Friday, October 2, 2015

Fahrenheit 451

In honor of Banned Books Week, please enjoy this student book review by one of Grafton's Team Leaders, Elizabeth. Read our interviews with Elizabeth here, here and for a throwback, here. You can read Elizabeth's previous book reviews for The Fault in Our Stars and The Outsiders.

Ray Bradbury is one author who frequently comes to mind when discussing banned books and censorship. Fahrenheit 451, one of his more well-known books, has undergone constant criticism since its publication in 1953. In many of his works, he talks about faults in society, some more obviously than others. 

The book tells the story of a dystopian world where books of any subject are banned and any opposition is punished. Guy Montag, the protagonist of this story, is a fireman tasked with destroying the books and does so without much conviction for the majority of his life. The instant that changes Montag’s life is when he witnesses an older woman sacrifice her life because she refuses to evacuate her home full of books. He then begins to read the forbidden material and decides that he will change society’s views on the matter of destroying books.

It is ironic that a book focused on censorship has been criticized so many times for reasons similar to those represented in the novel itself. The book has been censored for a number of different reasons. Some people argued that the book should be banned because it elicits a mistrust of the government in young minds, while others criticized the book for offensive language and content. In response to the latter reason, Fahrenheit 451’s publisher at the time edited out the more sensitive information by removing words that were deemed unacceptable and by changing aspects of the plot. This highly edited version became the primary edition published until the end of the 1970s when a group of students questioned Ray Bradbury about the differences between the two versions. Following this incident, Bradbury included a statement in reprint editions about how the physical burning of books is not the only way to destroy its contents.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

So Many Banned Books, So Little Time

In honor of Banned Books Week, please enjoy this book review by Paula. You also can read her other review of The Witches.

Banned Books Week, I always take the time to look over the list of books that have been challenged or banned.  I should probably do it more often but I definitely take the time at least once a year.  Luckily the American Library Association (ALA) helps remind us of the importance of being able to freely choose the books you want to read.  As they say on their webpage, About Banned & Challenged Books, the ALA"promotes the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one's opinions even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular, and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those viewpoints to all who wish to read them."

I suppose by now I should not continued to be amazed at people's desire to restrict other's access to something because they themselves don't approve of it.  If you don't approve of a topic of a book - don't read it.  If you don't want your kids to encounter certain ideas - good luck with that because, unless you keep them locked away at home, they are going to meet people with different view points and encounter different perspectives.

The list of challenged and banned books over the years shares a large number of titles with lists of classics and best books.  Some of the recent most frequently banned books are kids books that might not stand the test of time as classics <cough> Captain Underpants </cough> but you never know.  So to celebrate Banned Books Week, I'm going to indulge in some formerly controversial literature and try out D.H. Lawrence' Sons and Lovers or Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

All that is Gold does not Glitter: The Banning of Frodo Baggins

In honor of Banned Books Week, please enjoy this student book review by one of Grafton's Team Leaders, Ash. 

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings is the first installment of what is arguably the greatest literary saga of the 21st century. Sometimes overshadowed by the 2001 Peter Jackson film adaptation, The Fellowship of the Rings  is a rich, complex, and chilling beginning to the adventures of innocent Frodo Baggins. Tolkien’s exploration of the nature of mankind, our penchant for corruption and violence, as well as the ability to choose hope over sorrow is weaved together with the magical world of high elves and angry dwarves.

Unfortunately, Tolkien received backlash after the book's release in 1954 when many Christian groups considered the contents of The Fellowship irreligious, promoting pagan ideology, witchcraft, and satanism. Considering Tolkien was a devout Catholic who’s closest friend was C.S. Lewis it seems strange that his work would be criticized when much of the story revolves around the struggle of good over evil, a theme reflected in Christian teachings (Banned Books Awareness). Regardless, The Fellowship of the Rings and the other books of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy were essential in creating a foundation for modern day fantasy and will continue to sit on library shelves for decades to come. As Gandalf once said to Frodo: The old that is strong does not wither.

"Banned Books Awareness:." Banned Books Awareness. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Sept. 2015.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta.

In honor of Banned Books Week, please enjoy this book review by Anaya. You can read her other reviews of The Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy and In the Night Kitchen.

Few novels have earned the public's moral outrage as quickly or as thoroughly as Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. Published first in France, early reviews of the novel alternatively called it "the filthiest book I have ever read" (295) and one of the best books of 1955. British and French customs officials began seizing all copies of Lolita (Boyd, 1991). This interesting and mixed critical and legal reception ensured that good or bad, everyone was talking about Lolita. When the novel was finally published in America in 1958, it sold over 100,000 copies within three weeks ( Lolita's tumultuous publication is a prime example of an oft-proven truth: The quickest way to make something popular is to ban it.

Many people criticize Nabokov for Lolita's sexual elements. So much so that Lolita continues to be challenged- it is number 11 on ALA's list of Banned and Challenged classics. Plenty of critics argue that the pedophilia in Lolita is beside the point. They argue that Nabokov's best known work is really about art and language- but I disagree. To me, what is powerful about Lolita is this tenuous place where art and language and the uncomfortable subject matter meet. Together, Nabokov's enviable talent and his chosen subject force you as the reader to confront your own feelings and prejudices, to reflect on how much you sympathize with the terrible Humbert or fail to see the real girl hidden within Humbert's fantasy.

Nabokov once dismissed his critics, saying "That my novel does contain various allusions to the physiological urges of a pervert is quite true. But after all we are not children, not illiterate juvenile delinquents..." ( The meaning, the power, in literature is in the reading. How we experience and interact with the text. It isn't just or fair to remove a book from shelves based only on a moral judgement of it's synopsis or subject. It's better, I think, to trust our readers and our patrons to make choices about what they want to read, what they are ready to read, for themselves.

Boyd, B. (1991). Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Harry Potter: Boy wizard, defeater of death, and banned in several states

In honor of Banned Books Week, please enjoy this student book review by one of Grafton's Team Leaders,  Emma. You can read Emma's other reviews; To Kill a Mockingbird, and Murder on the Orient Express.

Who doesn't love the Harry Potter Series? It is ultimately a story of good triumphing over evil, the power of love, and the importance of friendship. However, many people across the United States and outside the U.S. take issue with the series. According to Banned Books Awareness (, the Harry Potter series is the most banned book of the 21st century, and the first four books are at #7 for the most banned books of 1990-2000.

The series is challenged in schools by parents and religious groups for containing witchcraft (though some schools have refused to remove it from their shelves) and outright banned in some because the series "makes witchcraft and wizardry alluring to children." In New Mexico in 2002 The Sorcerer's Stone was burned as "as masterpiece of satanic deception" and for encouraging "lying, cheating, stealing, and witchcraft." The books were banned completely in Queensland, Australia.

I understand why some people could potentially see them as "bad" books. They do feature magic and wizardry, something that has always been a touchy subject. But, I believe, what people are overlooking is the series' ultimate message of love and empathy. Voldemort, evil, is defeated because he cannot love. Harry, good, wins because he can. Isn't that a message one would want children to learn? Shouldn't the Harry Potter series, rather than being banned for the magical element within it, be read as a series that can teach the importance of friendship, love, and family?