Banned Books Week: Recommended Reads #11 & #12

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BANNED

As some of you might already be aware, this week (21st – 27th September 2014) is Banned Books Week. Held annually (usually in the last week of September), this event celebrates our freedom to read and to express ideas, even those books which are considered by some to be unorthodox, offensive and/or unpopular.

To mark this occasion, I thought it would be appropriate to spend some time this week taking a look at a few of the most important, influential, beautiful, and controversial books that, at some point in history, have been banned. My intent here is not necessarily to endorse these books (although, there are some on this list that I believe everyone should read at some point in their lives), but to simply celebrate the fact that we now live in a world where books no longer need to be burned. After all, as Mary Jo Godwin once said, “a truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone”.

So, on to my eleventh and twelfth and considerations of the week…


Book #11: A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess

Clockwork-Orange-Amy-Harding

No doubt about it – A Clockwork Orange is a dark book, indeed. Made famous by Kubrick’s film adaptation of the same name, it tells the story of young teenager, Alex, who loves nothing more than a glass of milk-plus, the sounds of Beethoven’s symphonies, and a cheeky bit of ultra-violence when on a night out with his droogs. The novel is largely centred around the ideas of free will and nature versus nurture (or how much of our personality and choices are determined inherently rather than learned), but also wholeheartedly embraces the aestheticisation of violence – that is the depiction of graphic, over-the-top, excessive violence in a stylised, exaggerated fashion. It is for this reason that, when published in 1962, the book was widely banned in the UK and USA.

What many people don’t know about this book is that it is rumoured that Burgess was prompted to write it when trying to understand the motivations of the men who violently attacked him and his wife at their country home – an attack which is mirrored in the opening stages of the novel, wherein a couple are tricked into opening the door, beaten half to death, and the wife violently gang-raped. By telling the story from the youngster’s perspective, Burgess was effectively trying to climb into the head of the men who sought to hurt him and his wife without reason – this is, perhaps, one of the main reasons for him choosing to tell the story is such an unusual and iconic dialogue. The whole book has the greasy, easy feel of slang about it, despite the protagonist’s eloquence, because of Burgess’ introduction of an entirely new vocabulary.

Let’s get one thing straight right now – this book is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It is gritty and unapologetic, and is not afraid to get it’s hands dirty to tell a good story. There are scenes in it which will never quite leave you. However, if you’ve got the stomach for it, it’s a powerful novel. The only criticism I have of it is the happy ending that Burgess decided to pin onto the end – his way of expressing his hopefulness for the future; that this ultra-violent nature is something which can be grown out of. I prefer Kubrick’s ending, wherein all hope is lost… but then, I never did like a happy ending.


Book #12:
(well, technically, it’s three books, but who’s counting?)
The Lord of The Rings trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien

lord-of-the-rings-cover-design-3


Thanks to Peter Jackson, you would have to travel pretty far to find someone who has never heard of The Lord of the Rings – with the films inspiring a new generation of readers, these books continue to draw in the crowds when other works of the same age have long been forgotten. It may come as somewhat of a surprise, then, that Tolkien’s classic trilogy, along with The Hobbit, has been banned in many schools and public libraries across America and England.

There are two main reason put forward for this: the first is related to the Hobbits’ smoking habits. It seems a strange criticism, but given the likeness between children and Hobbits, organisations such as the NHS have stated that allowing children to watch or read such material could be detrimental to their health. Now, I have to admit to being highly cynical regarding this ‘monkey see, monkey do’ philosophy that is used to justify criticisms of everything from punk music to violent video games, but for me, this isn’t really a justification to ban such a wonderful set of books. I mean, I read them, but I didn’t immediately set off for the nearest volcano, looking for some jewellery to destroy, now did I?

The other main criticism of the books relates to them being deemed ‘irreligious’, despite the fact that Tolkien was a devout Catholic and that in the Lord of the Rings, he felt he had consciously created a “fundamentally religious and Christian work.”  It is true that the novel contains quite noticeable Christian themes and subtexts, but this apparently has been lost on many, including the Christian schools that have fought so hard to ban these books.

If you’ve never gotten around to reading them, then I warn you, they can feel pretty long when you’re reading them. You will never read about so much damn walking in your entire life. Even the trees walk! However, that said, the characters will charm you, the languages and landscapes will amaze you, and you’ll find yourself sitting up for hours at night, just to stay with the characters a little longer. After all, no one wants to leave a friend in need, and that’s what Frodo and the gang will become – old, dear friends, with whom you once shared a great adventure. Don’t deny yourself the pleasure…

(Images: Amazon)


Want more information on Banned Books Week 2014?
Visit: http://www.ala.org/bbooks/banned


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29 thoughts on “Banned Books Week: Recommended Reads #11 & #12

  1. Jon

    I’ve never heard the story of Burgess and his wife being attacked in their home. I have heard that Burgess claimed the story was inspired by his then wife being beaten up by US deserters in WW2, but given that Burgess and the truth only ever had a casual relationship at best I’m a bit dubious about that, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maybe it isn’t true, then – that’s what I was told by one of my University professors…. it would be kind of a shame, I always liked that story – I thought it gave a good justification to why the book is so in-your-face when it comes to the violence.

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      • Jon

        Who can say. But Burgess was rather given to making up things: he claimed the title was taken from a common Cockney phrase, ‘as queer as a clockwork orange’, but no trace of such a phrase before 1962 was ever found.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Jon

    Aaaand I should read to the bottom before commenting … the LOTR was banned for smoking? Seriously? Bizarre. And I suspect the kind of people who wanted to ban it for irreligiosity don’t count Catholics as Christians, anyway. My English teacher lent me my first copy. Thanks, Miss Lewis!

    Liked by 1 person

    • They certainly did – that’s the NHS and political correctness for you, can’t do anything worth doing in a film anymore!! It’s obviously nonsense. Good things these bans are always challenged and overturned…

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  3. Marianne

    Wow. I don’t know if I could bring myself to read Clockwork Orange. However, I can certainly relate to the author in stepping into a child’s world to relate his own experience. It sounds gripping. Ban it? Never.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I completely agree, Marianne – I know plenty of people that really wouldn’t enjoy this book, but I’d vehemently argue with anyone who said, for that reason, it should be banned. I’ve never heard an argument for censorship of literature that I’ve agreed with – purely, regardless of the controversy, knowledge is power? Burning books is throwing away knowledge, even in the most extreme cases. For instance, I wouldn’t think of Mein Kampf as a bedtime read, and in the wrong hands it could incite hatred, but the book gives a rare insight into Hitler’s psyche, and for that reason it shouldn’t be destroyed… after all, if we never understand Hitler, how can we stop this like from taking power again?

      Ha, sorry, got a bit heavy there! 🙂 Thanks for your comment, Marianne 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Marianne

        Your reply was perfect. I read Mein Kampf as a teenager. Because I come from a Jewish background, I see the book as a very important document of history. I haven’t seen a copy in ages, but I would love to get one for my bookshelf.

        “A little learning is a dangerous thing;
        Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.”
        –Alexander Pope

        This couplet is often misquoted and misunderstood. Without the second line, the first implies a different meaning. Pope meant LITTLE, as in not much. We need to “drink deep[ly]” from the well of knowledge otherwise, we become misinformed and, well, stupid.

        Books are the keys to deep understanding and knowlege.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The pity is that MK wasn’t read by more people early on. I tried to read it in German, in an early edition, and found it nearly unreadable. The “Der Judischer Affe” chapter put me off. That edition was embargoed by Hitler; only the censored edition was allowed to be exported. A bowdlerized English edition was published later by (iirc) Houghton-Mifflin.

        A French politician was once asked how he had such a good insight into Hitler. He replied, “Because I read Mein Kampf in the German edition.” Not enough politicians took the trouble to do that.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I have to admit that it’s the first time I’ve heard of Banned Books week! Ooops. But awesome idea and I think taking people through a list of those banned books is a brill idea. I had no inkling that LOTR was on that list and I’m afraid I can’t comment about Burgess as I’ve never read a Clockwork Orange… not sure it would be my cup of tea!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “..we now live in a world where books no longer need to be burned.”

    I don’t think there’s ever been a world where books needed to be burned! 😉
    Just gentle teasing there, I know what you meant. There have been too many dark times in the history of our world. We need to defend all books, because they hold the thoughts and soul of humanity.

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  6. Love your Banned Books entries; enjoy your writing. Thanks for following my blog: Cultural Adventures at karenjclayton.wordpress.com My webpage & blog both have lists of books which are special to me. Webpage: karenjclayton.com

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Kay 🙂 You’re very welcome 🙂 I’ll be sure to check that list out – I’m always interested in the contents of other people’s bookshelves, especially those with the most honoured place!

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  7. Interesting and good review on A Clockwork Orange and I agree on the happy endings. I didn’t know about the story behind ACO, but I wish that I knew that some years ago when we did a students theater show based on that story. I didn’t play any main parts, just two small ones: one where I was a pedophile being beaten up in jail and another part that I can’t even remember. On the last performance my dad was in the audience, so I told the guy that was going to beat me up that “Tonight, you hit me for real. Throw in some good punches”.
    Then, when he started beating me up on stage (he did as instructed and gave me hard punches like it was a real fight), I said: “What are these sissy punches? You hit even weaker than my dad does!”.
    I probably have a weird sense of humor, but I thought that it was hysterically funny (and for the record: my dad never hit me. Not once.)

    J.R.R.Tolkien is an excellent writer: I read the hobbit and then TLOTR as a teenager (later I also saw the movies of course) and I’m shocked to hear that his books are banned in some schools. I have a lot of opinions on this matter, but it’s late here now and I’ll have to get some sleep…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Cardinal! 🙂 I’ve since found out that there are a number of different stories as to Burgess’ inspiration for the books floating around – my Uni professor told me this one, but now can’t be 100% sure it’s true. I’ve always liked the story though – it gave the book a deeper meaning for me. And, yes, you’ve got a wicked sense of humour! 😉 Hopefully the audience got the joke, too…

      I know what you mean, I could rant about how absurd it is to ban LOTR all day and all night!! However, angry typing is good for the fingers…

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  8. I really liked Clockwork Orange. In the beginning I really hated reading it, as the wording, the content .. everything was so weird in my eyes – but then I started to see the big picture behind it and was astonished. Really one of the most interestring book I read so far. if you ever have the chance to read “Im Westen nichts neues” (translated must be smith.like “nothing new in the west”) read it – it’s the best i ever read. XX and all the best!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know exactly what you mean, Jasmin – I found it difficult at first, too, but really started to love it once I got used to the language, etc. I think some of the books that require a little more work are often worth it – Riddley Walker is another good example. I’ll take a look for Im Westen Nichts Neues, sounds interesting, thanks! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Totally! Like artist movies you at first really don’t want to watch or cultural places you prefer not to go to as it takes effort. But always beeing a couchpotatoe (which is fun also!) bores you after a while and you need to jump in the cold water. Riddley Walker? I check it out now – and yes “Im Westen nichts Neues” is heartbreaking and you will cry after a heavy breakout – but like all things that matter, it’s wort it.

        Liked by 1 person

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