In case you haven’t heard, it’s Banned Books Week. Since I’m a fan of books and I love intellectual freedom, I feel as though it would be a sin to let the week pass without a banned books post. As I mentioned earlier today, Hannah Givens is hosting a week-long banned books blog party at Things Matter. I’m not sure whether or not I’ll get a post out for the blog party, so I’ve borrowed an idea (and a graphic) from Diana. Here’s a Thursday Thirteen from the ALA’s Frequently Challenged Classics list.
All the books here have influenced me as a writer and thinker. I read them all before I turned 21, thanks to a mother and a high school English teacher who share my love of reading and freedom of thought, and thanks to a public library that was way better than any town of 5,000 has a right to expect. They are posted in the approximate order I read them.
1. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
My mother read this book aloud to me when I was in elementary school. She read The Hobbit to me when I was in first grade, and I begged her to read LOTR for two years until she finally did. I read it on my own for the first time when I was 11. If I write a post for Hannah’s blog party, this is the book I’ll focus on.
2. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Checked out from the library when I was 11 or 12; perhaps for my last year of the Summer Reading Program. It frightened me more than any horror story ever frightened me and forced me to look at the locker room antics and high school hazing with new eyes. I still find it disturbing. The film adaptation doesn’t do it justice.
3. A Separate Peace by John Knowles
I barely remember reading this one, but I know I did, because I remember the story and the cover of the battered old paperback. I also remember that it made such an impression I didn’t pick up another book for a while after I finished it.
4. 1984 by George Orwell
Picked up from the library when I was in the tenth grade because I’d read Animal Farm for school and I wanted more Orwell. I’ve since read most of his essays and Homage to Catalonia, his memoir of the Spanish Civil War. He’s my favorite early-20th Century thinker.
5. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
I went through a Hemingway phase when I was 15 or 16, and this is the second or third Hemingway novel I read. It’s on my list of top 15 20th Century novels, and the chapter where one of the characters is reminiscing about bull-baiting in his village before the war stands out to me as one of the best single chapters in all of American literature.
6. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Required reading during my senior year in high school. It’s probably why I’m fascinated with the 1920s to this day, and why I’m such a sucker for tragic romance.
7. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
I checked this one out of the library when I was a senior in high school just to see what all the fuss was about. I didn’t really get it then, but I do now. If I made a list of “novels everyone should read,” this one would be on it.
8. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
This was an assigned book for my honors freshman composition course. I wrote an essay on Huxley’s use of the “noble savage” trope, and I was still immature enough to be titillated by the way he uses the word “pneumatic.”
9. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
I read this one during my freshman year of college, and if you’re wondering why anyone would want to ban this book, this quote will give you an idea:
“Fear the time when the bombs stop falling while the bombers live – for every bomb is proof that the spirit has not died…And this you can know – fear the time when Manself will not suffer and die for a concept, for this one quality is the foundation of Manself, and this one quality is man, distinctive in the universe.”
10. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
I find it as disturbing as The Lord of the Flies, but in a different way. I read it during my freshman year of college just for fun and ended up writing an essay about it.
11. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I read the book because I saw the Gregory Peck movie and liked it so much I wanted the reading experience. It’s a real shame that anyone even considered banning this book. That says not-so-nice things about American culture at the time it was published.
12. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
One of a dozen novels I read for Survey of the 20th Century American Novel in college. I also read Gatsby for the third time for that course, and got my first introductions to Nathaniel West, Carson McCullers, and Emile Zola. Slaughterhouse-Five is likely the novel that convinced me genre fiction can be serious, because whatever else it is, it’s also science fiction.
13. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
I picked this one up when I was 19 or 20 on the recommendation of a friend. It’s a strange and rewarding read. I don’t know what else to say about it.
I had no idea what I was going to come up with when I started this list, but I like it. It tells me quite a bit about myself. It’s no wonder I’m suspicious of authority and believe in universal human rights. No wonder at all.