Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Banned in the USA

Three movie reviews and a blog entry in 24 hours mean I'm permitting myself some writer's laziness. In other words, it's meme time.

Amanda created one about the American Library Association's most challenged books of all-time. I don't like big, long lists on this blog, so I'll cherry-pick the titles I've read for commenting and such. Visit her site for the complete list if you would like to play along.

-The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

You know, I can't say for sure that I've read this Twain book, but I'm fairly certain I have. Tom Sawyer was assigned reading in junior high (eighth grade?). If I like one book by an author, I tend to search out several others. It's the old completist/auteurist impulse. If I haven't read it, it's because the book is so ingrained in the public consciousness that it feels like I have.

-Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Another assigned book in English class, this one in freshman year of high school. Steinbeck is one of my favorites, probably due in no small part to being required to read his novels. (The Grapes of Wrath was sophomore year.) Except for rabbit-petting and the jokes about Lenny it inspired in the cafeteria, I don't remember a lot about this book's effect on me. I do recall how our teacher put The Grapes of Wrath into context and revealed subtext and the meaning of references in it. Maybe it wasn't the first time I was taught about looking beyond the mere words on the page, but it was a pivotal lesson that took root, even if I didn't know it at the time.

-The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Still in English class, junior year this time. I know it's clichéd to claim it as a favorite. What teenager doesn't take it to heart? This came ready-made for adolescent ardor because of its controversial reputation. It must be subversive because I wrote my paper in defense of the obscenities in it. I was not, nor am I, a rebel, but I got a kick out of putting dirty words in an assignment. How daring! Maybe it's a sign of how sheltered I was or how degraded mass culture has become that I can't imagine this book seeming as "dangerous" to kids today. Some four-letter words and a scene with a prostitute? That's family hour TV nowadays, isn't it?

Aside: I have no clue what is and isn't acceptable in high school classrooms these days, but I wonder if schools would get away with showing Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet or Roman Polanski's Macbeth in conjunction with studying the Shakespeare plays. The former sent ripples through freshman English because of the brief nudity in it. The latter was even more scandalous to teenage sensibilities because of the nudity and violence and Playboy's involvement. (According to the film's Wikipedia page, Hugh Hefner's company financed the picture.) Would these be off limits today?

-The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

I read the first book in my late twenties as preparation for the forthcoming film. I've enjoyed the books, and that's all I have to say about them.

-A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

It's weird how one can peg years for things not considered for a long time. Then again, maybe I'm completely wrong. I feel confident in saying I read this in fifth grade, but as far as the book itself, all I can recall is a vague notion of what the cover looked like.

-Blubber by Judy Blume

Scandal-mongering author of my youth! Well, at least in terms of Blume being the author that was attracting some fire at the time. Again, I don't remember anything about the book other than I probably read it in fourth grade.

-The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

This seems like something I read in fifth grade, but it might have been fourth. I know I read it around the time the movie was released.

-Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

I never had to read this for a class, but I picked it up on my own a year or two after I finished college. (I was going through a classics phase.) If anything, it's been good to have under my belt when encountering films about dystopian futures.

-Cujo by Stephen King

I read this in high school. Is he still popular with that age group? It seems like high schoolers, even those who did very little reading for pleasure, gravitated toward him. At the time I don't think my mom was thrilled that I had checked out some of King's books from the library.

-James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

Mark this one down as something I probably read. I know I owned some of Dahl's other books. (Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator was a Christmas present, I think. Yes, I read a lot as a kid.)

-Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Somehow I think I never had to read this in any class, although I wonder if it might have been required in a college course. (My advanced English class in senior year of high school tackled another Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.) I have read it. Vonnegut's experimentation with time and the author's voice made an impact on me. It was quite odd to find characters from one of his books popping up in others. When it comes to Vonnegut I've been a voracious reader for brief spells and then have to put him aside because I get too depressed.

If anything, this exercise proves that my memory about childhood things can be lousy when it comes to specifics or important details.

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At 2:25 AM, Anonymous Ruth said...

Some interesting choices, I'd never have picked James and the Giant Peach as being a problem.

Lots of Christian schools in Australia banned the Harry Potter books. I had a kid in my class whose parents actually burned a copy that he had borrowed off one of his classmates!

I have to admit I've never read Catcher in the Rye.

At 11:07 AM, Blogger Amanda D Allen said...

Yay for my meme. I can go on thinking that I'm cool now ;).


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