Tag Archives: A Year of READING Dangerously

A Year of READING Dangerously: #96 Grendel

OK I guess I really SHOULD change the name of this feature to “A Year *Plus* of READING Dangerously” as I have completely blown my deadline for reading all 100 books on the ALA’s list of most banned and challenged books between 2000 and 2010. But, since Hannah has done such a fabulous job with creating the logo, I’m going to stick to the original title, and we’ll just see how many books I get through. (Or WE get through for those of you who are still playing along.)

Reading Dangerously Logo 2Today’s pick is Grendel, John Gardner‘s 1970/71 masterful retelling of Beowulf. It is really the perfect book for a literature dweeb to pick up for Halloween. So run to your local bookstore and buy your copy now.

Grendel (novel)

Grendel (novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I can’t remember when I first read Grendel. It was probably in high school as an add-on assignment to the more classical book. And although I can still recite the first lines of Beowulf in Old English thanks to Sr. Carola, I can assure you I enjoyed reading the story from the monster’s side much more. Who doesn’t love an existential, self-loathing, monster? Am I right?

Ah-hem… not so right. The book has been banned off and on since its publication. The biggest offense seems to be violence (which Grendel has in spades), but it has also been sited for being nihilistic and unsuitable for students in high school. For example:

Grendel was challenged in the Sherwood, Oregon school district after being added to the sophomore honors English class’ reading list. Parents were concerned about scenes in the novel that describe torture and mutilation. … [Rohrbach Library blog]

The book remained on the school’s reading list. Students continue to have the choice of reading other novels that explore the human condition through the eyes of an anti-hero “monster”. (In the case of Sherwood, Oregon, Frankenstein.)

John Gardner, circa 1984

John Gardner, circa 1984 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The novel  inspired an animated film (1981’s Grendel, Grendel, Grendel by Alexander Stitt) and a 2006 opera by Elliot Goldenthal.

Special props to my nephew John who was kind enough to loan me his gently read copy of the novel so I didn’t have read my 30 year old pocket paperback with its teeny-tiny type and crumbling spine.


A Year of READING Dangerously: 27. My Brother Sam Is Dead

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SPOILER ALERT: in the Revolutionary War drama My Brother Sam is Dead,  by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier 
… Sam, the brother, DIES!

My Brother Sam Is Dead

My Brother Sam Is Dead (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This moderately entertaining read (it is loads better than #42. The Fighting Ground, by Avi, IMHO ) was published in 1974. It is a Newbery Honor Book, a Jane Adams Honor Book, was named by the American Library Association as a Notable Children’s Book and was a finalist for a National Book Award in 1975.

It also consistently lands on various banned and challenged book lists around the country.

ALA Seal

ALA Seal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On our matrix the only reason I can think it might be challenged is the use of Offensive Language (which clashes oddly with the main character’s mostly religious approach to life) and the Violence.

Not bad for YA Historical Fiction. But is ‘not bad’ good enough? It attempts to give a balanced look from both the Tory and Patriot side of the conflict. In that way it was better than the History Channel’s appallingly inaccurate Sons of Liberty, so points there. But the History Channel, alas, did not set the bar very high.

Map of campaigns in the Revolutionary War

Map of campaigns in the Revolutionary War (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Year of READING Dangerously: 25. Killing Mr. Griffin

Killing Mr. Griffin

Killing Mr. Griffin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lois Duncan’s Killing Mr. Griffin is a pretty predictable teen drama about a group of high school seniors (and one junior) who plot to kidnap their strict English Lit teacher and “teach him a lesson.” Unbeknownst to them Mr. Griffin has a heart problem and their plan of making him THINK they are going to kill him actually DOES kill him. The rest of the novel deals with how far these kids are willing to go to cover up the crime. They do  some pretty stupid things that would lead even the most rookie of detectives (or mystery readers) to their door steps.

Why’s it on the Banned/Challenged list? Probably because of how easily the group is manipulated by the sociopath leader, Mark. They DO cause the death of an authority figure for no other reason than he, Mr. Griffin, is a tough teacher. There is also very mild offensive language and a cigarette or two might get smoked in the course of the novel.

A Year of READING Dangerously: #12 It’s Perfectly Normal

It's Perfectly Normal

It’s Perfectly Normal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You don’t have to get very far into It’s Perfectly Normal , Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health by Robie H. Harris  before it becomes apparent why the book finds itself a perpetual favorite on the ALA’s Banned/Challenged list. Michael Embrerly’s full frontal nude cartoon illustrations on the title page are, I’m sure, more than enough to get it banned.

The book…

is meant to teach children 10 and older about sexual health, emotional health and relationships, and contains sections on puberty, pregnancy and sexual orientation. [NPR, “It May Be Perfectly Normal But Its Also Frequently Banned]

It has been banned/challenged for:

homosexuality, nudity, sex education, religious viewpoint, abortion and being unsuited to age group [ALA; “It’s Perfectly Normal” tops ALA’s 2005 list of most challenged books]

It’s Perfectly Normal has been translated into 35 languages, and has been hailed by physicians, parents and educators. It is an easy read and I think it would be a great, frank supplemental text to a parent child conversation on the birds and bees.

Summer Writing Challenge: Day One

Beautiful tropical beach with the word summer written on the san
Welcome back my friends to the annual ritaLOVEStoWRITE Summer WRITING Challenge. Each day for the month of July I’ll present you with a word prompt.

It is up to you how much or how little you wish to write for the day (Maggie and I have set our goal at 1 hour a day.)

You don’t have to WRITE. This can be a CREATIVE challenge.  You can use the prompts to set you off on other creative journeys if you like. Last year Emily W. took an artistic approach and did some great photo essays. I’m wondering if some of my chief friends could whip up some menu items based on our prompts?

And you can share (or not) by leaving a comment below or sending me an email at ritaLOVEStoWRITE@gmail.com

Beautiful tropical beach with the word summer written on the sanOK here it is… Today’s prompt is…


So whether is it a plank like the exercise…

English: an exercise of abs

English: an exercise of abs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

or cedar plank you are going to cook your salmon on, or…

English: Wooden plank with nailed aluminum she...

English: Wooden plank with nailed aluminum sheet. Building facade close-up. Français : Planche avec une lame d’aluminium clouée dessus. Gros plan d’une facade. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

the plank in a political platform… get nailing people, you’ve got a lot of creating to do.


Writing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(NOT my actual hand.)

Also: Quick reminder… don’t forget to keep up with “A Year of READING Dangerously” lots more books to get through on the 100 most banned and challenged book list. Please stop by and help us get through them all before Banned Book Week!

A Year of READING Dangerously: #42 The Fighting Ground

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The Fighting Ground is a vanilla piece of historical fiction by Avi. The action takes place over a roughly 24 hour period pf April 3 and April 4th , 1778. The American Revolutionary War is ripping up the New Jersey country side skirmish by skirmish and is beconing 13-year-old Johnathan away from his farm to fight.

Unexpectedly, the quiet is cut by the sound of a bell-an alarm ringing from the nearby tavern. Jonathan is sent to find out what the trouble is. What he finds in the next twenty-four hours, when he does fight and is taken prisoner by three Hessian soldiers, changes his understanding of war and life forever. The real war, he discovers, is being fought within himself. [Avi-Writer.com]

The Fighting GroundAlthough The Fighting Ground is hailed as “action packed” and is an award winning publication, I found it a bland read.

I’m scratching my head as to why this one is on the banned book list. It is a book about war so there is some Violence. But that was about it.

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.


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

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