Banned Books Week Spotlight – Native Son

Native Sonby Richard Wright

Original publication date: 1940

This week is banned books week in the United States.  All week I will be highlighting banned, challenged, and censored books I own and have read.

Publisher description:

Right from the start, Bigger Thomas had been headed for jail. It could have been for assault or petty larceny; by chance, it was for murder and rape. Native Son tells the story of this young black man caught in a downward spiral after he kills a young white woman in a brief moment of panic. Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Richard Wright’s novel is just as powerful today as when it was written — in its reflection of poverty and hopelessness, and what it means to be black in America.

Status:Challenged in the United States (citation).

Reason for challenge in the U.S.: Challenged by parents in both schools and libraries for profanity, sexual content, and violence (citation)

My thoughts: Hmm, I’m starting to see a trend here.  Gifted author writes gritty, realistic book about a person or persons dealing with political and/or economic oppression and/or systemic racism.  Parents complain about the violence, sex, and language that is what makes the book so realistic.  It makes me wonder if, at least some of the time, people are actually uncomfortable with these gritty depictions of oppression (even subconsciously) and complain about the language, sex, or violence as a way of dealing with it.

I enjoyed “Native Son,” if enjoyed is the right word, since it is a novel of hopelessness and violence.  It is remarkably well-written, and the reader can truly feel Bigger’s fear and his sensations of being trapped by his circumstances.  This is a book I heartily recommend for its depiction of race relations in the ‘non-segregated’ North in the early part of the 20th century.

Your Turn: Have you read “Native Son” or any of Wright’s other work?  What did you think?  What would it be like to feel as though you were so trapped by your circumstances that violence seems to be the only option?  What would it be like to know that others see you as less than human?

Buy this book on Amazon.

Check out my Banned Books Week Spotlights all week, every day at 2 pm Central through Saturday, Octobter 4th.

Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South AfricaThe Grapes of WrathThe Handmaid’s Tale

Rebecca of The Book Lady’s Blog is doing Banned Books Week Spotlights as well, every morning at 9 am.  Check her out as well!

The Perks of Being a WallflowerAnd Tango Makes ThreeCatch-22 The Giver

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NPR Spotlights Banned Books Week

Evidently I timed my drive into work this morning JUST right, because the last full story I heard on NPR (via Chicago Public Radio, WBEZ – woohoo!) was about Banned Books Week.

The whole thing was fascinating, but what really caught my ears was a statement made by Judith Krug of the American Library Association:

“They’re not afraid of the book; they’re afraid of the ideas,” says Krug. “The materials that are challenged and banned say something about the human condition.”

That coincided very nicely with what I was wondering while I was creating some of my spotlight posts.  For some of the books I am featuring this week, at least, I wondered how much of the negative reaction towards the book was caused by specific instances of racism, sex, violence, language, or witchcraft, and how much is because some of these books challenege worldviews and highlight serious injustices.  What do you think?  Are most books banned because they are dirty or innappropriate, or because the idea in them scare people?  Are those ‘won’t somebody please think of the children!?!’ passages what jump out at people, or do they go looking for those portions of the book, to find an excuse for hating it?

Anyway, enough of that tangent (although I’m very interested to hear people’s thoughts about those questions in the comments).  The story went on to talk about how and why “Grapes of Wrath” was banned, particularly in Kern Country, California, when it first came out, using part of Rick Wartzman’s new book “Obscene in the Extreme” to discuss the situation in Kern County (Mr. Wartzman or Mr. Wartzman’s publishers/publicists, if you happen to be reading this, I REALLY want to read and review “Obscene in the Extreme”).

Overall, fascination story.  You can read the whole thing PLUS an excerpt of “Obscene in the Extreme” here.

In case you missed it, here is my spotlight on “Grapes of Wrath” for Banned Books Week.  You can find all of my Banned Books Week posts by clicking here.

Banned Books Week Spotlight – The Handmaid’s Tale

 

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Original publication date:1985

This week is banned books week in the United States.  All week I will be highlighting banned, challenged, and censored books I own and have read.

Publisher description:

In this multi-award-winning, bestselling novel, Margaret Atwood has created a stunning Orwellian vision of the near future. This is the story of Offred, one of the unfortunate “Handmaids” under the new social order who have only one purpose: to breed. In Gilead, where women are prohibited from holding jobs, reading, and forming friendships, Offred’s persistent memories of life in the “time before” and her will to survive are acts of rebellion. Provocative, startling, prophetic, and with Margaret Atwood’s devastating irony, wit, and acute perceptive powers in full force, The Handmaid’s Tale is at once a mordant satire and a dire warning.

Status: Challenged in the United States (citation: #37)

Reason for challenge in the U.S.: Parents complained about sexual and anti-religious content (citation).

My thoughts: I thought this was a brilliant book that achieved dystopian eeriness in a way not even 1984 managed.  You can see my full review here.

Your Turn: Have you read this or any other dystopian novels (1984, Fahrenheit 451, – both challenged as well, by the way- etc.)?  What is it about dystopian novels that seems to make them so prone to challege?  Do you object to sexual content in a book when it is making a social or political point?

Buy this book on Amazon.

Check out my Banned Books Week Spotlights all week, every day at 2 pm Central through Saturday, Octobter 4th.

Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa; The Grapes of Wrath

Rebecca of The Book Lady’s Blog is doing Banned Books Week Spotlights as well, every morning at 9 am.  Check her out as well!

The Perks of Being a WallflowerAnd Tango Makes ThreeCatch-22

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TSS 2: Banned Books Week Spotlight – The Grapes of Wrath

 

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Original publication date: 1939

This week is banned books week in the United States.  All week I will be highlighting banned, challenged, and censored books I own and have read.

Publisher description:

One of the greatest and most socially significant novels of the twentieth century, Steinbeck’s controversial masterpiece indelibly captured America during the Great Depression through the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads. Intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, tragic but ultimately stirring in its insistence on human dignity, The Grapes of Wrath (1939) is not only a landmark American novel, but it is as well an extraordinary moment in the history of our national conscience.

Status: Challenged in the U.S., including being burned by the East St. Louis, IL public library (1939) and barred from the Buffalo, NY public library (1939); publishers put on trial in Turkey for spreading propaganda (citation).

Reason for challenge in the U.S.: Reasons cited include profanity, taking the Lord’s name in vain, inappropriate sexual references, and the fact that an ex-minister recounts his sexual conquests (citation).

My thoughts: “The Grapes of Wrath” is one of my favorite books (.doc) of all time.  I have loved it ever since reading it in high school in what was my introduction to John Steinbeck.  Like “Kaffir Boy,” this is the story of a downtrodden and economically depressed people.  Although the ‘Okies’ didn’t suffer the same systemic abuse and racism as did Mark Mathabane and his family, they were definitely an economically and politically oppressed people.

Your Turn: Have you read “The Grapes of Wrath”?  What did you think about it?  Did the profanity make an impact on you (positive or negative)?  Did it work within the conext of the book or was it gratuitous?  Can you imagine having to pack up your entire life in a car and move half-way across the country to start over from scratch?

Buy this book on Amazon.

Check out my Banned Books Week Spotlights all week, every day at 2 pm Central through Saturday, Octobter 4th.

Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa

Rebecca of The Book Lady’s Blog is doing Banned Books Week Spotlights as well, every morning at 9 am.  Check her out as well!

The Perks of Being a Wallflower — And Tango Makes Three

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Banned Books Week Spotlight – Kaffir Boy

Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa by Mark Mathabane

Original publication date: 1986

This week is banned books week in the United States.  All week I will be highlighting banned, challenged, and censored books I own and have read.

Publisher description:

Kaffir Boy does for apartheid-era South Africa what Richard Wright’s Black Boy did for the segregated American South. In stark prose, Mathabane describes his life growing up in a nonwhite ghetto outside Johannesburg–and how he escaped its horrors. Hard work and faith in education played key roles, and Mathabane eventually won a tennis scholarship to an American university. This is not, needless to say, an opportunity afforded to many of the poor blacks who make up most of South Africa’s population. And yet Mathabane reveals their troubled world on these pages in a way that only someone who has lived this life can.

Status: Challenged in the United States (citation: #33), Banned in South Africa from 1991-1993 (citation).

Reason for challenge in the U.S.: Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with racial politics and apartheid, since that’s what the entire book is basically about.  Well, not on the face of the challenge anyway.  The general objection has to do with scenes of the debasement of the black Africans by the dominant white culture in South Africa under apartheid leading to child prostitution and scenes of sodomy (citation).

My thoughts: It really bothers me when books are challenged because of their depictions of terrible things happening to real people.  How are we to work to solve such problems if we don’t know about them?  How can we avoid similar things happening in the future if we ignore what happened in the past?  Reading “Kaffir Boy” for my South African history class really brought alive the horrors of apartheid for those who lived under it.  My teacher was fantastic and assigned us “Kaffir Boy” along with “My Traitor’s Heart” by Rian Malan, a white South African telling his story from the same time as Mark Mathabane to give us a fuller, more complicated picture.  “Kaffir Boy,” though, is one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read.  Even the title is gripping and controversial.  ‘Kaffir’ is a racial slur in South Africa (citation); it is almost as if Richard Wright had titled “Black Boy” “N*gg*r Boy” (no way I want people putting THAT search term in to find my blog!).

Your Turn: Have you read “Kaffir Boy”?  What did you think?  How do you feel about the banning of memoirs such as this?  Why might it be important to read books like “Kaffir Boy”?

Buy this book on Amazon.

Check out my Banned Books Week Spotlights all week, every day at 2 pm Central through Saturday, Octobter 4th.

Rebecca of The Book Lady’s Blog is doing Banned Books Week Spotlights as well, every morning at 9 am.  Check her out as well!

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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