Happy Banned Books Week!

In case you hadn’t heard, it’s Banned Books Week!

Every year book bloggers celebrate the power of the written word and remind others to fight against censorship…because despite what you may think, banning books is still alive and well, even in America where we’re supposed to value the freedom of speech and print.

Just a few days ago, NPR reported that a North Carolina county voted to ban Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, which discusses the nuances of black identity formation and the battles for racial equality. Apparently the state failed to see the irony behind removing from view a story about an individual’s social invisibility.

It’s news like NPR’s which makes me grateful for living in a more liberal state, since my California high school wasn’t about to let a little violence and incest get in the way of providing its students with a culturally diverse and historically meaningful education.

I’ve brought up the topic of censorship before, like when I asked whether young adult fiction was too adult and whether books should be rated like movies. I, like almost every other book blogger, sides with the First Amendment. But in case the good ol’ Constitution isn’t reason enough, let me spell it out for you:

Not all speech is smart, but it should be free (Image via Thinking Right Blog)

1.     It is vital that we challenge reinforcement theory. Mass media scholars suggest that our egos are so sensitive that we’d rather hide behind the bubble wrap of our previously held beliefs than risk coming across something that makes us uncomfortable.

However, learning from different perspectives forces us to re-evaluate our opinions and our relationships with other people–which is a good thing! We could all use some empathy by reading a mile of someone else’s journey.

I’m not saying that you have to agree with the Westboro Baptist Church, but they have the right to spout off their nonsense. Don’t like it? Speak up and make your voice the one that your local politician hears the loudest.

Because it’s only Facebook that counts? (Image credit to ToothpasteForDinner.com)

2.     Censorship is a slippery slope. As I learned from Reading Lolita in Tehran, banning books on the surface might seem a minor infringement of personal freedom, but usurping control of what thoughts are deemed worthy of publishing will ultimately lead to the loss of many more rights.

And what’s even scarier than a country like 1970’s Iran actively fighting against revolutionary restrictions and failing is a society no longer interested in fighting at all, as seen in Fahrenheit 451, another frequently banned book. In that satire, people became so obsessed with television that they didn’t even care that the totalitarian government banned books. Their tiny attention spans couldn’t be bothered.

Life lessons courtesy of Grand Theft Auto (Image via GTA 5 Nation)

3.     Banning books is hypocrisy at its worst. Other media are often censored, but how many movies, music videos, or video games are outright banned? Sure, we can label things explicit or give them “R” ratings, but we don’t seem all that concerned about enforcement.

I mean, no one batted an eyelash when the latest Grand Theft Auto, a video game in which killing cops and prostitutes is encouraged, earned over $1 billion in three days. I highly doubt all those copies will be played by only those 18 and up.

And let’s not gloss over Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” (or Miley Cyrus’ VMA’s rendition of the song). It seems that the majority of folks don’t mind the promotion of rape culture and exploitation of women as long as the tune is catchy.

But did you know that Catcher in the Rye was banned, among other complaints, over Holden Caulfield’s dealings with a prostitute? Or that Beloved and Their Eyes Were Watching God were considered too sexual?

I can’t stand the double standard that sex is harmless when it’s allegedly just for fun or to sell a product, but when it’s depicted in a context where people might actually learn something of value from it, it’s branded as too inappropriate.

The take-away? I’m not trying to be a prude or a buzz-kill. In fact, I’m proposing that all media, not matter how controversial or offensive, should be protected from censorship. As adults, it’s our individual right to decide if we want to read a book or not.

And as for the kids, if you’re sooooo concerned about Little Timmy reading To Kill A Mockingbird or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

It’s called home-schooling. You’re welcome.

Final note: Please spread awareness of this issue by educating yourself on the most challenged books and where they’re being removed. Celebrate this week by following #bannedbooksweek on Twitter and checking out Google Hangouts with banned authors!

Masterpiece Monday: Book Versus Movie (Venn Diagram Edition)

So I found this Venn diagram the other day on TheFrisky.com, and since we were discussing classic novels and their respective film adaptations yesterday, I figured you all would have plenty to say about this.

As for me, I completely agree that The Great Gatsby, The Scarlet Letter, and One Day are better as books. However, I think that Never Let Me Go is outstanding either way, and I’d avoid Beloved in any form.

I’d be hard-pressed to find somebody who hated The Godfather, Fight Club, and The Princess Bride as movies, but I’d add that Fight Club is just as kick-ass on paper. And obviously, Harry Potter and To Kill a Mockingbird deserve to overlap both categories.

Lastly, after reading interviews of the egotistical, pompous jerk that is Nicholas Sparks, I refuse to give him any money whatsoever. I only wish I knew about his arrogance before I watched The Notebook, because I admit that it was a great movie, for being a sappy sob-fest, that is.

I haven’t read or watched most of the others, so please enlighten me with your opinions. Did this diagram get it right? What would you add? Let’s keep the debate going!

Top 5 Books I Hated in High School

Winfrey as Sofia in The Color Purple

Feel free to send me to Australia, Oprah, to make up for your horrible movie!

Yesterday, I discussed a list of the 10 books you should have read in high school, but I’ll admit that not all required reading back then was magnificent. Even some of the most respected authors in the canon drove me nuts. Now I don’t regret reading these because I now know what kind of books/authors to avoid (and because my grades depended on it), but I hope that I can save you from my teenage pain and misery.

Here’s my top 5 literary happiness-killers:

  1. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. First off, this sucker is LONG. Getting paid by the word was a horrible idea back then. Not that I’m against long books (if reading the last two Harry Potter books in 12 hours each is any consolation), but this one sucked fun out of life like a Dementor. My teacher freshman year was my horrendous debate coach who eventually got fired for not getting his credential. He spent the year playing movies and making us do stupid projects, like build replicas of the Globe Theatre. Great Expectations was accompanied by a huge packet of busy work, like vocab lists and summaries; everyone else knew that he would pass everybody whether we completed it or not, but me being the nerdy student that I am, tried to take it seriously. They were right, of course, and now if you talk about any character named “Pip-” and you don’t end it with “-pin,” I might strangle you. ONE SENTENCE PLOT: Orphan boy meets crazy old lady, who secretly leaves him a fortune so he can impress a rich girl, but he loses both her and his money–making Great Expectations a Great Disappointment.
  2. Beloved by Toni Morrison. Overall, I think Morrison is overrated, and this book is definitely not beloved by me even though it won a Pulitzer. I’m not a fan of ghost stories, and a slavery ghost story is a whole new bag of depressing. I didn’t like any of the characters, and all the voodoo was making me crazy. And as if the novel was bad enough, I had to watch the movie with Oprah Winfrey. Good thing she realized she’s better at giving away cars and getting celebrities to jump on couches than she is at acting. ONE SENTENCE PLOT: Escaped slave kills her daughter to avoid recapture, but suffers from the haunting of her daughter’s reincarnated spirit.
  3. Intruder in the Dust by William Faulkner. Honestly, I don’t really remember what this book was about, because of Faulkner committing my #1 literary sin: STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS. If an author does this, I will probably loathe him/her, no matter how deep the thoughts. It’s called a period, use it! Faulkner’s run-ons made me just want to run away, very far away. I remember pretending to know what’s going on and bs-ing my way through an essay, then promising myself that I would never read Faulkner again. If you’re a fan of his, sorry, but you’re probably too busy scratching whatever first comes to mind into your hipster diary to care about me anyway. ONE SENTENCE PLOT (ASSISTED BY WIKIPEDIA): Black farmer accused of murdering white man “is exonerated through the efforts of black and white teenagers and a spinster from a long-established Southern family.”
  4. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren. Again, another novel which did not leave a big impression on me. It just seemed like one big compare/contrast story between Stark and Burden. Politicians aren’t very exciting in real life, and they aren’t any different in this story. And unlike other political allegories like Orwell’s Animal Farm, the history it’s based on is just as boring. ONE SENTENCE PLOT: The rise and fall of a southern governor, as told by his right-hand man…yawn.
  5. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy. Having also read Tess of the d’Urbervilles, I know that this book wasn’t just a one-time suck fest from Hardy. I also know that most high school students haven’t read these last 3 novels on my list, but my AP Lit teacher (who was so awesome that she deserves her own blog post someday) branched out and offered us some unique reading. Unfortunately, this was not one of them. Hardy has an amazing knack of being dark and dreary, without being interesting. Another forgettable text. ONE SENTENCE PLOT: Exotic, mysterious fallen woman commits suicide after long off-and-on love affair.
So there you have it! There’s so many excellent books out there, and there’s no reason why you should waste your time with these. Trust me, you’re not missing much! But if you disagree with my list or would like to add to it, feel free to comment!
PS: I finished Catching Fire, the 2nd book of The Hunger Games trilogy, last night, so come back tomorrow for its review!