we're suggesting something a little different. We're suggesting
that you read a banned book. Of course not all books are
great literature, and not all books that have been banned
have literary merit. However, many, if not most, books of
great literary merit have been banned or challenged, and
not just in far-off countries, but here in the United States.
So, based on
the American Library Association's list of the 100 most
challenged books in 1990-2000, we selected some that are
worth reading. They're great books; but they have the added
distinction of being books that someone, somewhere doesn't
want you to read. And usually when someone doesn't want
you to read something, it means that there's something valuable
in that book.
To learn more about
the censorship of books, you might take a look at "Banned
Books Online" from the University of Pennsylvania library
or the "Banned Books Week" page of the American Library
Association at: http://www.ala.org/bbooks/index.html.
New York: Dutton/Plume, 1987, ©1977
I read this book on the recommendation of a friend I hardly knew
while I was sojourning in Brooklyn one year; the friend was a literatus
and book reviewer himself, so I thought he'd know a great book when
he read one. I plowed through the book quickly, enjoying it a great
deal myself. A few years later I found the book on the reading list
of a course at San Jose State, "Literature and Personality,"
along with books by Dostoyevsky and Cather, among other great writers.
Reading this book with a teacher to help me (with Biblical and other
social/racial references I had missed) showed me that this book
is indeed a piece of great literature; Morrison has constructed
not only a wonderful narrative with ties to the social injustices
suffered by African Americans, but a story of a young person's search
for himself within history-as well as giving the book a beautiful,
and very ambiguous, ending. I read this book last in 1984; I remember
it with awe and love.
College Writing Programs
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
New York: Viking/Penguin, 1986, ©1885
This book has been celebrated since it was first published in 1885,
and it has been in trouble, with one early critic calling it "a
pitiable exhibition of irreverence and vulgarity." More recently,
it has been challenged by readers offended by Mark Twain's characters'
realistic use of the language of racism. The story is told in the
first person by Huck Finn, the most famous runaway in American literature-a
boy, according to Mark Twain, with a good heart but an ill-trained
conscience. Huck talks his story as he journeys down the Mississippi
River with his friend Jim, who has escaped from slavery. Much of
what the reader discovers the narrator does not seem to understand.
The technique and the language of the book gave rise to a strain
in American literature that is still so comfortable and familiar
for the modern reader, it is hard to realize just how innovative
it once was. Some of Huck's talk is lulling, some hilarious, and
some deeply unsettling as the reader recognizes all-too familiar
issues of class and culture and racism that are still a part of
American life. But most of all, it is a treat to read this book
just for the pleasure of it.
Mark Twain Project
Adventures of Tom Sawyer
New York: Bantam Books, 1986, ©1876
Tom Sawyer gives the reader a graphic portrait of early 19th century
life in a small Mississippi River town through the escapades of
a young, mischievous boy and his best friend, Huck Finn. Lazy, hazy
days of summer; the lure of the River and its potential for adventures
free of adult supervision; a cave; a girlfriend. And best of all
the whitewashed fence, surely the best account in American literature
of conning someone else into doing your work for you.
Rebecca G. Lhermitte
Government Documents Librarian
New York: Bantam, 1998, ©1985
This dystopian novel is set in a not-so-distant future. A poisoned
environment has led to sharply reduced fertility rates, and extreme
right-wing Christians have taken over the country and transformed
it into a religious state following a literal interpretation of
the Bible. With religious extremism growing around the globe, this
is a timely and important book to read.
College Writing Programs
New York: Pocket Books, 1990, ©1982
Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning prose explores the possibilities
that life can offer. The protagonist, Celie, is a young woman
broken down by tough circumstances. Yet when she meets a blues
singer, Celie begins to recognize the value that she has, despite
the numerous oppressions she faces. Celie comes to redefine and
discover her own version of family, sexuality, and economy. This
novel is an engaging and inspiring story. Walker's poetic language
flows like a song through the pages of this novel; the tune of
which stays with you long afterwards.
Library Technical Services
Kill a Mockingbird
New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999, ©1960
I read this book during the summer before college, and the characters
of Scout, Boo Radley, and Atticus are as vivid in my mind as they
were almost 40 years ago. I ended up going to graduate school
and doing research in the South for a while, and that book was
the best preparation a kid from New York could have had. This
was Harper Lee's only novel; but how could she ever top this one?
The movie version is fantastic as well, and presents a wonderful
comparison between what the two media do best.
Environmental Science, Policy, and Management
back to top
New York: Dutton/Plume, 1987
Forget anything you thought you knew about slavery. This book
will open your eyes. Toni Morrison won the Nobel and Pulitzer
prizes when she wrote this novel, because she made something so
beautiful, so terrifying, and so true. You have to give yourself
over to it, not to expect to understand everything right away.
This is a mystery, a ghost story, a love story, and a story of
the fundamental events of American life. How can a person heal
from the unimaginable? Toni Morrison takes us into the country
of real-life nightmare, and then, brilliantly, she brings us back
College Writing Programs
Catcher in the Rye
Boston: Little, Brown, 1991, ©1951
Written over fifty years ago, The Catcher in the Rye introduced
readers to the musings and misadventures of Holden Caulfield,
an affluent, white, sixteen-year-old recently expelled from his
third prep school, stumbling through a long, lost weekend in Manhattan.
As a product of a specific time and place-post World War II America
and upper-class values - Holden Caulfield is a bright, sensitive
soul searching for idealism, sincerity, and decency in an imperfect
world. This novel will resonate with all who have survived, or
are attempting to survive, adolescence, although it is a richly
rewarding read at any time in life. The Catcher in the Rye is
deep and edgy, thrilling and sad, all at once.
House of the Spirits
New York: Bantam Books, 1986, ©1985
"Emotion and memory are living things," someone once
told me, and Chilean exile Isabel Allende's first novel powerfully
creates a world where past, present, and future exist together
as three generations of women try to live with integrity amid
unchecked power and sudden violence. We gradually learn that the
narrator, Alba (Dawn), is telling her family's stories to come
to terms with the terror she's endured, and in doing so she finds
remarkable healing and forgiveness. Allende understands the complex
causes of the tragedies that befall her characters in their country's
"unending tale of sorrow, blood, and love" and allows
them to move to reconciliation with the past and with each other.
New York: Harper, 1998, ©1932
When Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1932, he lived in
a world where there was no pervasive culture of advertising, no
widespread use of antidepressants, not a hint of cloning, or a
whisper of genetic manipulation. Somehow Aldous Huxley foresaw
that the future of humanity would lie down the path of technology
and media. His guesses proved to be chillingly accurate. What
was the most outrageous science fiction in 1934 remains a compelling
examination of issues that fill the pages of our news magazines.
To make this book all the more amazing, Huxley was a serious and
gifted author. It is as if a contemporary literary giant like
Saul Bellow had written a work of over-the-top science fiction.
The beauty of Huxley's words still shines through. The questions
of government control, media manipulation, and status remain unresolved.
Do we have Alphas and Epsilons in our society? Have we found a
drug like soma to help us avoid negative thinking? Have our governments
figured out ways to keep us passive? Brave New World takes a bold,
disturbing look at what it means to be human in a world gripped
by technological change and the manipulation of the media. It
is one of the most potent combinations of a good read and a disturbing,
thought provoking statement that I know.
Robert C. Berring
Professor of Law and Law Librarian
School of Law (Boalt Hall)
of the Flies
New York: Penguin Books, 1982, ©1954
Lord of the Flies is a remarkable work of art. As with all good
fiction, it transports the reader into a separate reality: it
is a story that is lived, so to speak, as it is read, giving the
reader the sensation that something is happening to him/her in
the process; the feeling of being changed while reading. The story
has to do with a group of adolescent boys who find themselves
stranded on a desert island, and the turns in plot and interaction
between characters make a kind of allegory, reflecting the author's
rather grim view of human nature, perhaps. Or perhaps Golding
is making the point that civilization is but a thin and fragile
veneer laid over a fundamentally primitive and backward species-humankind.
Or is it the writer's jaundiced view of children we are seeing
as we read? Or something else altogether? I read this work only
once, as a high school student, and many of its scenes are as
vivid, compelling, and thought-provoking to me today as they were
then, so it seems to me a literary experience that is not to be
missed. An excellent motion picture based on this novel was made
but, as always, the book is better.
Library Photographic Service
New York: Dell, 1991, ©1969
Perhaps the most personal novel written by Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
is an antiwar story published in 1969, a year which saw escalating
anti-Vietnam war protests sweep across America. The novel was
daring in its condemnation of an event from the "good war"
(WWII), the 1945 British and American fire-bombing of Dresden
which killed 135,000 people. Vonnegut, a POW in Dresden at the
time of the bombing, survived and went on to write what many consider
to be one of THE finest antiwar novels ever written. Told in typical
dark satiric Vonnegut style, the novel follows optometrist Billy
Pilgrim as he becomes "unstuck" in time. Whether revisiting
the safety of his mother's womb or witnessing the atrocity of
Dresden or finding himself kidnapped by the extraterrestrial Tralfamadorians,
Billy takes the reader on a disjointed journey through his life,
where chronological time has no meaning. Billy's benign acceptance
of everything which happens to him has led some to condemn what
they see as Vonnegut's acceptance of the injustice of war. Yet,
throughout the novel, the phrase "so it goes" appears
whenever someone dies. By the end of the novel, "so it goes"
has become the author's maddening rallying cry against Billy's
(and the reader's) benign acceptance of the status quo.
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