When I was a teenager (probably aged 13 or 14), I selected a book on the freshman reading list with an interesting title: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. My English teacher pulled me aside. There was a disturbing scene in it, she warned me, and I should think about it and ask my mother if it would be okay to read. I mentioned it my mother, and I don’t think she blinked an eye.
“I think that would be a great book for you,” she said. (She, an English post-grad student, knew the book.)
I read it. Yes, there was a troubling scene in it. But the overall message of that book, and the overall impression I received after I closed it, was one that I still haven’t forgotten. I remember feeling strongly that others should read the book to get a sense of what it means to be discriminated against. Besides all that, I left feeling amazed at the power of a life where, even while she feels caged, even when she has been abused, Maya Angelou felt she had a reason to sing. I loved the book.
A few years later, as a junior, my English teacher explained that our next book would be The Catcher in the Rye, but if anyone wanted to select a different book, it would be fine. The mother of one of my friends (incidentally from my church group) told her daughter (whom I’ll call Jane) to read one of the other books. My mom, who literally hates Catcher, told me it was my choice. I read the book, and I loved it. I felt I had a friend in Holden Caulfield. (P.S. I just started rereading it and, um, I am not liking it so much I want to cry! What happened to my friend?)
When I was in high school, I did ban myself from media on one occasion. One of my history classes (I don’t recall which year) watched Schindler’s List and I felt very uncomfortable with it, so I sat in a different room during the three days of history class when they watched it. I don’t think anyone else sat out with me.
Did Jane miss out? Whatever book Jane read was probably good too. Sitting in a different class while we discussed Catcher probably wasn’t fun for her, but in the long run, it probably didn’t matter that her mother chose which book she should read. But then again, I don’t know Jane, so who knows if Holden would have been her friend, too?
Did I miss out on Schindler’s List?, I know I am personally most disturbed by graphics, movies, and anything visual. I never forget them. I suspect my 14- or 15-year-old self would have been quite disturbed. While I know Schindler’s List was probably a very memorable, touching movie to end our unit on the Holocaust, I don’t think I missed anything that I needed at that age.
And then the other question: Was I sidetracked from my conservative upbringing by reading books with “issues”? No. Really, reading Caged Bird was important in my understanding of the world. And I wasn’t going to start smoking and cussing because Holden did. I just related to his teenage angst because I apparently had plenty of my own angst. (P.S. I think this angst is why I dislike him so much now!)
What I loved is the fact that my teachers, while wanting us to read the books, still gave us the ultimate choice. What I love is the fact that my mom, knowing me, allowed me to choose for myself. What I love is that me, knowing me, chose not to watch that movie. It’s all about choice. Even though my mother hated Catcher and thought it be disgusting and pointless (and a little bit without morals), she still let me choose.
Incidentally, my mother is one that challenges books, but maybe not in the way you expect. One year, my brother came home with the following books on his reading list for the year: Of Mice and Men, Lord of the Flies, A Separate Peace, and The Catcher in the Rye. My mother was furious and went to school to complain. Her complaint? Every single book is written by a white male, about disturbed white teenage boys. Certainly, world literature can provide some more variety!
I personally don’t think it’s wrong to “challenge” book choice, especially those that are a part of the curriculum. Why, exactly, are these particular books required out of all that we have to choose from? Let’s question. But in the end, let’s allow teachers and teenagers to choose which books they will ultimately read. What was okay for me may have been disturbing for Jane.
I guess my Banned Book Week bottom line is that I will be forever grateful to my mother for letting me make my own choices. I personally feel sad to think that some moms are saying “no” to letting their high school-aged kids exercise their own gift of choice. At some point, mothers have to let go.
Of course, as a mom to a toddler, my “letting go” is a little different. This week, I’m realizing that yes, he really does want to read The Little Red Caboose five times every single night.
If I hide it on the top shelf for a few days, would that be banning it? Yes?
Ah, well, I’m starting small. OK, son, let’s go read it again.
Abandoned Books/Finished Reading
Each week, I mention the books I finish or abandon. I may finish Catcher this week!
- Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud (215 pages; nonfiction in comic format). FINISHED! Also was new Library Loot.
- Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell (187 pages; fiction). FINISHED! For Heather J.’s October read-along.
- Dracula by Bram Stoker (librivox.org audiobook, 27 segments, about 16 hours total; fiction). FINISHED! For the RIP IV Challenge.
- The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (audio CD, 7 disks, about 7.5 hours total; children’s fiction). Returned. I was so excited to listen to this. Within about ten seconds after I started, the disk was all garbled and I couldn’t understand it. I decided I don’t have patience to listen to this book, considering Dracula took me over a month to listen to!
Each week, I list my progress so I can see how my reading compares week to week.
These are the books I own that I chose to read this week.
- Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (130 read of 190; children’s fiction). I am reading this aloud to my son at a very slow rate.
- The Stories of John Cheever (21 of 61 stories, 820 pages total; fiction/short stories). Part of my Pulitzer Challenge. I read one story this week.
- Our Latter-day Hymns: The Stories and Their Messages by Karen Lynn Davidson (70 read of 350/455 pages; nonfiction). So far, I’ve read the stories of 40 hymns.
- Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter by Seth Lerer (208 read of 330 pages; nonfiction). I read one chapter this week.
- Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (75 read of 220 pages; fiction). For the Banned Books Challenge.
New Library Loot
In addition to Understanding Classics, which I’ve already finished, I also got a few other books.
- Classics for Pleasure by Michael Dirda (324 pages; nonfiction). I picked this up to get ideas for The Classics Circuit. Make sure you submit your own ideas for future tours!
- Norton Critical Editions: Oliver Twist (fiction/nonfiction). This edition of Oliver Twist has analysis and criticism at the back of it.
- The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (25 read of 310 pages; children’s fiction). For the RIP IV Challenge. (See note about about garbled audio version.
- The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White (250 pages; children’s fiction).
I’ve been horrible at making notes of which books you’ve added to my list. So many more books have caught my eye than have been noted. I’m also still a day behind in my Reader.
- Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris. Eva at A Striped Armchair liked this, although she thought there were some drawbacks.
- A Time of Angels by Patricia Schonstein. Eva at A Striped Armchair says, “It’s a fable-like story of Jewish emigres and their children in Cape Town post-World War Two.”
- Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte. This week, both Eva at A Striped Armchair and Claire at kiss a cloud enjoyed this book.
- The True Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphey. Nymeth’s review got my attention.
- The Listeners by Gloria Whelan. 5 Minutes for Books and She Is Too Fond of Books both reviewed this picture book about the emancipation proclamation. Sounds great!
- The London Scene, five essays by Virginia Woolf. Eva at A Striped Armchair says, “Basically, Woolf walks around various parts of London and writes her impressions. It’s beautiful.”
- Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin. Jenny at Shelf Love and Tara at Books and Cooks both reviewed this cooking memoir this week!
- Creating a World Without Poverty by Muhummad Yunus. Eva at A Striped Armchair recommends it. I still need a few more books for the World Citizen Challenge.
- A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong. Eva at A Striped Armchair liked it. I like myths, so it made the list.