Tag Archives: Banned Books

Of Mice and Men: Delicate Dreamers

                   

Of Mice and Men asks a number of questions: what sacrifices are we willing to make for those we love? (as in George’s decision to continually uproot himself to protect Lennie) How do we know when we’re acting in the best interest of those we love, or acting selfishly? (as in Candy’s inability to put down his dog; and George’s climatic decision) What effect does intention have on culpability? (as in Lennie’s responsibility for crushing Curly’s hand, or *spoiler*)

But the issue that interested me the most was that of why, when we’re given the opportunity to have the things we’ve dreamed about and schemed for, why, when those things are within grasp we intentionally sabotage the opportunity, we turn away with two hands the (not even chance) promise of realizing our (supposed) dreamed future. Steinbeck’s novel proposes that there are two sorts of people: those who live for the perpetually postponed dream; and those who, when the opportunity for realization occurs, seize it. I’m not sure I accept such a stark dichotomy of people, indeed, I might rather have liked Steinbeck to have been a little more nuanced in his explanation of why this kind of personal sabotage takes place. It can’t be a simple as some people live in/for dreams, can it? And yet, Lennie’s childish interaction with the world, his constant deference to George work to build a character that is delicate, innocent, and for that, a fool. A fool not because he isn’t bright, but a fool to not just pass up, but actively refuse, the realization of his (or George’s?) dream. And George’s ultimate decision and action reveals him as the kind of man who will seize the opportunity, regardless of personal or ethical cost, the kind of man who will act selfishly and call it a benevolent or generous act. Though at the same time the selfishness – the at long last selfishness – is somehow its own kind of realization of a dream, to finally act for one’s own interest, rather than a constant deferral for the needs of the other (Lennie).

So I think I need someone else in my immediate circle to read this one so I can talk about it out loud. It’s only 100 pages, or an afternoon of reading, so if you’re so inclined, give it a read and let me know. I’ll buy the coffee, if you’ll help me get George and Lennie (or me and me) out of my head.

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Filed under 100 Books of 2011, American literature, Fiction, Prize Winner

The Awakening: Crushing

     

Kate Chopin’s novel begins with a stifled married woman, Edna, who, over the course of the novel, comes to embrace her sexual desires for sexy men (rather than her stodgy husband) and to demand the legitimacy of her female voice. In the closing pages of the novel she says to her would-be lover “I suppose this is what you would call unwomanly, but I have got into a habit of expressing myself. It doesn’t matter to me, and you may think me unwomanly if you like” (175-76). These demands to do and say what she feels and wants divorce Edna from her contemporaries, as her female peers advise her that she’ll be mistaken (!) for a hussy, and male companions either cannot fathom the change (her husband), seek to manipulate her autonomy for their advantage (the creepy Arobin) or cannot stomach a woman who knows what she wants (her ‘soul mate’ Robert). A crushing portrait then of a woman awakening not only, or even principally (though it is for this reason that the book was banned), to her sexual desires, but more to the realization that she can have wants independent of her husband, she can have a voice that says what she thinks. Crushing because no one in her life accepts or even entertains the change in her, she is alternately thought of as deranged or sadistic.

Or at least, this is temporarily the case.

SPOILER: Crushing too because the book ends with a catty female friend telling her – on the catty friend’s deathbed no less! – to “think of her children.” As if in this remonstrance she might succeed in dulling and silencing the Edna’s increasingly authoritative voice and self-confidence. Well in this case this “as if” is accurate. With the recollection of her children, and the abandonment of her feeble lover, Robert, who cannot abide a woman who takes sexual initiative, she drowns herself. And what could be a more appropriate, more poignant ending, then this symbolic drowning out of a lone voice, the crushing of a nascent independence.

I didn’t realize until writing this entry that the book was written in 1899. The tone and diction – “countenance” makes a frequent appearance – suggested this period, but I would have willingly entertained a publication date of 1973 or 2011, such are the resonances with the continued effort on the part of marginalized voices to have their desires heard. I’d not go so far as to suggest (at all) that all women continue to eke out a voice or a self-determine sexuality, rather, I appreciate the model of a character who recognizes her/his desire and also recognizes an insurmountable distance between that desire and the mores of his/her time and place.

All this comes with the inherent assumption (and what an assumption) that individual desires and voices are worth airing and are, irreproachably, paramount. That I grieve the death of Edna testifies to my bias in favour of individualism and my distrust of discourses that regulate the body and the voice, but all the same, at some point, doesn’t someone have to think of the children?

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Filed under 100 Books of 2011, Book I'll Forget I Read, Prize Winner

Fanny Hill: *blush* *blush* *yawn*

     

Gosh but Fanny Hill has A LOT of sex in it. Sex between men and women, women and women, men and men, partners of varying ages, mental and physical abilities, in different positions and in different environmental conditions. It is in short, a novel without a plot, but instead a collection of events that allow for the graphic narration of sex. So many mentions of exploits, things gorged and red, thrusts, sighs and wetness. In fact, I’ve included a word cloud so you can see just how much of the text (all of it!) is given over to narrating sex.

Yep, it’s not one to read/listen to out in public. Such blushes.

But despite the titillation and *cough* excitement of the first few chapters of Fanny Hill, I admit I quickly became bored of yet another sex scene with yet another virgin or yet another “mistaken” attempt at anal sex. Which isn’t to say that I’m a virtuous or prudish reader, rather, that 250 pages of the same plot events would be boring no matter what was being narrated! Yawn.

As for the limited character development… well, I was disappointed. Fanny is principally awesome because she isn’t at all embarrassed or ashamed of her wanton behaviour, rather she relishes pleasure and seeks it out for herself. But the conclusion of the text sees her marrying her one true love and renouncing the wanton life in favour of riches and monogamy. Yawn. Given just how scandalous the rest of the book is, I can see little reason to end it with such convention. I had rather hoped she’d die of venereal disease… Perhaps one of my 18th century scholar-friends can provide me an answer to why such a conventional and annoying ending?

So while I’ll recommend Fanny Hill if you’re looking to diversify your personal pleasure reading, I can’t recommend it well if you’re at all interested in anything approximating plot, character or thematic development.

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Filed under 100 Books of 2011, British literature, Fiction

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian: So. good.

       

Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian belongs in several categories of 10-10-12: banned books, books with illustrations, and young adult fiction. It’s also made it’s way on to the (yet undisclosed and unfinished) list of best books I’ve read in 2011. The first person narrator’s honesty coupled with his humour make for a totally captivating tone, which quickly and effectively secures the readers’ concern and care for the brave, fragile and fierce protagonist. Such was this readers’ concern that as the story begins a gradual, but escalating, revelation of grief, I found myself a little weepy, but more than that, a little in awe of a story that so quickly and so honestly invites reader sympathy/empathy.

I should comment on the illustrations not just because this book is categorized (for me) in books with illustrations, but because the cartoons that pepper the pages serve Junior/Arnold as an outlet for emotions he doesn’t understand, and allow the reader yet another window into the complicated and fraught emotional life of a teenage boy.

I admit to being a little floored by how much and how quickly I came to care about Junior/Arnold.

It’s scandalous to me that this one appears on the ALA list of most frequently banned at schools in the US – a tragedy of its own kind that some readers will be prevented or hindered from finding their way to this remarkable story, when really, it ought to be put in the hands of every teenager  reader who has ever felt weird, or felt like they didn’t know how to feel (so… all of us).

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Filed under 100 Books of 2011, Fiction, Prize Winner, Young Adult Fiction