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!

Super Psyched for Salinger!

Hey everyone! I can’t believe that June is over already! This is the first year that I don’t have the luxury of being a student on summer vacation, so needless to say, my slow progress through my to-read list has been getting me down. But I’ve got about 70 pages left of Catch-22, so I see the light at the end of the tunnel!

And as much as I’m enjoying Heller’s novel, it’ll be nice to spend the summer with some beach reads. Two of my favorite chick lit authors have released new works recently, Meg Cabot with Awaken and Sophie Kinsella with Wedding Night. I also have about five romance novels and three other pieces of fiction waiting for me on my shelf. So I’m motivated to enjoy the heat, throw on a swimsuit, and lay out by the pool with a good read!

Of course, when fall approaches I still have something to look forward to! I happened to catch this movie trailer in theaters before watching “The Bling Ring” (Side note: Terribly dull film! As much I like Emma Watson, this bust isn’t even worthy catching on Netflix. Save your money!).

This is a sneak peek into “Salinger,” a documentary on the mysterious author behind Catcher in the Rye, which will be released in theaters on September 6th:

Obviously, after reading Catcher in the Rye, Franny and Zooey, and “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” I’m super psyched for this film. I remember hearing the news of Salinger’s passing and I felt so despondent over the fact that he left the earth with such influence and yet so many secrets.

I hope that it reveals new insights about his life as a recluse, especially since the trailer has built up so much suspense. Fingers crossed!

So how many of you are also super psyched for this documentary? Share your love for Salinger in the comments!

Masterpiece Monday: The Catcher in the Rye

Image via Wikipedia

Rating: 5 out of 5

Since I only have two days left of this semester, and only one more semester before I receive my Master’s this spring, I reflect quite a bit on what it’s like to be a young adult in the 21st century. Between the juxtaposition of this dismal economy and the over-indulgent, entitled Millennial generation, lies a disillusioned feeling of angst. And nobody represents angst like  The Catcher in the Rye’s protagonist Holden Caulfield.

Written by J.D. Salinger in 1951, the novel describes Holden’s coming-of-age story as he gets expelled from school and runs away from Pennsylvania to New York. He drinks heavily and has an altercation with a prostitute and her pimp, but eventually meets up with his younger sister Phoebe and takes her to the Central Park Zoo. Although he visits other people, such as his ex-girlfriend Sally and his English teacher Mr. Antolini, it’s with Phoebe that he opens his heart up the most.

The meaning behind the title has to do with Holden mishearing a poem called “Comin’ Through the Rye.” He imagines himself as the guardian of a bunch of kids running around in a rye field next to a cliff. It’s his job to catch the children before they fall–an apt metaphor for Holden’s desire to save children from losing their innocence, like he did.

This novel is now revered as a masterpiece, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not surrounded by controversy. Because of all of the smoking, drinking, cursing, and whoring Holden does, the book continues to be censored in schools around the world. Many murderers, including Mark David Chapman who assassinated John Lennon, have claimed a personal connection to Holden.

However, what’s more important is that everyone can relate to Holden at some point in their lives, because who hasn’t felt lost, lonely, and frustrated with all the ‘phoniness’ around them? Sure, he exhibits destructive behavior, but all his experiences allow him to evolve as a human being.

So whether you’re going through your quarter-life crisis like I am, wondering what the hell you’re going to do with the rest of your life after graduation, or you’re just sick of this fame-whoring reality TV culture, you’ll find a friend in Holden Caulfield.

I haven’t meant anyone who didn’t love this novel, and I recommend absolutely anything written by Salinger. If you don’t know what all the fuss is about, then pick The Catcher in the Rye up immediately and join the conversation!

Favorite Quotes: “I was half in love with her by the time we sat down. That’s the thing about girls. Every time they do something pretty, even if they’re not much to look at, or even if they’re sort of stupid, you fall half in love with them, and then you never know where the hell you are. Girls. Jesus Christ. They can drive you crazy. They really can.” (Ch. 10)

“Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them – if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.” (Ch. 24)

Books You Shouldn’t Have Just Sparknotes-ed in High School

The only thing to fear...is not reading Shakespeare!

Earlier this week, MSNBC discussed the “10 books you really should have read in high school” as part of their “Back to School” special. I’ve got about two weeks left ’til my last year of school (ever!), but until then I spend my days begging high school kids to start reading.

One of my students admitted that he’s only assigned 4-5 books a year, and if he reads one of them he’s lucky. I believe that most teens are pretty intelligent, but most are too distracted by Facebook and football to care about books. A lot are too lazy, and Sparknotes and Wikipedia keep them that way. I love my job, but I know that I’d go crazy if I taught for the rest of my life, desperately trying to pry kids away from their iPhones long enough to write an essay and take a test every now and then.

That being said, I hope you’ll enjoy this list and reminisce about all the classics you actually read in high school. Here’s the 10 novels from MSNBC:

  1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  2. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  3. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
  4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  6. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
  7. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  8. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  9. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  10. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

I’ve read #2, 3, 4, 5 (partially), 7, and 9–and I’ve already discussed my love for some of them in this blog. Junior year of high school at my school must have been the year of “Books about women who cheat or sleep around” because not only did we read The Scarlet Letter and The Great Gatsby, we also read The Awakening by Kate Chopin, The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, and East of Eden by John Steinbeck. With the exception of Chopin, I learned just how many male authors are haunted by female promiscuity in their work!

I can’t judge #1, 6, 8, and 10 personally–although I don’t hear many good things about Ayn Rand. However, I have read some of Twain’s short stories and Hesse’s novel Demian (one of my absolute favorites), so they’re definitely worth making the list.

The only entry I’d have to disagree with, in my humble opinion, is Pride and Prejudice. I tried so hard to like Austen and I respect her as one of the few female authors in the literary canon, but I could not make it past the first 50 pages. The writing wasn’t particularly riveting, the dialogue badly labeled and confusing, and the story full of women clucking around like gossipy hens. I much preferred the Brontes’ Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, as well as Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, to get my fix about marriage and elitism during the 19th century. Hate me if you want, but I found those novels of more substance. But, of course, with enough convincing, I might give Austen a second chance!

I’d also like to add that MSNBC did a horrible job, because THERE’S NO SHAKESPEARE ON THIS LIST!!! Granted, they’re plays, not novels, but STILL. No one should graduate high school without experiencing the Bard! There are also no ethnic minorities represented, and students should get the opportunity to read the works of Divakaruni, Allende, Ishiguro, or Achebe in order to learn about other cultures and appreciate diversity.

I think that tomorrow I’ll post my own list about overrated high school standard reading, so if you have any novels you couldn’t stand as a teen, let me know! I’ll give you a shout-out!

Overrated Classics?

Cover of The Catcher in the Rye 1985 edition

Image via Wikipedia

Today The Huffington Post released this short list of classic novels which it considers overrated:

  1. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
  2. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  3. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  4. The Stranger by Albert Camus
  5. Ulysses by James Joyce
         Personally, I have read 3 and 4, and highly disagree with their reasoning. The Catcher in the Rye is an exquisite read at any age, and to oversimplify it as “whiney” is insulting. The Stranger is one of my favorite novels, precisely because it’s difficult “for the reader to feel a connection to the character.” As the epitome of French existentialism, you’re not supposed to understand Mersault, because the point of the novel is that sometimes, life just doesn’t make sense. It’s beautifully written and engaging, not bland and glacial.
         Now I haven’t read the others, but I have read Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener,” and 2 is the only one I would probably agree with, since I found his writing rather boring. But after hating Wharton’s Ethan Frome and loving The Age of Innocence, I try to never judge an author’s novel based on other work of his/hers that I’ve read previously. You never know, right?
          So do you think HuffPost’s spot-on, or did it totally miss the mark?