Thursday Thirteen: Banned and Challenged Classics

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.pins

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.

bbweek8. 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.

If We Were Having Coffee . . .

. . . I’d tell you I slept in today and rolled out of bed at 11 without having written this post or loaded the Silent Saturday. That’s not a big deal, though. I’ve noticed that Saturday readers tend to be afternoon readers, at least according to my local time.

I’d tell you I just realized that my monthly telephone bill has increased six-fold. I’ve been using an analog prepaid phone for years, and because I hate talking on the phone, I’ve been getting by with $10 a month for prepaid minutes. Now I have a real phone coffeewith a very reasonable plan, but that’s still a six-fold increase. On the plus side, I can sit on my porch and read blogs without having to haul a computer outside 🙂

I’d tell you it’s almost time for school to start, and my little grandson is not happy about that. I’m hoping to take most of a week off from work before it starts and spend a lot of time with him. We’ve had a great summer, and his interest in reading has really taken off. We’ve managed to stick with The Hobbit and we’re reading the Gollum chapter now.

And I’d tell you that Just Gene’O continues to pick up followers, despite the fact it’s more or less shut down for an overhaul. It often gains more followers in a day than this blog. That’s inexplicable to me. I’m planning to throw some ideas out about the overhaul in a few minutes.

I don’t have much else to talk about this week. I’ve been super-busy with work, which I can’t talk about on the blog, so I haven’t had time for many interesting things to happen. I might mention that I’m planning to write about Doctor Who this fall at Part Time Monster, though. I’m putting my Tolkien series over there on hiatus for the Doctor Who season, but I’m planning to do occasional shorter, lighter posts about Tolkien here during the fall.

And I’d ask you what you got up to this week.


Garrett’s Summer Reading Recommendations

by Garrett Ashley

It’s a bit late for another summer reading list, but that doesn’t mean the summer’s over! Here are a few of my suggestions, broken up into categories. I have a bit too many on my list to name here, but these are some of my favorite and most anticipated.

Short Story Collections

Dangerous Laughter, by Stephen Millhauser: Millhauser knows how to make the most mundane things unusual, and the most unusual things magical and extraordinary. The first story, “Cat ‘N’ Mouse” (the opening cartoon) is a straightforward telling of Tom and Jerry, cover_DangerousLaughtertold in fragmented segments, with deeply existential sections sprinkled in between. I didn’t know a story like this was even possible—reading Tom and Jerry is a different experience than watching the cartoon. “The Room in the Attic” is about the relationship between the protagonist and a shy young girl who, because her room is always drenched in darkness, the protagonist never sees. I haven’t finished Dangerous Laughter yet, but Millhauser has recently become one of my favorite writers. There’s no one else like him.

St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, by Karen Russell: I feel licover_RaisedByWolveske Russell is probably old news now (as old, maybe, as this, her first collection). But I’d feel weird if I excluded her from my list. Her novel, Swamplandia!, narrowly avoided winning a Pulitzer (?), and Girls Raised by Wolves sports the story that became the novel. Alongside the title story, which is about a bunch of wolf girls becoming young ladies, there’s a story about kids sledding down dunes on the backs of giant crabs, a matador father, and a brother on the hunt for his ghost sister. Russell is one of the best literary/fantasy hybrid writers I know of.

Tenth of December, by George Saunders: I read this one when it came out, and afterwards went out and bought Pastoralia and CivilWarlLand in Bad Decline. Neither of which I’ve read yet, but they look pretty on my shelf (as most Riverhead books are wont to be). Saunders doesn’t seem to have a niche, as far as I know (I don’t know a lot about him, anyway). There are a couple of science fiction stories here mixed in with the weird and ordinary. One story that’s stayed with me since I read it was “The Semplica Girl Diaries”, which examines class, slavery, and trust. The narrator thinks he can be somehow better than his rich neighbors by purchasing (spending a ton of money they don’t have on) a group of “oriental” (?) women to sit in swings on a tree in the front yard. When the women escape (I won’t say how they escape), the narrator finds himself in a legal dilemma.

A Guide to Being Born, by Ramona Ausubel: I loved every one of these stories. My favorite of the batch is “Chest of Drawers,” which is about a soon-to-be father who discovers bony cover_Guide2BeingBorndrawers embedded in his chest. There’s also a story about arms that grow out of your torso when you’re in love. They get bigger the more you fall in love with someone, so you can’t hide your true feelings from your significant other. They’re called “love arms.” Go figure.


Tinkers & Enon, by Paul Harding: Tinkers, the Pulitzer prize winning novel, is short, but I wouldn’t call it light reading. It’s the fragmented story of two generations of men and George’s trouble with mental health. Enon, Harding’s recent novel, is kind of a sequel (I think), but I don’t exactly know how it’s going to play out. I’m going to work through Enon when I finish Dangerous Laughter.

The Kings and Queens of Roam, by Daniel Wallace: The author of Big Fish tells the story of two sisters living in Roam, one who is blind and beautiful and one who is sighted and incredibly ugly (Wallace’s words, not mine). There are giant lumberjacks, ghosts, silkworms, and hidden communities. The novel probably has the prettiest cover of my list, too.

The Southern Reach trilogy, by Jeff VanderMeer: Technically, the third book in the series doesn’t release until September, but I’ve had a lot of fun reading this. I’m still not sure whether to call it science fiction or fantasy. But it’s speculative, and most importantly, uncanny. The series is full of mystery, suspense, and horror.

Literary Journals/Magazines

McSweeny’s 45: The “Ray Bradbury and Alfred Hitchcock Fistfight in Heaven” issue.

Ploughshares, Spring 2012: Edited by Nick Flynn.


The Writer’s Notebook: Craft Essays from Tin House

Will’s Summer Reading Recommendations

by William Hohmeister

Friend and fellow contributor Jeremy wrote a summer reading list and I decided to join in. It took me a while to make it, partly because as soon as I try to remember the name of something I like – books, movies, friends – I forget it, but mostly because I spent a lot of time reminiscing about the Pizza Hut summer reading program “Book It!”*

Here is my list of recommendations and books I want to read.


Have read:
Andre the Giant: Life and Legend, by Box Brown (Link 1). It’s a graphic novel autobiography of Andre Roussimoff, better known as Andre the Giant, or Fezzik, if you like The Princess Fezzik!Bride. On the set of The Princess Bride, Andre supposedly racked up a $40,000 bar tab; that story sets the tone for the (often apocryphal) nature of the stories in the book. Andre is as much legend as real person, but the book does an excellent job of showing all sides – the charismatic wrestler, the incredible giant who seemed beyond belief (especially to me as a kid), and the person who suffered from acromegaly, which turned him into an old man at 40 and then killed him.

Want to read:
The Power of Myth. It’s a series of conversations about mythology with Joseph Campbell at Skywalker Ranch. Essentially everything I like in one place. I have it, but have yet to crack it open (I am a distractible reader).

Stand Alone

Have read:
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, by Jenny Lawson (Link 3). It’s a mostly-true memoir by the Bloggess (Link 4). It’s funny, sad, revealing, and awesome. It also has a picture of a taxidermy mouse wearing a black and red cape and holding a tiny skull on the cover.

Want to read:
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman. There’s a joke that goes, as soon as you write a paranormal/strange/fantasy story, you’ll find out Neil Gaiman already wrote it. He has written a lot, about some strange, great stuff, and I have never been disappointed by his books.


Have read:
First, I’d like to back Jeremy’s recommendation and say that The Dresden Files is a great book series.

dresden wallpaper

I started with Grave Peril (Link 5) (the third in the series) and have been reading them out of order ever since. When Skin Game finally (finally!) comes out, I intend to pick it up immediately. Also, fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, James Marsters (Spike) narrates the audiobooks.

Want to read:

This is sort of a cheat, because I have read several of the books in the Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald (Link 6), but not nearly as many as I want. No bookstore seems to have them.travismcgee

I learned about MacDonald through Stephen King. King described reading MacDonald’s books while lazing in college, and I thought that sounded pretty good. McGee is part mercenary and part knight-errant, a beach bum with a sense of honor and a moral code. The books do not have an overarching plot; the common tie is the titular character, who can be equally brutal, philosophic, womanizing, and touching. Any book in this series will give you a good read.

Graphic Novel

Have read:
Preacher, by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon (Link 7). Graphic novel is a fancy word for comic book, but throw your fancy words and uppity literary notions aside. Preacher is not safe for work – probably even to look up on Wikipedia. The story’s about Jesse Custer, Tulip, and Cassidy looking for God – capital G, because he’s a character too. They want to have harsh words with him. The concept is interesting and the story is always compelling, but the heart of the books is the relationships between Jesse, former preacher, Tulip, gunslinger and failed assassin, and Cassidy, vampire. It has plenty of gore, nudity, and profanity, but it also has a guy called Arseface.

Want to read:
Thor, by J. Michael Straczynski (Link 8). I started this years ago, but never finished. I don’t understand comics continuity – too many titles, too many mega-events – but Straczynski got me interested in Thor, and after his run on Spiderman I’ve wanted to pick up more of his stories.

Short Story

Have read:
Instead of a single short story, I recommend signing up for Daily Science-Fiction’s newsletter/daily story. They email you a flash fiction story every day, and the quality is generally high. My most recent favorite involved a velociraptor made up of nanobots taking care of a child during the end of the world.

Want to read:
The End is Nigh edited by John Adams and Hugh Howey. It’s a collection of various authors, with the premise of a setting just before the end of the world – whatever form of apocalypse each writer chose. The End is Now and The End Has Come are set to come out in September, 2014 and March, 2015, respectively.


Therefore I Geek. (Link 11) They write objective and opinion articles about all things geeky and nerdy. If you want an interesting place to start, try this article on magic (Link 12).

*All nostalgia comes with a grain of salt. I may remember things wrong or  maybe just made something up – I had to ask a friend what the program Pizza Hut ran was called. Everything I write, however, is as true as I remember it.

I was a proud member of Book It as a kid, and so were most of my friends; in fact, it was one of the few things that gave me a chance to talk about books with my friends. Not that they were dumb or hated reading, but I was the reader, generally, of whatever group I was in. I was the child happier to sit in shade at the park with The Chronicles of Narnia than to play baseball.

Harry Dresden image by zmajtolovaj/deviantart