Monday, April 26, 2010

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

If you can believe me (and I hope you can), I first read this book in FIFTH grade- way before I knew what it was really all about. Still, I got the impression that it had a deeper meaning than just on the surface. Now, after reading it several times, I have a much better grasp of its theme and what the main character, Holden Caulfield, stands for.

Holden is a young man who's just been expelled from a fancy prep school for a poor academic record. Unwilling to come home early and talk to his parents about it, he kills time in New York City until he's due to go back home. This novel is a record of those three days, including a fight with his roommate just before leaving, a night spent with three tourists girls at a club, an awkward encounter with a prostitute, and a humorous drunken episode. Throughout the book, Holden describes the people he came into contact with at Pencey and even some of the girls he's been out with as "phony"; he also embodies the confusion and angst many teenagers go through, making him one of the best-known characters in American literature.

However, because of his excessive swearing and rebellious attitude, this book has been through the wringer in terms of censorship. According to Wikipedia, between the years 1961 and 1982 The Catcher in the Rye was the most censored book in high schools and libraries in the United States. The use of profane language, sexual references, blasphemy and Holden's "being a poor role model" are just a few of the reasons. I admit that during the time it was written, people likely had never read such words in print before; my first time reading it I remember hiding it from my mom because I was worried she would take it away. However, without all of this language and references, how else was the author going to create a credible, honest character? I also have to object at some of the other reasons. I don't believe Holden was ever truly meant to be a role model; rather, he is more of a character that teens can relate to, and whom they can see in themselves. The way I've interpreted it, he may also be the kind of character Salinger created to show adults their own faults, with the suggestion being that youth rebels because it doesn't find any truth in those who are meant to show it to them. In fact, one of the youngest characters in the novel other than Holden- his kid sister Phoebe- is the one whom Holden reveres as a hero. Not every novel is written with a clear, noble hero in mind; often the protagonists with the most faults can teach us the most about life, the world and ourselves. If creating a fallible character is blasphemy... well, every novelist is in danger of hellfire- and most of the human population, for that matter.

At any rate, read this book if you haven't already, because it is definitely a great one. The late Salinger has written a classic which teens and adults alike should read and hold dear, and many authors themselves have paid homage to.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


I have (finally) successfully obtained a library card. Yes, the Buffalo and Erie County Library system is at my fingertips. Of course, the branch right around the corner from my house isn't the biggest one around- a small young adult section (just one shelf and a spinning rack, really) and only one book at a time by some authors. I'll most likely have to look elsewhere for all of the books I have yet to read, but it is wonderful just to sit there, around so many books, and know that I can take any of them home. Today it was Beach Music by Pat Conroy and Snow Falling On Cedars by David Guterson, along with City of Light by Lauren Belfer (which is based right here in the city of Buffalo, in the time of Grover Cleveland). My mom is right, I hardly need any more books to add to my reading list, but I can't help it. I feel that no one could ever possibly have too many books. There's always so much more to read and learn. :)

With that said, I am on my way to finishing Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, another banned book (this time by, I believe, a government). I'll get to explaining the specifics once I finish. I also still have a handful of past reviews to get to, so in short, I've got quite a bit of work to do, and all of this before I start my actual job- at Dick's Sporting Goods, on Tuesday. Oh, the mundane. But a job's a job, and I feel as though I already work two full-time jobs, what with this blog and the NHL playoffs causing me to frequently update my other one. Oh, and have I mentioned I'm starting work on a story? Hopefully this one will turn into the novel I've always planned to write. Oh, life.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sarah Palin: Beauty Queen, Veep Nominee... Book Banner?

Sarah Palin snagged headlines two years ago as the Republican vice presidential nominee alongside John McCain- and the kind of female politician many women did not want backing them up. But among other things (Um, "I can see Russia from my backyard"?), she has been accused of being a potential book censor.

There was a supposed list of books that Palin had banned from Wasilla, AK libraries while she was mayor; among them were some books popular with censors, such as A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and various books from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. According to, the list is a fake. Instead, back in 1996 when Palin had first assumed mayorship of the city, she had begun some discussions with the librarian about whether or not she could ban some "objectionable" books from the library, should the need to arise. The Anchorage Daily News reported that the librarian confirmed Palin had asked her three times, beginning before being sworn in, if it were possible. The article also revealed that there was and is no documentation of any actual books being removed from the library- indicating that the librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, was definitely disapproving of the idea. also assumes this position.

According to my sources, Emmons was initially released from her position because Palin believed she did not have her "full support" as mayor; after public outcry, however, she was reinstated.

The mere fact that Palin wanted books banned is unsurprising to me, but still disturbing. It basically gives me the idea that she cares nothing for the exercise of free speech, and that she's just like the parents who fight to "protect their children's minds," ie. keep them ignorant until it's entirely inappropriate to do so. Either way, respect to Emmons for standing up to her and keeping her own integrity-and that of libraries in general-intact. The purpose of these institutions is to provide knowledge and information, as well as entertainment, to the people- and any watered-down version of that should be scorned.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Giver by Lois Lowry

This book first came to me waaaayyy back when I was a little Angie- back in fourth grade, when my teacher Mrs. Varela- whom I still hold dear as one of my favorite teachers ever- recommended it to me. I read it eagerly, and found it incredible and unsettling even then. This is the story of 12-year-old Jonas, who lives in a utopian society- one without violence, conflict or any kind of social stratification. Every December, the 12-year-olds of the society are each given a life assignment from the Elders. Jonas' assignment is a special one, taught to him by a mysterious man known only as the Giver... and through him he begins to find out that his "perfect" world... really isn't perfect.

With that kind of premise, you can imagine how good the book is. Then again, parents still manage to find fault with it. The Blue Valley School District in Kansas faced parent complaints that the book is "lewd", "twisted" and "unfit for analysis by students" because it is "violent," "sexually explicit", and "portrays infanticide and euthanasia." A parent said, "The book is negative... I don't see the academic value in it. Everything presented to the kids should be positive or historical, not negative."

Really? These parents have no idea how it goes. The world itself is hardly ever positive, particularly nowadays. It's not healthy to be pessimistic about everything, of course... but neither is it healthy to go around assuming that everything is rosy. There are bad things out there that people, particularly those still learning, should take into account. For every negative theme that the book contains, there is one of hope- realizing the world with all of its faults, in other words, taking off the blinders and living your own life- that means everything.

In the end, the proponents asked that the book be removed from the district's eighth-grade reading list. It remained, or so I believe. Group D definitely has its delusions either way. As for this book... read it. It's definitely a great read, comparable to Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (another banned book), and I would recommend it to people of all ages.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews

My mother introduced me to this book a while ago, through the movie that it became. I never paid much attention to it until I saw it in Wal-Mart for under $10, combined with the second novel in the Dollanganger saga, Petals on the Wind. I read it in a frenzy, somewhat underwhelmed with the writing style itself (pretty rudimentary and long-winded) while taken aback at the subject matter. (Quick synopsis: The Dollanganger family, after a horrible tragedy, has to live with family members who detest them while working to ensure their future is secure financially- and that leads to many horrors, especially for the four children, Cathy, Chris, Carrie and Cory.) Incest? Religious fundamentalism? Well, you can see why there was such a controversy, especially in the year in which this book was published (1979, according to the copyright). Incest, and sex in general, was still very much a taboo (though today 85 million copies of V.C. Andrews' books are in print).

Still, as taboo as it may be, it's still real. And because of that, I suppose, in 1983, the book was challenged in the Richmond (Rhode Isl.) H.S. system for "pornographic" content and explicit descriptions of sexual intercourse and incest. In the book, after the tragic death of the Dollanganger patriarch, his children find out that he and their mother were in fact related (uncle and niece, or "half-uncle" as their grandmother pointed out). Not only that, but the eldest two children, Cathy and Christopher, begin an incestuous relationship after he rapes her. Disturbing, yes, as the zealots that are their grandparents remind them daily as they stay locked up in a wing of their enormous mansion, while their mother tries to win back the inheritance she lost from her ailing father. However, though it may seem a bit far-fetched, the incest itself is not too far from what does happen in this society. Though children may be better off being shielded from it, I think high-schoolers are mature enough to deal with the topic. Another note: perhaps the fact that it's supposed to be such an unspoken topic and all is part of its appeal, which is one fact that the people who try to censor books should realize, with more than just this book.

Based on writing alone, I'm inclined to tell you to skip this one, just because it's so melodramatic it's nearly as laughable as Twilight; however, the subject matter and storyline (not to mention plot) draw you in much more effectively than does the latter series, though it's quite trashy, trust me. Oh, well. We all need some shame reading in our lives now and then.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

So Many Books, So Little Time.

Well, I promised myself that this would be a bit more than just writing about banned books, and it is- I talk about books I've been reading and how the literature I've read before has impacted my life and the way I read. Yesterday, I finally did what I'd been planning to do for about three weeks now and went around the corner, about five blocks down Main Street in Williamsville to the library. I ambled back home in the chilly wind and threat of rain with a library card application clutched to me, and plan on finishing it as soon as I can.

Here's the problem. I already have about six books to finish as it is, and I've only now gotten about halfway through The Fortress of Solitude. Unfortunately, books have taken a bit of a backseat this week to another love of mine- hockey- as the NHL playoffs have commenced. (See? Bookworms are multi-faceted, are they not?) However, I never hesitate to buy even more- especially if there's a great bargain on them. In the end, I wind up with so many to read I can barely see straight by the end of them. And adding more- borrowed- books to that pile could prove disastrous.

But I can definitely use this card to borrow more banned books, thus cutting down the lengthy list a bit at a time. Plus, I know myself. I love books, and if allowed I will read the entire day through without distractions. I've done it before. So to me, getting a library card and borrowing, say, three or four books at a time is no big deal. I'll read them all. Right?... RIGHT?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

When I first picked up this book, it was summer reading for an AP English class. In fact, that was also how I found out it was so controversial, quote unquote. I was waiting for my clothes to dry in the laundromat when this nice-looking woman next to me asked me what I was reading it for. I told her, and she asked me if I knew the debate over the use of the N-word in the book. She directed me to websites where kids my age were discussing it, and while I appreciated the conversation, I thought little of it... after all, I was reading it myself and I could definitely see past the 212 mentions of that word to read the bigger message.

Unfortunately, not everyone can. The book about young hero Huck being kidnapped by his drunken father and escaping with a runaway slave was pulled from Taylor, Mich. schools because of the racial epithets, and it was also challenged in schools in Renton, Wash. and Normal, Ill. for being "degrading to African-Americans." In fact, a student complained the book offended her- and the NAACP has also striven to ban the book. All of this from the mere fact that in the time period Mark Twain was alive and writing, the use of the N-word was prevalent.

Let's face it, this could well be a means to compensate for the centuries of slavery and oppression African-Americans have faced. If it is, well... it's just misplaced. See, the people doing the censoring make it seem as though Mark Twain was pro-slavery, which it certainly doesn't seem like he was. In fact, if you read the book, easily the most sympathetic character was Jim, the runaway slave who is set free by Huck at the end of the novel. He's the epitome of goodness despite being a fugitive, whereas practically all of the scoundrels in the book- Huck's father, the con artists that Huck and Jim run into- are white. Hmm. That doesn't sound very racist to me.

Whatever the case may be, this is still a classic book, and it definitely shouldn't be shelved. It's not as much about the plain-as-day storyline itself as it is about a bigger journey: realizing what is good and what isn't, and that things aren't always as they seem.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Now Reading...

Shopping in bargain stores rocks. Really. Just picked up Just Listen by Sarah Dessen today at Marshalls for six bucks and planning to read it ASAP. If you didn't know, it's one of the books on the lengthy list of banned ones I plan to complete soon. There are still about a hundred of them left, but at least I'll be kept entertained for quite a while. :)

First, though, I have to finish The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem. I first read him in freshman year of high school, when I picked up another of his novels, Motherless Brooklyn, and finished it basically in one gulp. The wordplay and character development in that book was fantastic, and I opened up this one looking for some of the same. It's not much in the same vein- it's a third-person narrator in place of first-person, and it takes place in somewhat of a different time period, when gentrification was just beginning to touch the rough edges of Gowanus, Brooklyn- but it's just as entertaining to read. Hope it stays strong all the way through- being somewhat familiar with Lethem's writing, I'd say it likely will.
New reviews coming shortly! Stay tuned.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez, and the "Homosexual Agenda"

When you research all of these banned books, after a while everything starts to look the same, especially considering the fact that so many of them apparently promote a "homosexual agenda." Take this book, which I read sometime during high school. It deals with a trio of young men who are all struggling with their sexuality- either hiding it or embracing it. Overall, it's a pretty well-written book which succeeds at portraying the feelings of torment and confusion a gay teenager likely experiences.

Various states including (not surprisingly) Texas challenged and removed this and other books under the premise of "explicit sexual content." The Library Patrons of Texas removed 16 books with gay-positive themes, this one included, in 2005. Also, in Wisconsin, Owen-Withee Junior-Senior High School faced a challenge by citizens regarding this book- some of whom didn't even have children in the school district- for "pervasively vulgar, gay content." The book remained, with the superintendent recommending parental consent be required for seventh to ninth graders who wanted to read the book. And lastly, in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Parents Protecting the Minds of Children removed this and its sequel, Rainbow High, for profane language, depictions of sexuality and promoting a "homosexual agenda."

Which prompts the question- what exactly is the "homosexual agenda"? Is it some kind of plot to overtake the innocent children of America and turn them into God-forsaken, primitive, raving sodomizers?

Group B just doesn't get it, do they? I get that for some people, the Bible tells them that people choose to be gay and all, but that's just not true. If it were, we wouldn't have such a high suicide rate for homosexuals- and it is fairly high, no matter what "Traditional Values Coalitions" and the like tell you. (P.S. The fact that someone has "thought about suicide" still reveals that something has happened in order for them to have those thoughts, TVC.) Oh, and I'm sure science tells us that hormone levels and the workings of the brain are different for homosexuals than they are for heterosexuals. Though we are slowly becoming more accepting of gays in general, there is still a long way to go, in part thanks to the people who want them to disappear and who believe that, God forbid, if someone decides to write a book or start a TV show about these people, children are going to read or watch them and want to be like them. I respect what other people believe in general, but when it comes to this topic, I just feel like screaming. Do people still really believe, even with all of the evidence that says they do not choose this lifestyle, that they do? And even if that were true, who's to say that homosexuals don't deserve the same type of representation in society and pop culture as do homosexuals? I'm sure that no one is "recruiting" children to join their "Satanist" and "unclean" lifestyle. They're simply writing what they know best about, and if that's a crime, then lock them up, I suppose. But then you would have to imprison thousands upon thousands of writers and intellectuals who have covered topics they know and feel strongly about.

Alex Sanchez has openly talked about the struggle to keep his books in school libraries, and clearly he feels that this is a case of discrimination. I'm inclined to agree with him. Although there have been plenty of books banned or challenged that contain explicit sexual content between men and women, for some reason there's always an emphasis on a homosexual agenda or viewpoint regarding books like Rainbow Boys. Among other titles that promote this "agenda" are How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez, Paula by Isabel Allende, Am I Blue? Coming Out From the Silence by Marion Diane Bauer, Family Values by Phyllis Burke, Forever... by Judy Blume, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, and The Drowning of Stephan Jones by Bette Greene, all books I've read or intend to read and review soon. As for this book... just read it, and make your own decisions.