Underground Books: American War by Omar El Akkad

Underground Books is a monthly book club that meets at 6:00 pm on the second Monday of the month at Main. We’re readers of books that are not typical book club fare – the subversive, the under-the radar, and the controversial. Every month, I’ll give a preview of what we’re reading, questions the book raises and start a discussion online for those who can’t make in person. Welcome to The Underground!

Hello readers! This month’s book is the 2017 novel American War by Omar El Akkad. Set roughly 60 years in the future in an America ravaged by climate change and a second civil war, it’s a story about the destruction of a nation, a family and a person by war. A cautionary tale that raises serious issues about our current national and global state of affairs, and what the future may hold. A heavy subject, yes, but worth the journey.

Opening in 2075,  the earth has warmed, the oceans have enveloped the coasts and submerged what little is left after increasingly severe storms batter the land. In response to multiple environmental disasters across the continent, the federal government – now based in Columbus, Ohio – bans the use of fossil fuels. The southern states defy the ban, and after a series of terrorist attacks culminating in the assassination of the president, the U.S. is again plunged into civil war.  This is a war of modern times –  out-of-control drones, homicide bombers, guerilla warfare, detainment camps and biological weapons deployed against an entire state.

The novel follows the Chestnut family of flood-prone Louisiana, displaced from their home by the Battles of East Texas to an overcrowded refugee camp on the border of Tennessee. Here Sarat Chestnut comes of age among the mundane cruelties of war.  She and her family – her older brother Simon, twin sister Dana, and mother Martina – try to make a life for themselves while waiting for the end of the war.  Sarat, already considered an outsider because of her tall and awkward build, grows rebellious and is befriended by a mysterious older man who once fought overseas for the North, or, at least, the North when the country was whole. He feeds her a steady diet of Southern mythos, sending her on a path to become an instrument of revenge.  As the narrator says in the prologue, “This isn’t a story about war. It’s about ruin.”

Assorted musings:

  • When I chose this book, I based it on, of course, the numerous good reviews it had received, and I was intrigued by concept. Given the current political climate, the possibility of another civil war in the U.S. has been raised more than once. What surprised me, however, was that the crux of the war was fossil fuels. I can understand the idea of Southern states objecting to the exercise of broad federal power, and a desire to protect mining and off-shore drilling, but what I noticed most was the absence of any mention of race or ethnicity. At the start of the novel, Sarat is described as having “fuzzy” hair, and that her father had immigrated from Mexico, but that’s the only mention of race in the entire novel. I suppose the argument could be made that by 2075, race is no longer an issue, but if we’re still arguing about red vs. blue and states’ rights vs. federal authority, I have a hard time suspending that disbelief.
  • The author is an award-winning journalist born in Egypt, raised in Qatar, now living in Oregon, and he reported extensively on Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and the Arab Spring. El Akkad’s journalistic expertise is apparent in this novel, as major aspects of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are transported to America. In many cases, it’s a note-for-note transcription. I wonder if that works for everyone? While the purpose of the novel is, arguably, to create empathy for the very real wars happening now and to also serve as a cautionary tale, could the novel have taken more liberties? I don’t mean that it should have been a Hunger Games-esque battle royale, but something more adapted to the setting.

Quotes I would have underlined if it wasn’t a library book:

“How long ago was this?” she asked.
“Must have been around ’21 or ’22,” said Gaines.  “Around the time they sent us over there for the third time, right around the Fifth Spring.”
Joe leaned close to Sarat; he looked at the photograph again. “That’s right,” he said. “I remember, I remember when it was still your guns and our blood.” (p. 139)

She remembered something Albert Gaines once told her all those years ago in Patience. He said when a Southerner tells you what they’re fighting for, you can agree or disagree, but you can’t ever call it a lie. Right or wrong, he said, a man from our country always says exactly what he means , and stands by what he says.
Even that, it turned out, was a lie. (p. 278)

You fight the war with guns, you fight the peace with stories. (p. 280)

What do you think? Let me know in the comments! And join us on April 9th at 6:00 at Main to discuss in real life! Next month, we’ll be reading Difficult Women by Roxane Gay – copies available at Main, or pick one up wherever convenient!

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

We all remember the “March of Progress” poster from grade school science class, used to illustrate the  straight-line evolution of Homo sapiens from our ancient ancestors. From Australopithecus  to Homo habilius and then to the assumed apex of human evolution – us. But what if evolution wasn’t a straight line? What if suddenly, somehow, it doubled-back on itself, returning our species to our most ancient origins?

It is in this speculative world that Louise Erdrich’s latest novel Future Home of the Living God is set. Taking place in an unspecified time in the near future, the novel is presented as the journal of 26 year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, written to her unborn child. Cedar, the adopted daughter of liberal Minnesota parents, finding herself pregnant, is compelled to seek out her Ojibwe birth parents, ostensibly to discover any genetic problems that might affect her baby, and in a larger sense, to find her own identity. This familiar journey of personal discovery is set against a tumultuous time in which the future of the earth is gravely in doubt as evolution appears to be running backward. Plants and animals are born “wrong,” throwbacks to their genetic ancestors. Human babies and their mothers are dying at an alarming rate, and those infants that do survive are abnormal, with characteristics more similar to our genetic ancestors. The planet is heating up, with harsh Minnesota winters a fond, distant memory, and political chaos is rampant. Soon, pregnant women are encouraged, then forced, into “unborn protective centers” – prisons, really – and a “womb draft” is instated. As Cedar’s pregnancy progresses, she confesses to her baby that she isn’t sure if he (and she is sure it is a he) will have the ability to read the journal that she is writing, if he survives at all. Cedar soon becomes a fugitive, then a prisoner, then fugitive again, seeking sanctuary with her birth family with the help of her adoptive parents.

If this all sounds strikingly familiar to The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, you would be correct. In her author’s notes, Erdrich writes that she began the novel in 2002, then set it aside,  picking it up again after the most recent election. Future Home of the Living God is Erdrich’s first speculative fiction book, but still closely shares the Native American culture she has explored in her past works. The premise of backwards evolution and how it might bring the end of civilization is compelling – it’s what interested me in the book in the first place – and it reads like a thriller (I read it all in one sitting). But at a slim 267 pages, it reads almost too fast, with not nearly enough time spent exploring the circumstances of the world it is set in, the stories of Cedar’s families, or her baby’s father. Since the story is told in the form of a journal, which does lend an intimacy to the narrative, many things go unsaid, or dropped entirely. Even the mystery of Cedar’s birth and adoption – the revelation of which is emotionally catastrophic for her – is quickly dropped to move onto the next crisis. At a few points, I thought that the plot was going in one direction, and then, disappointingly, found it dropped. Perhaps my expectations were overly influenced by my usual science fiction preferences. Some the misdirections reminded me of the short story “Before” by Carolyn Dunn (contained in the excellent collection After edited by Ellen Datlow) an end-of-the-world tale of a plague that leaves only those with Native American ancestors alive. But, that is not the case here.

Which isn’t to say the novel isn’t an exciting and interesting read. There are thoughtful explorations of faith (Cedar is a recent convert to Catholicism), the origin and evolution of our species, how and why we became human, and the consequences of ignoring and abusing our environment and each other, all alongside Cedar’s journey into motherhood and her birth family. The ending might come abruptly, but it is well worth the journey.

Recorded Books OneClickdigital & Zinio are now RBdigital!

Do you use Recorded Books OneClickdigital to download audiobooks or Zinio for Libraries to download magazines? We’ve got great news for you, even if you don’t! OneClickdigital and Zinio are merging into one platform – RBdigital!

What does this mean for you? Now, you’ll be able to find, download, and read or listen to audiobooks and magazines in the same app! The Library will update our links to the new website, which will also have a new look, simplified searching, and a more responsive audio player.

Question: When will this happen?

Answer: Beginning in mid August the app will be available.

Q: Will I be notified? 

A: Yes! If you use OneClickdigital, you will receive an email and if you use their app, you will be notified that an update is available. If you use the Zinio app, you will also be notified that a new app is available.

Q: What if I don’t update the app right away?

A: Both apps will continue to work for a time after the new app is released.

Q: What is the new app?

A: The new app will be called RBdigital and will be available in the Apple Appstore, Google Play and the Amazon App Store. Here’s what the icon will look like (depending on when you install it):

 

 

With the new app, you’ll be able to check out, read magazines, and listen to audiobooks, all in the same app.

Q: I already have titles checked out. Will I need to check them out again?

A: No, all the titles and holds you currently have will be imported into the new app.

Q: I don’t use the app, how will this effect me?

A:  If you only use OneClickdigital and/or Zinio on a computer or laptop, you will be directed to the new website, which will have a new look. Just use the links on the library’s eBooks and More page.

Note: if you use the OneClickdigital Media Manager to download and transfer audiobooks to a portable device, you may be prompted to update the program. Please go ahead and do so.

Q: Do I need to create a new account?

A: Nope! If you already have a OneClick digital and/or a Zinio account, you won’t need to make any changes your account.

Q: I’ve never heard of these services! How do I get started?

A: New users must create an account on the RBdigital website (not in the app). To get there, click here to access the Library’s eBooks and More page.  Once you’re signed up, you can start checking out right away from your computer, or download the app, sign in, and start downloading!

Q: I have more questions!

A: As always, you can contact us at (563) 326-7832, email us here or text DPLKNOWS to 66746. You can find user guides on our eBooks and More LibGuide and you can contact RBdigital directly at 1-877-772-8346 or yoursupport@recordedbooks.com.

New Magazines!

New magazines are coming soon to DPL!

Get your FREE copy of BookPage at any of our locations. BookPage is a monthly magazine with reviews, author interviews, book club picks, audio reviews, and the “Hold List” – the editors pick the best books, old and new. Even the ads are helpful in getting the jump on upcoming books.

Highlights Hello is a new magazine for babies! Rounded corners, and washable, tear-resistant pages make this ideal for our youngest patrons.  It will be available at Main, Fairmount and Eastern branches.

J-14 is the “#1 Teen Celeb” magazine. For pre-teen and teenagers and available at Main, Fairmount and Eastern.

Magnolia Journal is Chip and Joanna Gaines new lifestyle magazine. Get insider info about the Gaines’s and their HGTV show.   It is currently at the Main Library and is coming soon to Fairmount and Eastern.

Other new magazines include: Iowa Sportsman, Bottom Line Personal and In Touch at the Main Library. Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Kiplinger’s Retirement Report, Bottom Line Personal at the Eastern Branch, and Elle, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Bottom Line Personal and Kiplinger’s Retirement Report at Fairmount.

Trees Vol. 1 by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard

2014-05-28-treesTen years ago, they arrived. Silently they landed – enormous, tall cylinders settling all over the Earth. No communication, no signs of life. Just standing there, like trees, unaware of humanity, it seemed. Or, perhaps they simply didn’t care.

Their appearance causes global chaos. The Trees landed in oceans, on top of glaciers and the middle of crowded urban centers.  Governments collapsed and then slowly recovered. With no communication or interaction after ten years, the Trees have become almost normal, and humanity has adapted to their existence.

In China, a special cultural zone has been established around a Tree, called Shu, where none of the usual cultural and economic restrictions are enforced. Tian Chenglei, a young artist from the country to study art. He joins an artists commune and shyly makes friends with a transgender woman, eventually falling in love with her. But the freedoms the Tree’s arrival brought cannot last forever.

In the northern-most reaches of Norway’s Spitsbergen island, a scientific team assigned to study the Tree there struggles to maintain order and their sanity. One determined scientist discovers black poppies growing in the shadows around the Tree, areas where nothing should grow. He eventually discovers that the flowers are composed of metal filaments arranged in a mirror image of the Tree’s external symbols, and that they transmit faint RF signals. He reasons that the flowers are a method of communication and once there is enough of them, the Tree will “speak.”

In Somalia, a technocratic dictator deals with the economic and political impact of one of the smallest Trees landing in the autonomous state of Puntland within Somalia. The Tree’s arrivals resulted in a vast influx of wealth and economic growth into Puntland, while the rest of the country only grew poorer. Convinced that the Tree does not care about the land and people around it, Rahim is determined to take control of the Tree and Puntland, by any means necessary.

The Trees changed the world when they arrived. The uncertainly of their intent and the implication of another intelligent species irreparably changed civilization – it was, in fact, the end of the world as we knew it. The story is less about the Trees (although the forthcoming volumes promise more) than how humanity reacts to them.  Ellis (Transmetropolitan, Planetary) has a lot of ground to cover initially, but by end of the first volume, the action and dread intensifies to a cliffhanger of an ending. Trees is a great choice for sci-fi fans and for those who wonder what might happen when we learn we’re not alone in the universe.

Lone by Stuart Moore, Russ Manning, Jerome Opeña and Alberto Panticelli

1182212Years after a massive nuclear & biological war laid waste to the Western U.S., radioactive zombies, mutants and murders roam the Western Wasteland. Luke, a gifted sharpshooter and her brother Mark barely escape with their lives after zombies overtake their town of Desolation. Once their family reaches safety, Luke sets out on her own to track the zombies – while they are somewhat intelligent, they are nowhere near smart enough to take over a town. Luke follows the zombies to the caves where she discovers … something leading the zombies. Luke has never seen anything like their leader, she only knows that it bleeds yellow.

Once Luke returns and reports what she saw (and barely escaped from) her mother sends her and her brother on a journey thought the Western Wasteland to find a man named Lone. Only he, their mother says, can save them.

Travelling across the dangerous wastes, Luke and Mark find an old farmer, who, once he learns of the “zombie boss” that bleeds yellow, agrees to help them find Lone. But while finding Lone is one thing, it is quite another to convince him to help.

Lone had been in the war and he had been changed, experimented on, and became something more powerful than a man. His fellow soldiers in this private army were the same, and elite force to protect mysterious masters. Gunfathers, they were called, and they were not like anything Lone had seen before. And they bled yellow.

Lone had long thought the Gunfathers had all been killed in the apocalypse that followed. Lone agrees to help Luke and Mark stop these Gunfathers and the monsters that follow them. And ultimately, finally discover who the Gunfathers are and why they destroyed the world. Or, at least, kill them all.

Moore’s (Wolverine Noir, Firestorm) Lone reads like a classic Western, with a science fiction twist. Fans of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series and Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead series will enjoy this tale.

 

New Philosophy, Psychology & Self-Help in October

Featured new additions to DPL’s Philosophy, Psychology & Self-Help collections! Click on the title to place a hold. For more new books, visit our Upcoming Releases page. As always, if there’s a title you would like to read, please send us a purchase suggestion.

y648Jump: Take the Leap of Faith to Achieve Your Life of Abundance by Steve Harvey – On January 13, 2016, at the close of a taping of Family Feud, Steve Harvey spontaneously began to speak. Not knowing that the cameras were still rolling, he offered his studio audience insights into his own happiness and success. His staff, also moved by Steve’s passionate words, shared the riveting six-minute video on social media. In this very personal and illuminating guide, Harvey  elaborates on those spontaneous remarks. His message is simple: You need to jump like your life depends on it – because it does – if you truly want a life of peace and abundance.

 

51-0ynurwdlOn Living by Kerry Egan – As a hospice chaplain, Kerry Egan didn’t offer sermons or prayers, unless they were requested; in fact, she found, the dying rarely want to talk about God, at least not overtly. Instead, she discovered she’d been granted an invaluable chance to witness firsthand what she calls the “spiritual work of dying”–the work of finding or making meaning of one’s life, the experiences it’s contained and the people who have touched it, the betrayals, wounds, unfinished business, and unrealized dreams. Most of all, though, she listened as her patients talked about love–love for their children and partners and friends; love they didn’t know how to offer; love they gave unconditionally; love they, sometimes belatedly, learned to grant themselves.  Each of her patients taught her something – how to find courage in the face of fear or the strength to make amends; how to be profoundly compassionate and fiercely empathetic; how to see the world in grays instead of black and white. In this poignant, moving, and beautiful book, she passes along all their precious and necessary gifts.

51xu-tbfaql__sx329_bo1204203200_American Philosophy: A Love Story by John Kaag – In American Philosophy , John Kaag – a disillusioned philosopher at sea in his marriage and career – stumbles upon a treasure trove of rare books on an old estate in the hinterlands of New Hampshire that once belonged to the Harvard philosopher William Ernest Hocking. The library includes notes from Whitman, inscriptions from Frost, and first editions of Hobbes, Descartes, and Kant. As he begins to catalog and preserve these priceless books, Kaag rediscovers the very tenets of American philosophy – self-reliance, pragmatism, the transcendent – and sees them in a twenty-first-century context. American Philosophy is an invigorating investigation of American pragmatism and the wisdom that underlies a meaningful life.

614dfzpgwllGhostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey – Colin Dickey is on the trail of America’s ghosts. Crammed into old houses and hotels, abandoned prisons and empty hospitals, the spirits that linger continue to capture our collective imagination, but why? His own fascination piqued by a house hunt in Los Angeles that revealed derelict foreclosures and “zombie homes,” Dickey embarks on a journey across the continental United States to decode and unpack the American history repressed in our most famous haunted places. With boundless curiosity, Dickey conjures the dead by focusing on questions of the living – how do we, the living, deal with stories about ghosts, and how do we inhabit and move through spaces that have been deemed, for whatever reason, haunted?

voices-within-the-history-and-science-of-how-we-tal-1497582-5e148f4d561644358a67The Voices Within: The History and Science of How We Talk to Ourselves by Charles Fernyhough – At the moment you caught sight of this book, what were you thinking? Was your thought a stream of sensations? Or was it a voice in your head? Did you ask yourself, “I wonder what that’s about?” Did you answer? And what does it mean if you did? When someone says they hear voices in their head, they are often thought to be mentally ill. But, as Charles Fernyhough argues in The Voices Within , such voices are better understood as one of the chief hallmarks of human thought. Whether the voices in our heads are meandering lazily or clashing chaotically, they deserve to be heard. Bustling with insights from literature, film, art, and psychology, The Voices Within offers more than science; it powerfully entreats us all to take

how-the-secret-changed-my-life-9781501138263_hrHow the Secret Changed My Life: Real People, Real Stories by Rhonda Byrne – Since the very first publication of The Secret a decade ago, Rhonda Byrne’s bestselling book has brought forth an explosion of real people sharing real stories of how their real lives have miraculously changed for the better. How The Secret Changed My Life presents a selection of the most heartwarming and moving stories in one inspirational volume. Each story provides an authentic, real-life illustration of the pathway that leads to success in every area of life: money, health, relationships, love, family, and career.

New Religion & Spirituality in October

Featured new additions to DPL’s Religion & Spirituality collections! Click on the title to place a hold. For more new books, visit our Upcoming Releases page. As always, if there’s a title you would like to read, please send us a purchase suggestion.

51w5mgcl1slA Second Wind: Time to Own Your Future by T.D. Jakes – While focusing on his core mission to preach the gospel worldwide, T.D. Jakes has seen many good people not spend enough quality time with family, friends, and God. They have gotten so swept up in the daily grind that they have failed to live the rich life that God desires for each of His people.  In his new book, Jakes provides readers with strategies that will help them rejuvenate their life and turn their “busyness” into a “business.”

 

 

41h3k7jitxl__sy344_bo1204203200_The Broken Way: A Daring Path Into the Abundant Life by Ann Voskamp New York Times best-selling author Ann Voskamp sits at the edge of her life and all of her own unspoken brokenness and asks: What if you really want to live abundantly before it’s too late? What do you do if you really want to know abundant wholeness? This is the one begging question that’s behind every single aspect of our lives – and one that The Broken Way rises up to explore in the most unexpected ways.

 

 

51n4vwbnnl__sy344_bo1204203200_What Pope Francis Really Said: Words of Comfort and Challenge by Tom Hoopes – His likeable, spontaneous, unguarded manner has drawn both estranged Catholics and even non-Catholics to take a closer look at the Catholic Church. He has also puzzled and even outraged the faithful who listened uncritically to the media’s interpretation of Pope Francis’s off-the-cuff commentary on hot-button issues such as abortion, marriage, divorce, the environment, immigration, and a host of other issues.  Nationally respected Catholic journalist Tom Hoopes explores how Pope Francis is bringing the Catholic Church to bear on a dramatically changing world, not by altering its teachings but by applying enduring truths to new realities in fresh ways.

 

51psqpts6wlThe Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron –  Ignorance is bliss–except in self-awareness. What you don’t know about yourself can hurt you and your relationships–and maybe even how you make your way in the world. In The Road Back to You Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile forge a unique approach – a practical, comprehensive way of accessing Enneagram wisdom and exploring its connections with Christian spirituality for a deeper knowledge of God and of ourselves. Witty and filled with stories, this book allows you to understand more about each of the Enneagram types, keeping you turning the pages long after you have read the chapter about yourself. Beginning with changes you can start making today, the wisdom of the Enneagram can help you get on the road that will take you further along into who you really are–leading you into places of spiritual discovery you would never have found on your own, and paving the way to the wiser, more compassionate person you want to become.

k10820Village Atheists: How America’s Unbelievers Made Their Way in a Godly Nation by Eric Leigh Schmidt – A much-maligned minority throughout American history, atheists have been cast as a threat to the nation’s moral fabric, barred from holding public office, and branded as irreligious misfits in a nation chosen by God. Yet, village atheists–as these godless freethinkers came to be known by the close of the nineteenth century–were also hailed for their gutsy dissent from stultifying pieties and for posing a necessary secularist challenge to majoritarian entanglements of church and state. Village Atheists explores the complex cultural terrain that unbelievers have long had to navigate in their fight to secure equal rights and liberties in American public life

9780802414502Keeping Love Alive As Memories Fade: The 5 Love Languages and the Alzheimer’s Journey by Gary D. Chapman – Across America and around the world, the five love languages have revitalized relationships and saved marriages from the brink of disaster. Can they also help individuals, couples, and families cope with the devastating diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease? Coauthors Chapman, Shaw, and Barr give a resounding yes. Their innovative application of the five love languages creates an entirely new way to touch the lives of the five million Americans who have Alzheimer’s, as well as their fifteen million caregivers. At its heart, this book is about how love gently lifts a corner of dementia’s dark curtain to cultivate an emotional connection amid memory loss.

Haunt by Robert Kirkman, Todd McFarlane and Ryan Ottley

Hauntvol1-covWorld-weary priest Daniel Kilgore has fallen. Arriving at his church after his usual visit with a prostitute, he is asked to take the confession of his brother Kurt, who works as an agent for a secret intelligence outfit. Daniel listens, grudgingly, more out of duty than love or divine inspiration.

Soon after, Kurt is killed during a covert operation in Bolivia and Daniel finds himself quite literally haunted by his brother. Kurt begs him to look after his wife, who he believes in is danger from the same people that killed him. However, Daniel is reluctant – hostile, really – to do so. He’s not sure of his own sanity, and worse, he was once in love with Amanda until his brother stole him away. He eventually agrees, if only to keep his brother’s spirit quiet.

That night in Amanda’s apartment, just as Kurt had suspected, two hit men appear to kill her and Daniel is quickly overcome (priests don’t get much combat training). In desperation, Kurt’s spirit attempts to enter his brother’s body. As they merge Kurt and Daniel transform into, well, something powerful enough to defeat the assassins and resilient enough to withstand a hail of bullets.

Physically drained and horrified at his brutal actions, Daniel returns to his church, only to find another hitman, Cobra, waiting. Cobra slaughtered the parish priest and Daniel narrowly escapes. Kurt insists that Daniel seek out the organization Kurt once worked for. Upon his arrival, he is drugged and imprisoned, along with some of the people Kurt had rescued in Bolivia, where they had been undergoing some kind of horrific experimentation by a Doctor Schiller. A female prisoner, traumatized and quite possibly insane, tells Daniel that he is Haunt – a spirit caught in the physical realm, bound by blood and unable to move on.

But none of this helps Daniel who now finds himself at the center of a deep conspiracy within Kurt’s old agency. All sides are searching for what is left of Dr. Shiller’s research, none trust Daniel and further blood and betrayal await Daniel and Kurt. And what – or who – is Haunt?

Kirkman (Walking Dead) writes action and violence adeptly – this not a comic for the faint of heart. There are reminders here of other characters like Spawn and Venom. McFarlane drew the 2009-10 series of Spawn and two Spider-Man series in the early ’90s, and those characters’ influence is strong here. If you enjoyed Kirkman & McFarlane’s previous work, and if you’re in the mood for some grimdark action, you should definitely pick up Haunt.

Banned Books Week: Banned & Challenged Classics

Each year, the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom records hundreds of attempts by individuals and groups to have books removed from libraries shelves and from classrooms. According to the Office for Intellectual Freedom, at least 46 of the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century have been the target of ban attempts. Despite being widely accepted as classic literature, these titles are often banned or challenged for the same reasons as contemporary books.

The titles below represent banned or challenged books on that list, and some of the latest reasons why.

rye_catcherThe Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

* Challenged, but retained  on the shelves of Limestone County, AL school district (2000) despite objections about the  book’s foul language.

* Banned, but later reinstated after community protests at the Windsor  Forest High School in Savannah, GA (2000). The controversy began in early 1999 when a  parent complained about sex, violence, and profanity in the book that was part of an  Advanced Placement English class.

* Removed by a Dorchester District 2 school board member in  Summerville, SC (2001) because it “is a filthy, filthy book.”

* Challenged by a Glynn County,  GA (2001) school board member because of profanity. The novel was retained.

* Challenged in  the Big Sky High School in Missoula, MT (2009).


johnsteinbeck_thegrapesofwrathThe Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

*Challenged at the Cummings High School in Burlington, NC (1986) as an optional reading assignment  because the “book is full of filth. My son is being raised in a Christian home and this book takes the Lord’s name in vain and has all kinds of profanity in it.” Although the  parent spoke to the press, a formal complaint with the school demanding the book’s removal  was not filed.

*Challenged at the Moore County school system in Carthage, NC (1986) because  the book contains the phase “God damn.”

*Challenged in the Greenville, SC schools (1991)  because the book uses the name of God and Jesus in a “vain and profane manner along with  inappropriate sexual references.”

*Challenged in the Union City, TN High School  classes (1993).


to_kill_a_mockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

*Challenged by a Glynn County, GA (2001) School Board member because of profanity. The novel was retained. Returned to the freshman reading list at Muskogee, OK High School (2001) despite complaints over the years from black students and parents about racial slurs in the text.

*Challenged in the Normal, IL Community High School’s sophomore literature class (2003) as being degrading to African Americans.

*Challenged at the Stanford Middle School in Durham, NC (2004) because the 1961 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel uses the word “n*****.”

*Challenged at the Brentwood, TN Middle School (2006) because the book contains “profanity” and “contains adult themes such as sexual intercourse, rape, and incest.”  The complainants also contend that the book’s use of racial slurs promotes “racial hatred, racial division, racial separation, and promotes white supremacy.”

*Retained in the English curriculum by the Cherry Hill, NJ Board of Education (2007).  A resident had objected to the novel’s depiction of how blacks are treated by members of a racist white community in an Alabama town during the Depression.  The resident feared the book would upset black children reading it.
*Removed (2009) from the St. Edmund Campion Secondary School classrooms in Brampton Ontario, Canada because a parent objected to language used in the novel, including the word “n*****.”


colorpurpleThe Color Purple, by Alice Walker

*Removed from the Jackson County, WV school libraries (1997) along with sixteen other titles. Challenged, but retained as part of a supplemental reading list at the Shawnee School in Lima, OH (1999). Several parents described its content as vulgar and “X-rated.”

*Removed from the Ferguson High School library in Newport News, VA (1999). Students may request and borrow the book with parental approval.

*Challenged, along with seventeen other titles in the Fairfax County, VA elementary and secondary libraries (2002), by a group called Parents Against Bad Books in Schools. The group contends the books “contain profanity and descriptions of drug abuse, sexually explicit conduct, and torture.”

*Challenged in Burke County (2008) schools in Morganton, NC by parents concerned about the homosexuality, rape, and incest portrayed in the book.

 


ulysses_james_joyce_ Ulysses, by James Joyce

*Burned in the U.S. (1918), Ireland (1922), Canada (1922), England (1923) and banned in England (1929).

 

 

 

 


belovedBeloved, by Toni Morrison

*Challenged in the Sarasota County, FL schools (1998) because of sexual material.  Retained on the Northwest Suburban High School District 214 reading listing in Arlington Heights, IL (2006), along with eight other challenged titles.  A board member, elected amid promises to bring her Christian beliefs into all board decision-making, raised the controversy based on excerpts from the books she’d found on the Internet.

*Challenged in the Coeur d’Alene School District, ID (2007).  Some parents say the book, along with five others, should require parental permission for students to read them.

*Pulled from the senior Advanced Placement (AP) English class at Eastern High School in Louisville, KY (2007) because two parents complained that the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about antebellum slavery depicted the inappropriate topics of bestiality, racism, and sex.  The principal ordered teachers to start over with The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne in preparation for upcoming AP exams.


lordofthefliesbookcoverThe Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

*Challenged in the Waterloo, IA schools (1992) because of profanity, lurid passages about sex, and statements defamatory to minorities, God, women and the disabled.

*Challenged, but retained on the ninth-grade accelerated English reading list in Bloomfield, NY (2000).
 

 

 


1984-book-cover1984, by George Orwell

*Challenged in the Jackson County, FL (1981) because Orwell’s novel is “pro-communist and contained explicit sexual matter.”

 

 

 

 


e5ee0bb0efc66de49e34fdd8c1bef35fLolita, by Vladmir Nabokov

*Challenged at the Marion-Levy Public Library System in Ocala, FL (2006).  The Marion County commissioners voted to have the county attorney review the novel that addresses the themes of pedophilia and incest, to determine if it meets the state law’s definition of “unsuitable for minors.”

 

 

 


ofmiceandmenOf Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

*Banned from the George County, MS schools (2002) because of profanity. Challenged in the Normal, IL Community High Schools (2003) because the books contains “racial slurs, profanity, violence, and does not represent traditional values.” An alternative book, Steinbeck’s The Pearl, was offered but rejected by the family challenging the novel.  The committee then recommended The House on Mango Street and The Way to Rainy Mountain as alternatives.

*Retained in the Greencastle-Antrim, PA (2006) tenth-grade English classes.  A complaint was filed because of “racial slurs” and profanity used throughout the novel.  The book has been used in the high school for more than thirty years, and those who object to its content have the option of reading an alternative reading.

*Challenged at the Newton, IA High School (2007) because of concerns about profanity and the portrayal of Jesus Christ.  Newton High School has required students to read the book since at least the early 1980s.  In neighboring Des Moines, it is on the recommended reading list for ninth-grade English, and it is used for some special education students in the eleventh and twelfth grades.

*Retained in the Olathe, KS ninth grade curriculum (2007) despite a parent calling the novel a “worthless, profanity-riddled book” which is “derogatory towards African Americans, women, and the developmentally disabled.”

Source: American Library Association, Office of Intellectual Freedom