Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Banned, Censored, Challenged: The Handmaid's Tale

Written by Margaret Atwood, this is a dystopian novel from a woman's point of view. It is set in a future taken over by religious zealots who control every aspect of women's lives. The main character, Offred narrates the story of her life as a "Hagar", a woman forced to have sex with a man, in order to basically be a surrogate mother.

Like most authors of dystopian fiction, Atwood meant this to be a cautionary tale. Writing during a time of strong politically conservative influence, Atwood envisioned a future where women would lose all of the rights they had gained during the 60s and 70s movements. She drew her concept from the book of Genesis in the Bible, where the handmaiden Hagar is forced to bare children for Abraham because his wife is barren. I wasn't alive in the 80s, so I don't know how plausible this story seemed at the time (someone who read it back then could tell me) but I know that when I first read it in 2003, it seemed a little hysterical. After all, another conservative was in office at the time and though there were many things the Left feared from Bush, it never seemed that a complete repeal of women's rights was possible.

So to me, the book seemed hysterical and unrealistic. Back to the 50s- a possibility. Back to the Bronze age, not likely.

Still, it was an exciting and provocative book.

I found out about the proposed removal of this book from a Texas high school on a website called, whose main focus seems to be encouraging libraries to filter porn but they also talk about books.

In writing about the nature of some young adult books they write:

from Judson Board Set to Write Final Chapter on Sci-Fi Book, March 22, 2006:
Judith Krug, director of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, said [regarding] 'The Handmaid's Tale' [that e]ven as the book is being challenged, it also is being used more frequently because teachers are trying to bring in contemporary, well-written material that interests students.... "They're dealing with real literature," she said. "These are kids who are about to step into the real world." She added: "These are people who are going to be voting soon."
What an excuse, "real literature," because children will be "voting soon." About what, aimless sex, drugs, alcohol, and death?

I read the article about the Judson High School disagreement over The Handmaid's Tale. The novel, by the way, is not a Young Adult novel.

According to the article cited by Safe Libraries, The Handmaid's Tale was a part of a college-level advanced placement course in the school and had been for 10 years before a parent complained in 2008, prompting the Superintendent to remove the book. A committee of parents, teacher and students later returned the book.

Parents at this school did have the option of substituting another book (great idea), which one school mom (according to the article) did- her child read Brave New World, which is #52 on the ALA's list of most challenged books, because of profanity, violence, drug use etc.

In fact...people do vote about drug use, alcohol, death and sex. We pass legislation involving those issues all the time.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Banned, Censored, Challenged: The Canterbury Tales

Authored in the 14th or 15th century, The Canterbury Tales is one of the oldest works in the English language. The work contains some of the oldest known uses of “ar*e”, “sh*t”, “pi*s” and “c*nt” (spelled “queynte”by Chaucer).

Is it me, or does asterixing (fake word alert) letters make naughty words seem more obsc*ne?

But this book is not a study in foul language. It is a witness to the history and richness of the English language. It is written in Middle English. It just happens to have some of what we consider "naughtiness" in it.

Under the 1873 Comstock law in the United States, this book could not be sent through the mail. As recently as 1995, the book was banned from a Senior High School preparatory course in Illinois for obscenity.

You can click on the illustrations above to read Chaucer online and visit his website.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Banned, Censored, Challenged: On the Origin of Species

On the Origin of Species was published by English naturalist Charles Darwin in 1859. Darwin had anticipated the storm that his work might create. He dropped an idea bomb on the world and the aftershocks continue to this day. The work was banned in Yugoslavia in 1935 and in Greece in 1937. From 1925 to 1967, the book was banned in the state of Tennessee. Adolf Hitler may also have had it in for Darwin. In Die B├╝cherei, the Nazi guideline for which books to remove from libraries, it includes:

6. Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism (H�ckel)

On the Origin of Species explains how organisms change over time. It was an early idea of evolution and there was a lot that Darwin didn't know. He didn't have radiometric dating, fossils, didn't understand DNA. Evolution as it is understood today is different from "Darwinism". However, Charles Darwin deserves his place among the greatest scientists of our time. To those who resist new and challenging ideas,his masterpiece deserves its place in the flames.

I'm looking for a beautiful Easton Press edition for my shelf.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The ALA's Banned Classics: How Many Have You Read?

This is the American Library Association's list of Banned and Challenged classics. The ALA took the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century and found that 42 of them have been banned or targeted for banning. The reasons can be found here. On the ALA's list the ones that have been banned are in bold letters.

Some of the other books not in bold actually have been targeted. For example, copies of Lord of the Rings were burned as "satanic" by Christ Community Church in Alamogordo, New Mexico, along with Harry Potter novels and some works of Shakespeare. Animal Farm by George Orwell has been banned in Kenya, the U.A.E and Yugoslavia. Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children was banned in Malaysia, etc.

The ones in bold are the ones I have read.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Ulysses by James Joyce
Beloved by Toni Morrison
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
1984 by George Orwell
Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Their Eyes are Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Native Son by Richard Wright
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin
All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence
Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence
The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer
Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
Rabbit, Run by John Updike

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

More Appreciation: Boy Book Bloggers

You know, there is a gender gap in book blogging. Until this week, I had never seen any male book bloggers. Then, I read this interview on Rhapsody in Books. Darren, from Bart's Bookshelf named a few blogs off the top of his head that are maintained by men.

Stuff Dreams Are Made On...

Stainless Steel Droppings

Rob Around Books


I've got these in my Google reader . Let's not forget that there are plenty of author blogs such as Neil Gaiman's Journal.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Book Blogs That I Appreciate

Let's do some appreciatin'...
Today, I am going to appreciate some good posts.

The Shelfari Blog did a post on Neil Gaiman's personal home library. Seriously, the man knows how to live. It's Here.

Then, there are the posts that were shortlisted for best post. They are all really good.

This Blogging Thing Reminds Me of High School (Hey Lady, Whatcha’ Readin’?)

On Fantasy and Why I Read It (Things Mean a Lot)

Write the Words of My Heart (My Friend Amy)

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker (Maw Books Blog)

Also, there are a lot of great BBAW interviews going on. Check them out:

Medieval Bookworm Interviews Leslie of Poisoned Rationality

Reality Bites...Fiction Does It Better! Interviews Natasha of Maw Books

BermudaOnion Interviews Meredith of Dolce Bellezza

things mean a lot interviews Sandy of You've Gotta Read This!

You've Gotta Read This! interviews Naymeth of things mean a lot

and of course,

Lost in Books Interviews Robin of My Two Blessings

So, in the interest of raising the prestigious calling of book blogging to a higher level, I asked myself what makes a blog post good? And what makes a book blog post good?

Any blog post is good when it shows you something or tells you something that you haven't seen before. I like the Neil Gaiman post because I love pictures of bookshelves-it's a...fetish...that I have.
I like the Hey Lady post because it is so honest and funny. The interviews are great because you get to see the stories behind the blog- even if you've never read it before.

I think I know which of my posts have been my best. If you want to post a link to your best post in the comments, go ahead.

I'll appreciate it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Book Blogger Appreciation Week is Here!

Congratulations to some of my favorite blogs for having made the Book Blogger's Appreciation Week Shortlist!
A Novel Menagerie
Bermuda Onion
J. Kaye’s Book Blog
Rhapsody in Books

and my favorite website made the list, too: Shelfari
here are a whole lot more. Check out the short list for BBAW here.

If you also have a Shelfari page do, "friend" me. I love having notes on my page.

And Rebecca from Lost in Books has made a special list for those who didn't make a list and generously awarded The Dangerous Pages Review with this award:
Thanks Rebecca.
It's apparent that I am going to be doing a lot of blog-hopping this week and I have decided to do a post every day this week on the best blogs and posts that I find.


(Also, don't forget, there's another exciting week coming up after this: banned book week, starting September 26.)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Banned, Censored, Challenged: The Merchant of Venice

There's a book called The Essential Shakespeare Handbook that explains each play & the poetic works, their context, style and meaning with illustrations. It's a colorful and handy reference, if you want to understand the Bard better.

For all the violence, sexuality and profanity in Shakespeare's works, he still wrote some of the most beautiful passages of the English language.

That is not to say that everyone has found them beautiful. Some of the biggest censorship controversy of modern times surrounds his play The Merchant of Venice, which is believed to have been written between 1596 and 1598.

The story revolves around the love of Bassanio and Portia and the greed of a Jewish moneylender named Shylock. It is the character Shylock who causes the most controversy. He fulfills all of the ugly stereotypes that people have created about Jews- he is greedy, unforgiving, vengeful, sly. He is a tormented villain and one of Shakespeare's most notable bad guys.

In 1931, The Merchant of Venice was removed from high school curricula in Buffalo and Manchester New York after complaints from Jewish organizations. In 1980, it was also removed in Midland, Michigan. Other schools have dropped the play since.

However, The Merchant of Venice is not banned in Israel- in fact, some say it's popular there.

This raises the issue of teaching kids how to view the attitudes of the past- if you don't tell them the truth, how will they ever learn to evaluate history? Keep in mind that this play is assigned on a high school level- and I think we are underestimating teens if we say that the frank discussion of anti-semitism or any kind of prejudice- is beyond them.

Just add it to a long list of things that people aren't allowed to discuss at school these days.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Summer Reading 2009- Muggles, Magic and Memoirs

Oh, what a summer it has been...

When I was a kid, I really enjoyed fantasy literature. When the Harry Potter series came out, however, I never read them. When I moved into adult literature, I left my love of fantasy behind- it seemed like "grown-up" fantasies never made me believe the way the children's books did (Lord of the Rings was an exception). After a while, I began craving a good children's fantasy. This summer, I read the first Harry Potter satisfied that craving. My only regret is that I didn't read them when I was younger: then I could have grown up with the stories like so many other 20 somethings.

I read both of A.J Jacobs' books: The Year of Living Biblically and The Know-It-All. I can't pick which is my favorite. All I know is that they are funny, informative and unique. I love non-fiction that gives you a smorgasborg of related facts, that twist and turn through a labyrinth of information- it's not everyone's cup of tea but it is my nirvana.

My least favorite book of the summer was The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant- I love The Red Tent and figured this would be as good. Instead, it seemed to me like nothing much happened. The characters were interesting, but I felt as if she did nothing with them, except move them around the town. Maybe I will come back to it later...

I am winding up the summer with a pile of biographies several books deep. I am reading The Autobiography of Miles Davis which was ghostwritten by Quincy Troupe and Robert Kennedy by Evan Thomas, but since I own those, I am reading them very slowly. Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera was part of the pile and I finished it last week- I learned quite a bit about the history of Mexico.

Now, I add On Writing by Stephen King (I picked it from the library shelf on a whim- far different from any writing book I have ever read and so good) and Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama which is also engaging- I think a good biography makes the people in it as engaging as characters in fiction would be. President Obama's Grandparents are funny people and truly normal. His mother is sweet, interesting, intelligent- she seems like a real heroine.

The best biography so far is Ron Powers biography of Mark Twain- I love Mark Twain anyway, but this book was the best biography I have ever read. At the bottom of my biography pile is Walter Isaacson's biography of Albert Einstein- which I can't wait to start.

Can anybody recommend a good biography?