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

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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


Banned Books Week: Recommended Reads #4 & #5

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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 fourth and fifth considerations of the week so far…


Book #4: American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis

American-Psycho-Bret-Easton-Ellis

If you’ve never encountered the works of Bret Easton Ellis before, then prepare yourself for a shock. The novel American Psycho was met with disgust and outrage upon publication in 1991, and was subsequently banned in many countries due to the excessive levels and graphic nature of the violence and sex portrayed throughout the novel. To this day, copies sold in Queensland, Australia are shrink-wrapped, and the text remains classified as ‘R18’ in the remainder of Australia and also in New Zealand. The Los Angeles chapter of the National Organisation of Women (NOW) even went so far as to describe the book as “a how-to novel on the torture and dismemberment of women”.

It’s not hard to work out why. Ellis’ protagonist is methodological and coldly logical in his approach to murder and torture, and describes all of his actions – from his daily skincare routine, right down to his taste in music – in excruciating detail. This focus is unwavering throughout the most gruesome scenes in the novel, and at points, it can be very difficult to read.

So, why read it, you might ask? Well, for starters, Ellis’s text is ripe with wit and dark humour, for those who are willing to see it. Furthermore, it contains more than just a slither of truth. The scathing evisceration of the creatures that roam around Wall Street offered to the reader by Ellis here is more relevant than ever in the face of the recent world recession. The motif of the serial killer working in plain view because none of his contemporaries was prepared or able to look beyond his haircut, his clothes and his pay cheque is increasingly plausible in a world where the bad guys wear suits and silk ties, rather than sporting gangwear and guns.

This is not an easy book, but it’s certainly a good one – one worth reading, if you have the stomach for it, but it’s not for the faint-hearted. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!


Book #5: The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood.handmaids-tale-cover

Despite being banned from schools and being accused of stoking the fire that is feminist protest, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has not been out of print since it was first published back in 1985. A bestseller and a text now synonymous with the feminist struggle, this book is considered by many to be Atwood’s most powerful work.

Atwood, of course, is no stranger to protest and activism, and is not afraid to include controversial topics in her work. Oryx and Crake (and, in fact, the entire MadAddam trilogy), for instance, can be considered to be a warning that we need to start taking climate change and environmental issues seriously. In this book, though, the topic is women’s rights: the plot sees the entire female population being divided into classes based on household functions, with each class clad in a separate colour that instantly identifies the wearer’s purpose – dull green for the Marthas (houseworkers); blue for the Wives; red, blue and green stripes for the Econowives (working class); red for the Handmaids (whose function is to bear children to the head of the household); and brown for the Aunts (a thought-control force, part-governess, part-reform-school matron). It is a warning against seeing women in a reductive and misogynistic light, and a call for all those of the feminine persuasion to stand up for their rights to be equals.

Is this a glimpse of the future? Probably not. However, that’s partially because gender issues have been brought to the forefront of the collective consciousness in recent decades, and so the subjugation and mistreatment of women is no longer seen as ‘acceptable’ in most areas of the world. The fight is, of course, not over, and so Atwood’s text contionues to be relevant in today’s society. Though I must admit The Handmaid’s Tale is not my favourite of Atwood’s works, it is well-written and quite chilling in places nonetheless, and is certainly well worth a read.

(Images: Amazon)


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