Sunday, November 13, 2011

Books And Public School Libraries

To ban or not to ban? That is the question in Blue Springs, Missouri.

he book that spurred the debate within the Blue Springs School District is Hold Still, a novel about a young girl coping with the suicide of her best friend. Parents say that the book was part of an extra credit assignment in a freshman English class. Hold Still was pulled from the school library and curriculum last month after the parents of a 14-year-old girl learned she had read the book, which her mother describes as riddled with “F Yous” and her father says features “graphic sex scenes.”

Out of curiosity, I zipped over to Amazon and read the reviews. My take away is that even though it tackles tough subject matter, the book is simplistic and written for young teenagers.

When I was in high school, we had a big chunk of "no-no" books in our school library: The Catcher In The Rye, 1884, The Adventures of Huck Finn, Catch-22, etc. The only book I can remember the parents raising a stink about was a book entitled My Darling, My Hamburger by Paul Zindel. Of course, if there was a stink, we all HAD to read it, and did. Eh. It turned out to be much ado about nothing.

Questions of the day: What was your favorite "controversial" book as a teenager? What was the all-time worst book on your high school's required reading list?

Bonus question: Is it proper English to capitalize the first word after a colon if it isn't a proper noun? I'm winging it here. It doesn't look right to me either way.


  1. I loved To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and devoured anything by Steinbeck or Twain.

    William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying was awful, IMHO. It was a chore to slog through it. I don't know why it was required, unless the teacher was simply angry with us that day. Bleh! Maybe I should try rereading it as an adult...then again, maybe not. ;)

  2. As I think I have mentioned before, I think Faulkner had to pay for periods out of his own pocket, so in his third-person writing he uses sentences that are life plus 99 years.

    The only real "controversy" I remember in high school was that a number of kids thought the end of Grapes of Wrath was obscene and inappropriate. Funny thing is, it was more the "straight-laced" kids who appreciated it and the "wilder" kids that did not like it. You would have thought it would have been the other way around.

    I never had to read Catcher in the Rye, but I recall kids commenting on it.

  3. lady red, the font of your book is so 70s!!!

    I remember very little of my high school days, but I also loved To Kill a Mockingbird.

  4. My niece was complaining about reading The Grapes of Wrath last year. I told her that it's not just "a story"; it's a chronicle of the hardships endured by her great grandparents. That perked her interest a little, but it just made me sad.

    I wish she could have heard my grandma's tales of the depression first-hand. Times have changed so much since then. We've lost a sense of who we really are, and where we come from.

  5. I remember very little of my high school days

    I remember helping to put the outhouse from the rodeo grounds on top of the high school. And yes, it was harder to get down than it was to get up (especially with the principle scowling at us and our parents on the warpath).

    Ahhh, good times! :D

  6. In fact, I do not remember a single book I was required to read in either Junior or Senior High School.

    But that's not to say I did not read. In fact I went to the library every day in Junior High, and usually took out one book which I would read overnight, instead of doing homework.

    What I WAS reading was almost exclusively classic Science Fiction - Pohl, Heinlein, Norton, etc.

    I tried 'The Lord Of The Rings' thinking it was more of the same. Unfortunately, I picked up the second volume 'The Two Towers' which begins with the sentence 'Aragorn sped on up the hill.'

    Not then knowing it was a trilogy, this simply baffled me, until the librarian pointed out the facts of literary life to me.

    This same librarian later offered me a brand-new, hardbound boxed set of the books, which I accepted with incredible gratitude.

    This reading of everything but my school-books, did, of course have a very bad effect on my grades.

  7. I had a similar experience as Dances. Except that I did read my school books, in English class at least.
    And all in the first week or so. After that I zoned out.

    And of course SciFi was an addiction.

    Though at 14 or so I discovered Henry Miller's trilogy of the Nexus in my Uncle's underwear drawer. Smuggled from Japan in the days before that type of literature was allowed.

    i can't even begin to describe favorites or selections. Hell, I'm sure I've been influenced by milk carton's.

    As a line I saw the other day... unless it runs away I read every damn thing placed in front of me. I can't help it.

  8. I can't believe that no one has spat upon Great Expectations yet! Oh, the HORROR of that book! HORROR!

    I'm making my evil blond child read it this year. Hehehehehe. :)

    And I loved Catcher in the Rye as a teenager. I read it again a few years ago and thought it was the most stupid and vapid book, about the most irritating and unredeemable idiot teenager. Perhaps I'm harsh. But it frustrated me.

    My parents and grandparents never - and I mean NEVER - monitored what we read. We were always surrounded by classics (which we read on our own) and contemporary books my mom would take to the beach (which we also read on our own). My 6th grade teacher was beyond herself in horror when I did a book report on Flowers in the Attic. Definitely not good literature, but reading good and bad gives you an appreciation for the good. Also, sometimes the brain hurts and needs to immerse in pulp.

    As a young teen, the author that had the most effect on me was Judy Blume. Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret was something I read multiple times, as was Deenie and Blubber.

    I will say that I give my kids a lot of leeway with books, but I put a lot more stops on things than my parents did!

  9. And I loved Catcher in the Rye as a teenager. I read it again a few years ago and thought it was the most stupid and vapid book, about the most irritating and unredeemable idiot teenager.

    This means something, afw.

    It means you're entirely normal.


  10. OK this is a bit off topic but...

    Porn star reads to first graders.

    Sasha Grey is one of those rare performers who crossed over to mainstream entertainment: she starred in The Girlfriend Experience directed by Steven Soderbergh. She plays, yeah, you guessed it, the call girl.

    So you might ask me, lewy, does it bother you that a pornstar is reading to first graders?.

    I'd say, depends on the porn star. Sasha Grey is scary - so yes, it bothers me. Someone like Tera Patrick is sweet and a little goofy, so no.

    Of course, the same "it depends" answer would be applicable to e.g. politicians.

  11. D.H. Lawrence, we read endless amounts of DHL in high school (needless to say, not Lady Chatterley'e Lover). I read my mothers copy of LCL and couldn't figure out the fuss.

    What I really, really, really, wanted to read as a teenager was Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller. Boy, now there was a book that deserved it's reputation.

    The school required reading book I hated most, hated, I mean really hated, the most boring book ever written was A Passage To India by E.M. Forster.

    The writer I loved most in high school and college was/is Shakespeare. Yes, really.

  12. Great expectations. I had forgotten that.

    Gee, thanks alot AFW!

  13. You're only thanking her alot! Surely you should be thanking her ALLOT!

  14. I see that our school reading was mostly nationalistic.

    NA = Faulkner, Steinbeck & Twain.

    GB = Forster, Lawrence & Shakespeare.

  15. Although I did read Steinbeck and Twain on my own plus a lot of Russians...Solzhenitsyn, Yevtushenko, Pasternak.

  16. OMG! Great Expectations! Who woke up that nightmare? Was that you AFW? You're going to have to pay for that young lady! We read it in primary school, class 5 I think (about 9-10 years old) - much too young to cope with the archaic language. And it was boooring! It put me off Dickens for decades. I did love Oliver Twist though; it was much more accessible for children.

    We did some Shakespeare in primary school too: Much Ado about Nothing. I remember not understanding a thing of what was going on, and that too put me off Shakespeare for years. But I did enjoy MacBeth in high school, and Taming of the Shrew.

    The book that made the most impression on me in High School was A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute. It gave a completely new perspective on WWII for us girls who had grown up with personal stories of the Holocaust from our parents and grandparents. I highly recommend it even today if you haven't read it.

  17. Dickens. That's right, I did read some Dickens - Tale of Two Cities. I remember something about Madame Defarge knitting. And nothing else.

  18. @lewy #10

    You just gave us a list of approved and unapproved porn stars. I'm snickering.

    *changes topic*
    I'm not sure if it's because of my MIL, but I can't stand the Russian authors. I really can't. Perhaps it is the optimistic American in me, but "Life is horrid and then you die and no one cares" isn't my preferred literary formula. Also, I HATE the way Russian writers go on and on in their prose. And on. And on. And on. Ugh. Not surprisingly, that is also how my MIL speaks.

    I grew up in CA, both in the Central Valley and in the Monterey/Salinas area (as well as several other places, including Catalina Island), so Steinbeck is reading about home for me. Since my Pop was involved in agriculture, it went double with books like Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath. I loved those books then, and love them now.

    And Hemingway. Those were some of my favorite book assignments in school.

    I'd like to add something to the hate list - that stupid story about the South American farmer and the army ants that swarm and eventually eat him. I read it at least four times in different grades, and I NEVER liked it. And I hated analyzing it, as well. Don't give me that crap about the strength of Communism, you burned out hippie! If the farmer had released the water into the ditch when he was SUPPOSED to, he would have been fine.

    And I'm glad I jogged people's memories with Great Expectations. Those that forget are doomed to repeat. Never forget, people. Never forget.

    PS: Fay - I felt the same way when I sneaked my Gma's copy of Lady Chatterly's Lover.

  19. Great Expectations? ACKKK!!!

    /running and hiding

  20. afw: Perhaps it is the optimistic American in me, but "Life is horrid and then you die and no one cares" isn't my preferred literary formula.

    Sounds like E.M. Forster too. I mean Howards End was just such a happy fun movie...

    PS: Fay - I felt the same way when I sneaked my Gma's copy of Lady Chatterly's Lover.

    I remember picking up my mother's copy of Last Tango in Paris off her nightstand when I was about 12.

    Hey mom, what's this about? (Flips through a little).

    Boring adult stuff. You wouldn't like it.

    Yeah, you're probably right. (Goes back to his Isaac Asimov).

    Oh well.

  21. I only borrowed a book from my father ONCE. It was The True Believer. My father's other books are all things like, "I'm Okay, You're Okay!" and "TQM For the New Century"

    He's a city manager, though. So, you know.

    However, the one book I borrowed (and never gave back) was so worth everything I never read on his shelf... :)

  22. The True Believer, by Erik Hoffer.

    You thought I was going to say "The Future of Small Town Noise Pollution", didn't you?

  23. I haven't read that book, AFW. So I cruised over to Amazon and read a portion of the the reviews. Mixed, to say the least. But all smart and intelligently presented.

    Hoffer appears, perhaps mainly due to his style, to have hit many a nerve on both ends of the political spectrum. A good thing, I guess. Have you reread it recently? Would you recommend reading it?

    But LOL, no, I didn't expect "The Future of Small Town Noise Pollution". Goodness, the things one must read/learn to be a city manager.

    Slightly OT, I did just read an interesting diatribe against the tenets of Strunk and White in "The Elements of Style". The author presents seemingly good reason on why he won't be celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of that book. I admit, I've had the book on my various shelves for years and years with several attempts to read and absorb its lessons. Alas, I could never find enough interest in its, to me, turgid prose to lead me to finish it. Perhaps I was better off not doing so.

  24. The True Believe sounds really interesting. In fact I have a mental category of people who fit the description: fanboys.

    The current usage implies a context of technology or popular culture - but I think it applies to politics as well; the sort of person who approaches political preference in the manner of espousing affinity for a brand of microprocessor or tech gadget.

    A quote from Hoffer that I lifted from a review: All active mass movements strive, therefore, to interpose a fact-proof screen between the faithful and the realities of the world. They do this by claiming that the ultimate and absolute truth is already embodied in their doctrine and that there is no truth or certitude outside it. The facts on which the true believer bases his conclusions must not be derived from his experience or observation but from holy writ.

    I'd go further and propose that some people not only manage to fit reality to a doctrine, but in turn palpably fit that doctrine to their own self image, self esteem, and self righteousness. Part of the modern trend of making everything about the "me".

  25. I read The True Believer when I was first reaching outside the political milieu I was raised within (very liberal, all Republicans are evil, etc).
    In fact, in family political discussions I will often be pointed out as the "Republican Convert", even though I have NEVER been a Republican and will never be, anymore than I would be a Democrat.

    Hoffer was saying things that I had been slowly understanding, but was unable to put into words on my own. I was captivated from the moment I started reading his book. And then I started researching Hoffer himself - it's truly fascinating.

    He wrote this after the Six Day War (this is also available on Wiki):
    The Jews are a peculiar people: things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews. Other nations drive out thousands, even millions of people and there is no refugee problem. Russia did it, Poland and Czechoslovakia did it. Turkey threw out a million Greeks and Algeria a million Frenchman. Indonesia threw out heaven knows how many Chinese and no one says a word about refugees. But in the case of Israel, the displaced Arabs have become eternal refugees. Everyone insists that Israel must take back every single one.

    I HIGHLY recommend trying Hoffer's book. If nothing else, it stimulates some great discussion.

  26. A tough environment, AFW, that you grew up in. That has only happened to me since 9/ll, when, finally and thankfully, my bullshit meter made an appearance.

    I like the quote you pulled from Hoffer, it places more perspective on the comments at Amazon, the negative ones anyway.

    I'll put the book in the queue. Thanks.

  27. nah - it wasn't tough at all. It just... was.