QOTW: Favorite Banned Book

30 Sep

CHAT TONIGHT!

We will be hosting a chat tonight at 9 EST. The topic will be ‘getting to know the LTWF girls’, in honor of the fact that we are accepting applications for membership!

You can visit the chat through this link.

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Saturday marked the beginning of Banned Book Week. Here at LTWF we’re dedicating the whole week to awareness about banned books. We’ve got a lineup of fantastic articles, culminating in our announcement of our banned books-inspired book of the month for October on Friday. This coming Saturday we will post pictures of ourselves with our favorite banned books, and pictures that our readers send us. One lucky reader will even get a giveaway prize!

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This week, in honor of our Banned Books celebration, we thought we’d answer the question: What is your favorite Banned Book, and how has it affected your life?

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My favorite banned book is BELOVED, by Toni Morrison. For me it beats out all the others (even Harry Potter!) because of how much it influenced me as a writer. I think the first copy I ever read was from my teacher’s personal library in high school. I didn’t know much about other writers at that time (though I was calling myself one), and Toni’s forward to the book was part of what convinced me that I was an actual writer, not just crazy. She described the idea for the story coming to her as she stared across her backyard: an imaginary woman climbed up out of the river and leaned against her gazebo. ‘Nice hat.’

The personal way that Toni interacted with her characters really resonated with me as a young writer. When I read the actual book itself, I fell in love. BELOVED is rich and spooky, with characters more complicated and human than any others I’ve ever read. I get why it’s banned: it takes a shockingly realistic look at the trials of real life, and the spiritual emptiness that came for many former slaves. It has abuse, rape, adultery, infanticide, explicit sexuality, and shows various types of segregation and discrimination. And guess what? It was based on a true story.

I can’t understand why anyone would want to cover up such a beautiful story that takes a hard and honest look at life post-slavery. The writing is magnificent, and inspired me to take my own to a new level. There were so many fragments stuck out at me, but the one I want to leave you with is this:

“She cannot be lost because no one is looking for her, and even if they were, how can they call her if they don’t know her name?”

-The Writer Condensing Three Books Into One

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I got TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD as a birthday present sometime in late elementary school or maybe early middle school. I can’t remember who gave it to me, but I remember loving it from the very first read. I adored Scout and somehow, identified with her immensely though we were very different. I loved Atticus and Jim.

To be honest, I didn’t catch much of the political or racial themes of the book. It’s kind of like how I read ANIMAL FARM when I was eleven and then when someone remarked in eighth grade about how the book commented on socialism in Russia, I gave them a look like they were crazy. All I’d gotten from the book was a weird but interesting story about…well, animals on a farm.

Does my younger self’s utter lack of understanding of the some of the main themes of these books mean I wasn’t ready for them? That my librarian and whoever gave me TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD should have told me to wait a few years? I don’t really think so. In fact, I would have loved it if, instead of preventing me from reading these books completely, someone had been open to discussing them with me afterward. That, I think, would have done a lot more good.

Either way, I have since gone back and reread both books, and I’m really glad to have had two experiences with each–the more innocent, simpler version of my childhood, and the one I glean now after having grown up a little more.

edit:  Wow–I completely forgot that NORTHERN LIGHTS/THE GOLDEN COMPASS is banned/controversial in some places. You all know how much I love that book!

-The Writer Who Just Signed With An Agent!

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My favourite banned book, and this is somewhat cliched, is probably FIGHT CLUB by Chuck Palahniuk. This book was the first thing I’ve read which I considered truly subversive — and no, I hadn’t seen the movie — and I’d read a lot of rather edgy realistic fiction before reading this. The central concept of FIGHT CLUB, a bunch of guys getting together and bashing each other up in an attempt to find some kind of spirituality, is disturbing.  At the same time, on some levels, it’s also an interesting exploration of the emptiness and dislocation that can occur in a modern world.

I can see why the book’s been banned. But at the same time, I think that we need books like this that are provocative and gritty. FIGHT CLUB made an impact on me as both a reader and writer — as a reader, it made me seek out other books to challenge and unsettle me, and as a writer it made me appreciate minimalism and the power of a dark, entrancing voice. More importantly, I think, reading banned books that are subversive like FIGHT CLUB, gave me the confidence to unflinchingly explore any subject matter in my own novels.

-The Newest LTWF Contributor Out on Submissions

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I’m going to go with THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK on this one. You can tell how much I’ve read it because my battered copy is missing the back cover, and the pages are stained from me eating while I poured over it. I don’t usually dog-tag pages, but these ones are folded over, passages are underlined, and I have notes in the margins. I even have a copy in German, and one in Italian; that’s how much I love this book.

I first read THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK in fifth grade. Even then, I felt a powerful pull to the book, and it’s stuck with me ever since. People claim that it’s “sexually offensive,” and that the nature of the book is just depressing, but I disagree completely. I always thought Anne’s words were uplifting and hopeful. Despite the horrible things going on around her, she still believed in the inherent good in people. That’s a message I’d think we’d want our kids to understand and take to heart.

My high school actually did this as a play, and it is my most treasured memory from those years. Some of my favorite lines, the ones I often repeat in order to ground myself, seemed even more profound coming from someone’s mouth. It’s amazing to me that one girl could embody so much hope in times of utter despair, and I will never forget the lessons this book taught me.

-The Writer Working on Three Novels At Once

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I think you might have guessed that my choice would be LOLITA.  I can’t remember much of how I first encountered the book; I can’t even remember how old I was when I read it the first time.  The thing I do remember is how stunned I was that any book, no matter how brilliantly written, could make me empathize with a character as treacherous and selfish as Humbert Humbert.  It was my first experience with an “unreliable narrator,” and LOLITA made me see for the first time that even the vilest villain sees himself as sympathetic.  That experience, combined with Nabokov’s incredible prose, the sharp descriptions of the beautiful and the grotesque found in the many suburban American towns through which the main characters traveled, and the irony (and even humor) that can be found in every chapter, gave me my earliest ideas that maybe one day I might want to be a writer.

-The Writer on Submissions

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What Banned Book has affected your life the most?

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26 Responses to “QOTW: Favorite Banned Book”

  1. Nicole September 30, 2010 at 12:36 AM #

    !

    Curse me living on the west coast, I’ll be at work until 9 pm local time, midnight back east.

    There are a great many ‘banned’ books that I like, but I have to say Tortilla Curtain, which I read last year in my Honors English class. I completely and utterly disagree with the author on his platform, but (a very large BUT) I recognize the layers of plot, symbolism, great character, just the fact it is so well written.

    Would I ban this book? Hell no. It give me a different side of the story, a different point of view, that’s why is has made a difference on my life, although I would say it is my favorite. That would be the Webster’s Dictionary. 🙂

    • svonnah September 30, 2010 at 11:07 AM #

      Aww, so sorry that we’ll miss you! I haven’t read Tortilla Curtain… was that meant to be like the ‘iron curtain’?

      • Nicole October 1, 2010 at 2:03 AM #

        Yes. Apparently, the border between the USA and Mexico is called that.

  2. kaemccrae September 30, 2010 at 2:46 AM #

    I’m also going to have to list Lolita as my favourite banned book. : ) The juxtaposition of the beauty and the ugliness is just so completely tantalizing! Any author who can disgust AND enthrall a reader at the same time is worth my worship. And I always find it so interesting, since, if I’m not completely incorrect, only a few hundred years ago, Lolita would have been only minutely (two, three years?) young to be married off to Humbert – and yet it’s so, so very completely wrong that he’s attracted to her here.

    I can never understand people who don’t like their doses of Nabokov.

    Though, a close second is Dorian, which, of course, had it all; the SEX (-ual homoerotic undertones?), the BAD MORALS, the VIOLENCE. Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf. Gotta love me some Wilde.
    Plus, he’s Irish. For someone who was named after County Kerry, you can’t get much better than that. My grandfather would insist upon it.

    • svonnah September 30, 2010 at 11:11 AM #

      I loved Lolita as well, but I think I read it too late in life for it to have made a formative impression on me as a young writer 🙂

    • Vee October 1, 2010 at 8:50 PM #

      Yay, Dorian Gray! I have so much love for Wilde — that’s probably my second, too 😀

  3. Ella September 30, 2010 at 9:01 AM #

    Silence of the Lambs.

    I watched the movie before reading the book. Crime novels and fictional serial killers are a dime a dozen, but the idea of the story – a twisted psychopath and his bizarre empathy for a young FBI agent – was a major inspiration for my current WIP. Hannibal Lecter was probably the start of my obsession with bizarre, brilliant, mentally unstable people; the day I’ll be happy with my writing is the day I can create characters that fascinatingly complex.

    • svonnah September 30, 2010 at 11:15 AM #

      I saw the movie first, but it didn’t take away anything from the book. I loved how the speech would often be accompanied without any directions or descriptions, but you still knew exactly how everyone was saying their lines.

      That section that quoted the e.e. cummings poem ‘how do you like your blue eyed boy mr. death?’ has been bookmarked in my copy of the book for years.

  4. Vanessa September 30, 2010 at 10:08 AM #

    I have a few favourites – Animal Farm, Harry Potter, Speak, Looking For Alaska, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and The Lovely Bones (to name a few).

    I have to say that for me, it’s a toss up between Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass (but of course, right?) and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

    These two books are among some of my absolute favourite books ever; and I read both at a very young age. The impact these books had on me was tremendous; I felt as if I was able to learn so much about people and society and the world (even though one is set in a parallel, fantastical world and the other is set in a dystopian future.

    Sure, the ideas were complex – The Golden Compass involves kidnapped children used in experiments, death, and family betrayal. The Handmaid’s Tale is rife with forbidden love, brutality, polygamy, class separation, and sex (rich women most not taint themselves by having sex, while for lower class women, it is their job to have sex for the sole purpose of delivering babies).

    One book was written for children, and one wasn’t. But both are incredibly complex and demand a great deal out of their readers. They may not end with sunshines and rainbows, but it was a way in which to learn that not everything is perfect – and not everything is fair. Lyra fights for a future (for herself and for everyone else), whereas Offred is a passive character whose fate remains unknown. But I am grateful that I was allowed to choose to be able to read those books as a child – they shaped me, both as a person and as a writer. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  5. Catherine September 30, 2010 at 10:18 AM #

    I have to go with To Kill a Mockingbird. I first read it when I was fifteen and failing an English class for the first and only time in my life. I was supposed to write a paper on Atticus Finch, but never did. Instead, I was drawn into the book, and I’m pretty sure I read it in only two days instead of dragging it out over two or three weeks like we were supposed to. It left an incredibly deep impression on me, the ideas of segregation and racism. It’s a courtroom drama (which I love in spite of myself), and a heartwarming tale of a little girl and Boo Radley. I don’t think I’ve ever read any book that’s affected me quite as deeply.

    • svonnah September 30, 2010 at 11:15 AM #

      You know, maybe it’s because I had to read it for school, but I’ve never liked To Kill a Mockingbird. I loved The Color Purple, and beloved, but not TKAM.

      • Susan September 30, 2010 at 2:55 PM #

        I was really glad I had read To Kill a Mockingbird before I had to read it for school – I have loved it every time I read it, EXCEPT that one time I read it. Actually, that’s gone for basically every book I’ve had to read for school. I hated Siddhartha the first time I read it, but when I picked it up a year after the class, I ended up being really intrigued by it.

        • svonnah October 1, 2010 at 10:06 AM #

          I usually liked what we had to read for class… so much so that I read ahead and then had to sit through the rest of the class catching up for the semester. But I just really, really didn’t like TKaM.

      • Catherine September 30, 2010 at 11:23 PM #

        I feel the same way about the Great Gatsby when I read it Junior Year. I dislike that book so much.

        I think what might have helped with TKAM is because I’d checked out that year as far as doing homework was concerned so all the reading I did, assigned or not, was for my own pleasure (which was why I didn’t read a lick of Julius Caesar).

  6. Aurora Blackguard September 30, 2010 at 10:57 AM #

    I will always love Harry Potter. It made me believe that magic wasn’t just assigned to this specific time era, that there was something more in each one of us – whether or not we know it. At times, it is frustrating but the fact is, I grew up with Harry, learned with him the nuances of magic and the world we live in. Harry will always be my guy.

    I have to say that in Malaysia, where I am, censorship is finicky. It’s difficult to gauge the differences here and in the States or anywhere else in the world. But the fact is, so many books here, young or adult, are banned. At one point in time, TWILIGHT was removed from my school library and so was The Golden Compass. Now, I don’t feel absolute love for TWILIGHT and I’ve never read TGC, but fact is, they represent our generation. They are the Pride and Prejudice of our time, even if it’s really really bad. And stopping us from reading them isn’t going to help the illiteracy rates in Malaysia – which are frighteningly low.

    • svonnah September 30, 2010 at 11:16 AM #

      You should totally read The Golden Compass if you can get a hold of it. Seriously, you are missing out.

    • tymcon September 30, 2010 at 2:29 PM #

      second that. It has two of my most favourite battle scenes in the first and third book:P

  7. Cari September 30, 2010 at 1:34 PM #

    I’ve loved a lot of books on the banned list but the one I always think of first is Harry Potter, because that’s the only one my parents ever told me I wasn’t allowed to read. I finally did anyhow, and convinced them to see the movies and of course they loved them. I still got a few stern lectures from my teachers at school for reading it. I think the fact that I had to take a stand for it makes me love the books so much.

    • svonnah October 1, 2010 at 9:32 PM #

      I had a mormon friend whose family told her she was forbidden because it had magic in it… eventually they relented, lol.

  8. tymcon September 30, 2010 at 2:27 PM #

    The amber spyglass. I’m lumping all the book sinto being bannedXD I think because that was the only book i ever read that dealt with religion in any way. Well, I read books that dealt with their own religion (trudi Canavan) but not that had used christianity as a religion.

    • svonnah October 1, 2010 at 9:32 PM #

      Best on-page kiss of my childhood happened in that book!

      • Vanessa October 4, 2010 at 1:30 PM #

        YES! Totally agree!

  9. Susan September 30, 2010 at 2:54 PM #

    Pooh, I won’t be able to participate in the chat! Silly college events. I hope you all have a wonderful time, nonetheless. 🙂

    I’d have to say I’m sort of tied on favorite banned books. I adore the Harry Potter series, but To Kill a Mockingbird and Whale Talk are some of my all-time favorite novels – and they’ve also been banned. The fact that To Kill a Mockingbird is banned still boggles my mind to no end, because it’s such a beautiful story of just how much can be wrong in the world told through the viewpoint of the children they’re trying to keep the story away from! Harper Lee balanced the delicate line wonderfully at keeping it honest but not anything I would be trying to keep away from kids (especially those in junior high and up!).

    Whale Talk has been one of my top novels since the first time I read it. Chris Crutcher will never be well-known for his writing because, while engaging, it’s not groundbreaking. It’s his characters that pull the reader straight into the story, and these characters have dealt with a lot. This story deals with racism, prejudice, misogyny, and cruelty to children – all through high schoolers and their small town environment. The kids have all dealt with their personal histories in different ways, and it all plays out over different sport arenas. It blew me away, especially coming from a rather racially non-diverse area, and having been raised by fairly liberal (although politically conservative) parents. Due to some of the subject matter and language, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to anyone younger than high school, but this book definitely reinforces the fact that the “banned books” in the U.S. can actually open people’s eyes to different ills in our society, and spark discussion, not promote these poor behaviors and ways of thinking.

    • svonnah October 1, 2010 at 9:33 PM #

      Chris Crutcher really influenced me as a writer because of what he said about writing in one of his forewards to a book. It’s a shame, I can’t remember which one now.

  10. Jess September 30, 2010 at 8:07 PM #

    I also see many of my favorites listed – and am surprised by some of the books that have been challenged! but since TKAM has already been mentioned a few times, I’ll pick another book that has stuck with me: 1984, Orwell. It’s one of the reasons I feel as strongly as I do about censorship and related issues. 🙂

    • svonnah October 1, 2010 at 9:34 PM #

      I was surprised by the number of books I owned that were banned, as well. In my article on Monday, I said that I could figure out which ones were banned by pulling out my favorites!

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