My first attempt at writing up a post on Banned Books Week went awry, thanks to a little injudicious cutting and pasting, so this time I'm going to truncate my text a bit and go with something a wee bit different. Drawing from a variety of banned-book lists, I'm going to talk about three of the banned/challenged books I've read and what they meant to me and my children. I will not be reading a banned book, this week, due to time constraints. But, I do have about a half dozen still waiting for me. I don't think I realized any book I came home with had been challenged or banned, at the time of purchase.
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger - I've only read it once and I suspect it wouldn't mean as much to me on a second reading, but when I began collecting classics for my personal library, in my early twenties, The Catcher in the Rye was one of the first I managed to find in our library's perpetual sale corner. I remember being surprised by the style, the informality and the very personal, voyeuristic sensation of reading from Holden Caulfield's point of view.
I also recall how easily I related to his pain and angst and yet, at the same time, I thought it was terribly funny watching him go completely nutso. The reason I related is that I still remembered junior high, I suppose. Now? Hard to say if I'd like it. But, as a fairly young reader, I appreciated that frank view of fictional Holden's misery at a time only a decade past two really miserable years during which I was lonely, awkward and bullied.
Recommended to my own kids? Yes, I handed it to both kids, at some point. I don't think either of them enjoyed it.
While searching for cover images, I found an article within a post noting J. D. Salinger's death at The War Eagle Reader. The article was originally printed in 1962. I highly recommend that you click that link and read the 1962 article, just for grins.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury - Another book I read quite some time ago, I recall realizing that I had no idea what I was getting into when I started to read this futuristic book about a man whose job is burning books and whose wife has left reality for the companionship of a simulated family. I absolutely loved Fahrenheit 451. It's a bit dystopian, really, isn't it? I'm using the Merriam-Webster definition:
Dystopia: an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives.
My fondness for dystopian novels (particularly futuristic and rooted in reality, as opposed to those that are more fantasy-oriented) is that they make you think, "What if this really occurred? Could it really happen? Are we headed that way? If so, what can our society do to prevent [the bad things] from occurring?"
Ironically, I think the simulated family in Fahrenheit 451 is the closest thing to a prophetic offering the book can claim. The Sims, anyone? Otherwise, I honestly only have flashes of memories about this book.
Recommended to my own kids? Yes! Both of my sons are book gobblers. They read fast and they go through obsessive reading phases and lulls. I think my eldest was in junior high when he came to me with the complaint that he'd run out of reading material and could I please give him some suggestions? I handed him Fahrenheit 451 and it immediately became his new favorite book. One year in the not-too-distant past, we ordered an autographed copy for him for Christmas. He also has a copy of the movie, which I've never seen. I don't think my youngest son has managed to finish Fahrenheit 451, although he kept a copy tucked in the back seat pocket of my car, for a time. Perhaps hacking away at it on brief road jaunts isn't the best way to read Fahrenheit 451. He did tell me he was intrigued, in spite of giving up about halfway through the book. It had been in the car for a couple months, by the time he decided it wasn't the best book for reading as we drove about.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's [Philosopher's] Stone by J. K. Rowling - I recall how my curiosity was piqued when I read about the excitement in Great Britain over this popular fantasy novel, well before it was released in the U.S. I just had to see what the fuss was all about and ended up buying the British version while we were in Scotland. I later purchased the Americanized version (which, frankly, ticked me off -- I think our children are perfectly capable of figuring out British English; if not, a glossary is a very fine addition to any book) for comparison. I was completely blown away by Rowling's wildly imaginative world and, admittedly, stunned when the book began to be challenged. Harry is the good in a good vs. evil plot! I was always impressed with Harry's strength of character. Magic was simply the world, the setting, the fantasy aspect.
At any rate, I loved Harry's world. But, I am not much good at reading series books back-to-back. I get series fatigue and I burned out either during or after #4. Someday, I'll get through the rest of the series. I didn't manage to acquire all of the novels in their original UK versions, but I prefer unsanitized British English. Kiddo doesn't care. Either way, he loves all the Harry Potter books.
Recommended to my own kids? Of course! My youngest son was one of those lunatics who had to stand in line for the midnight release of at least two of the books. He and his current girlfriend are both Potter fanatics, to this day. My eldest, on the other hand, was disinterested. But, he was in college and had other things on his mind.
Are you reading a banned book, this week?