color Purple as letters from Celie and Nettie)
  • revolve around the lives of young women (With TTFN’s self involved teens the story stays tight on Mad Maddie, Angie and Zoegirl; The Color Purple casts a wider net to include other women — like Shug Avery and Sophia — and men)
  • re-imagine the English language to present their main character’s voice authentically. (In TTFN we get slang and abbreviations — like TTFN; with The Color Purple, especially in Celie’s letters, we get a poor southern dialect, like “…Us both be hitting Nettie’s schoolbooks pretty hard, cause us know we got to be smart to git away.”  )

The difference is that Alice Walker gives her book and engaging story and well drawn characters. Even the characters that start off one dimensional slowly evolve over the course of the book. And in the end I think Walter’s choice to use dialect adds to Celie’s character, it’s more than just a gimmick to appeal to a segment of the book buying demographic.

The book was challenged almost as soon as it hit the bookshelves. Racislm, Sexism, Nudity, Offensive Language, Drugs, Alcohol, Smoking, Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Unsuited for Age Group and Violence.

In 1985 the novel was turned into a major motion picture directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Whoopi Goldberg. Twenty years later a musical adaptation opened on Broadway.

The Color Purple (film)

The Color Purple (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cover for the original Broadway cast recording

Cover for the original Broadway cast recording (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a clip from the 2005 Tony Award’s showing a scene between Celie and Sophia.

 


A Year of READING Dangerously: #18. Go Ask Alice

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading Dangerously Logo 2Please, dear reader, DO NOT mistake the grim made-for-tv-esque Go Ask Alice by Anonymous  for an entry in the  Alice Series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor that I wrote about in my last post.

 

 

 

Go Ask Alice 2

 

 

 

This “Alice” starts out as sensitive,  insecure 15-year-old who keeps a diary and winds up addicted to drugs. After a few on again, off again rides of the drug roller coaster, and some pretty awful experiences she finally starts to get her life together, but her old druggie friends wont let her escape.

 

Sadly, this book reads like a “This is your brain on drugs” PSA penned by Jan Brady from the Brady Bunch.

 

 

 

 

 

The Brady Bunch opening grid, season one

The Brady Bunch opening grid, season one (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

It is ham-fisted as it details all the horrible stuff that happens to “Alice” but it is written in a bizarrely syrupy-sweet style that has the diarist ping-ponging between love, love, loving her family (because they are really the very best people in the world) and wondering if she should give her unsuspecting little brother, Tim, a hit of acid so he knows just how hard her life is.

 

Allegedly a found diary  of a young girl, Go Ask Alice is really a book of fiction. It is listed as as such on the copyright page. It was probably written by its editor Beatrice Sparks.  Sparks went on to “edit” other diaries

 

 

The books deal with topical issues such as drug abuse, Satanism, teenage pregnancy or AIDS, and are presented as cautionary tales. [Goodreads]

 

 

but I have a hard time believing that anyone could read this book and take it as cautionary. I suspect that young readers would think the book is a joke. It is so very, very square and clearly written to try to frighten the reader not to do drugs. The VERY dated writing style doesn’t help this book. It is just bad, bad, bad. (And way over the top.) John Green’s Looking For Alaska is a MUCH better written book that covers some of the same material in a contemporary manner.

 

 

A book about a teenager who takes drugs and has sex is sure to score high on the banned book matrix and it does.

  • Offensive Language,
  • Drug, Alcohol, Smoking,
  • Homosexuality,
  • Sexually Explicit,
  • Unsuited for Age Group,
  • Violence
  • and even a touch of Occult Satanism when Alice is lost on a drub binge in California…

but my guess is that you wouldn’t HAVE to ban it, who’d want to read it?

 

The title of the book is based on a the Jefferson Airplane song of the same name. So if you want trippy look at drug culture in the late Sixties here you go…

 

 

 

 

 

 

And, ah yeah… They DID make the book into a TV movie of the week. Starring none other  than William Shatner as Alice’s father. Now THAT’S trippy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

English: William Shatner photographed by Jerry...

English: William Shatner photographed by Jerry Avenaim (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

 


A Year of READING Dangerously: #2 The Alice Series

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I randomly picked The Agony of Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor as my reading selection from the Alice series and braced myself for the worst. Alice sits right up there at #2 after all. I figured it had to be pretty bad.

Alice

I can honestly say I fell in love with this little book. I related to Alice, with all her missteps and miss perceptions  at least as I did with Margaret (from #99’s Are You There God It’s Me Margaret when I was teen). I totally see the appeal to young female readers.

And I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why this book would be challenged or banned. Alice doesn’t even fret over getting her period!

Luckily I have a friend who is a school librarian and she let me in on the secret that as Alice ages in the books she runs into stickier and sticker situations and faces much more mature issue. And THAT is probably why she is so frequently banned/challenged.

Fair enough. But as these books come out a little less frequently than once a year if a young reader paces themselves they’ll grow along with the character and should be OK (and familiar) with the changing world Alice finds herself confronting.

Soooooo much better of a read than TTFN! Thank you Phyllis Reynolds Naylor for restoring my faith in young lit.

English: A photo of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor in...

English: A photo of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor in her writing chair, where she writes the first two drafts of every book by hand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why it has been challenged or banned: (later books)

  • 2011 Reasons: nudity; offensive language; religious viewpoint
  • 2006 Reasons: offensive language and sexually explicit
  • 2003 Reasons: sexual content, offensive language, unsuited to age group
  • 2002 Reasons: homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  • 2001 Reasons: sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

Year of READING Dangerously — the logo

The amazing and wonderful Hannah Eber (of 12 Days of Christmas PETS logo fame) has struck again with this beautiful logo for our project:

Reading Dangerously Logo 2

Thanks Hannah! And keep reading everybody!


A Year of READING Dangerously: #9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series)

ttylttfnl8rg8r

I chose the middle book of this hat trick, ttfn by Lauren Myracle, to read and review because it was the first of the three available at my local library. Thus far in my reviews of the ALA’s Top 100 Banned Books of 2000-2009 I’ve been bemused at why certain books are one the list and ardent in my defense of other books (because their literary merits far outweigh any “colorful” language), but with this one… yeah. You got me.

Don’t get me wrong I’m still against the banning of any book… but it is a parent’s job to be aware of what their child is reading and to guide them in their choices. So if little Jimmy or Janie really must read a hip book where the kids take drugs and indulge in risky sexual behavior I would strongly suggest something that is much better written with characters that are fully drawn and who are capable of both evoking and generating some sense of empathy. (See: The Perks of Being a Wallflower)

The hook of these books is that they are written as if they were text messages. So if you like things like grammar, spelling, capitalization and punctuation you are in for a long and very frustrating 230 pages. Still… if the characters had been just a little bit believable / interesting / kind then MAYBE it would be worth it. Alas we’re stuck with Mad Maddie, Snow Angel (Angie) and Zoegirl. Of the three Zoe rises above the other two ethically, but a budding romantic relationship with Doug and a series of crude dares from Maddie seem intent on saving her from her good girl image. Not only would I not want my daughter to read a book about this three girls, I wouldn’t want her to have to go to high school with them. As one Amazon.com review stated “TEENAGERS ARE NOT THIS STUPID IN REAL LIFE.” (The choice of all caps was theirs, not mine.)

So where did ttfn fall on our Banned Book matrix? Offensive Language, Drugs, Alcohol, Sexually Explicit, Unsuited for Age Group (it is marketed to Tweens as young as 9).

TTFN

 

I forced myself to read to the end because I wanted to check it off the list. I really took one for the team here people. I hope you appreciate it.


Year of READING Dangerously: #5 Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck has been banned or challenged since its publication in 1937.

Of Mice and Men

Parents wishing to ban the book from the Community High School of Normal, Illinois in  2003  give a typical challenge:

the novel … contains “racial slurs, profanity, violence, and does not represent traditional values.” [120 Banned Books]

And it does, but this relatively short piece of fiction is also a terrific bit of lit.

Steinbeck wrote it as a ‘novel-play’ in three acts with two chapters (or scenes) in each act. So it isn’t surprising that the Of Mice and Men has been adapted for the stage, screen (large and small) and radio. It has even been turned into an opera. The dialog certainly reads like a dramatic stage play. It is gritty and hard scrabbled like the men to utter it.

On our matrix of why a book might be banned Of Mice and Men checks lots of boxes: Racism, Offensive Language, Alcohol, Sexually Explicit, Political Viewpoint, and Violence.

Steinbeck’s utopian dream for Lenny and George of one day owning their own little farm, of living off the land and not being beholding to a boss has been called out by some.

Censors claim that the novel contains crude heroes who speak vulgar language and whose experience exhibit a sadly deficient social system in the United States  [Ibid]

The book was challenged in Chattanooga, Tennessee, because “Steinbeck is known to have had an anti-buisness attitude.” [Ibid]

 


A Year of READING Dangerously: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

I’ve been slowly reading #6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou for a few weeks now, and a finished it yesterday. What a beautifully written book. Its prose but reads like poetry (no big surprise there). Oh, why haven’t I read this book before?

Caged Bird_

Bird is the first of Angelou’s five autobiographies. The story begins with her parent’s divorce when little Maya and brother Bailey travel, unattended, from California to Stamps Arkansas. There they live with “Momma”, their paternal grandmother, a loving, but very strict pillar of the black community. The children live in Stamps for most of their childhood. There is a year-long trip to St. Louis to live with “mother dearest” when Maya is 7, but they go back south for several more years before eventually heading to California to live with their mother again.

The book is full of hardships, like when Maya, at aged 7, is raped by her mother’s live-in lover in St. Louis. Or when it

recalls the despair often felt by the black cotton pickers as they filed into Momma’s general store, returning from the fields on bad days. [120 Banned Books pg 504]

But largely it is a book about defying the odds and  finding inner strength and small triumphs in unlikely places. Proving that education and attention opens the locks on any cage.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings has been banned and challenged frequently since its publication in 1969. The biggest objection is that it is Sexually Explicit (especially the rape scene and 16-year-old Maya’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy at the end of the book.)  Some called it “morally and religiously offensive smutt” because of its “sexually explicit language” [Ibid] while others warned that it was ” pornographic, contains profanity and encourages premarital sex and homosexuality.” [Ibid]

In 1983 The Alabama State Textbook Committee rejected the book because the believe that it  ‘preaches bitterness and hatred against whites.’ [Ibid]

Perhaps that would count as Cultural Insensitivity or Political Viewpoint on our matrix of challenges. The white people of Stamps are certainly not shown in a flattering light. Ditto, almost,  Momma’s zealous devotion to religion. And there is plenty of Alcohol and Violence.

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thanks to Maggie for her contributions to this review.


A Year of READING Dangerously: # 3. The Chocolate War

 

 

The Chocolate War

The Chocolate War (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My commute to work is a half an hour each way, so I’m always on the look out for a good book on tape to make the ride more enjoyable. When the library offered Robert Cormier‘s The Chocolate War as an audio book I snapped it up. I’d read The Chocolate War as a teenager, a few years after the book was published in 1974, and I’d seen the 1988 movie, but I’d forgotten how relentlessly tense and tightly written the story is.

The book was challenged because of its unflattering portrayal private Catholic high school, where the weaker boys are bullied not only by the brothers who run the school but by a shadow organization of students called the vigils.

For example, in 1984 The Chocolate War along with another of Cormier’s books, I am Cheese was challenged in New York for being:

Humanistic and destructive of religious and moral beliefs and of national spirit. [120 Banned Books pg 85.]

It has also been banned for Violence, Offensive Language and Sexual Content.

Film poster for The Chocolate War - Copyright ...

Film poster for The Chocolate War – Copyright 1988, Management Company Entertainment Group (MCEG) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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