Banned Book Reviews: ALA #81: Black Boy, by Richard Wright

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Title: Black Boy

Author: Richard Wright

Reasons for Banning: Sex, Violence, Swearing, Race Relations, and Communism

Hello nobody in particular! I’m actually posting somewhat regularly now! Kind of. I’ll make a deal with you – I’ll post at least once a week, provided that I have something worth posting. If I haven’t finished a book on the list, I’ll do a vlog or post a quote about censorship or something. That said, if you have anything relevant to this blog that you want me to talk about, post a comment; it will help me not have to do blind research. That said, how about I actually get to the review? This is my review of Black Boy.

I don’t really like reviewing biographies. I want to talk about certain things, but I’m afraid to because I know that it actually happened. All I can really talk about is the style of writing. So, I guess I have to talk about the style of writing. What did I think of it? It was…meh. Which isn’t to say it was boring. The author knows his way around a sentence, and he is very eloquent. The problem is that the author is that his writing is very flowery and descriptive, and he’s constantly walking a fine line between interesting insight and the kind of rambling that you see in Victorian authors like Charles Dickens or Victor Hugo (I can’t stand Victor Hugo’s writing, by the way). And honestly, I think that it’s a tad too reflective. I mean the guy goes on for two pages at one point just musing on a single idea (all in parentheses, I might add). When I read an autobiography, I don’t want a guy’s musings on the philosophy of racism, I want his story. I just feel like this book could have used some better editing.

So, yeah that’s my thoughts on the topic. I give it 3 stars and 3 hearts. Until next time, read more books!

Banned Book Reviews: ALA #84: So Far from the Bamboo Grove, by Yoko Kawashima Watkins

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Title: So Far from the Bamboo Grove

Author: Yoko Kawashima Watkins

Reason for Banning: Violence, Sexually Explicit, Nudity

Hello, nobody in particular! I actually managed to get a review out in a reasonable amount of time! Yay! On an unrelated note, I want to ask something of the people reading this blog. I’ve noticed that in the time I’ve been doing this, I’ve never gotten a single comment on my blog. I know people are reading it, but I’m disappointed that nobody has commented. It’s a minor thing, but I do want to open up a discussion on these books. It’s a big part of why I’m doing this blog – to get people thinking and talking about books that a lot of people don’t get the opportunity to even read. So, if you’ve read any of the books I’m reviewing, or even if you haven’t, please post a comment, just so I know that you’re actually giving some thought to this. I’ve made it a bit easier to comment on my blog, so, once you’re done reading the review (and preferably the book), just say something in the comments.

Having said that, I should probably actually give you a review to comment on. The book is an autobiography of a Japanese girl having to escape Japan controlled Korea in the aftermath of WWII. It shows her escaping Korea and evading Korean soldiers, only to find a life of poverty in Japan. And yeah, that’s the synopsis.

What do I think of it? Well, it’s a good read. It’s exiting, it draws you into the story, and it is rather, well, dark, for lack of a better word. It shows a lot of really horrible shit going on, which is probably why it’s on the list. It’s the end of a war being told from the perspective of an innocent on the losing side, which means that there’s going to be a lot of hardship. It’s something of an enlightening story. Having said that, it does have it’s problems. My biggest problem is that the kid in this is really whiny. I know this is an autobiography, and I mean no disrespect to the person, but it really does take you out of it when the person that the book is following is constantly whining, both in dialogue and narration. Well, I guess there’s not much I can do about it.

Overall, I do recommend it, but it’s not one of my favorites. I give it four stars and three hearts. The next review will be #81 on the list, Black Boy, by Richard Wright. (Wee, another autobiography. I don’t like reviewing autobiographies. It’s harder to give opinions about something that you know actually happened.) Until then, read more books!

Banned Book Review: ALA #91: Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George

Title: Julie of the Wolves

Author:Jean Craighead George

Reasons for Banning: I have no idea. I guess there’s a little nudity and violence, but it’s only in a couple of scenes, and it’s not emphasized. Oh, and I guess there is one scene that has sexual overtones. And it does kind of cast a negative view on white people. OK, I see why it’s banned, but it’s still really stupid

 

Hello, nobody in particular! Sorry for the wait (again). I have no excuse this time; I’ve just been shirking. That said, let’s not waste any more time, and get right into the review.

The book is about an Eskimo girl who has run away from her extended family after her father apparently died. The girl finds herself lost in the tundra, camped a few hundred feet away from a wolf pack. She has to learn how to communicate with the wolves and convince them to let her into their pack.

What do I think of it? It’s good. It’s a well written book. But since I need to go into specifics – I guess I’ll go into specifics. There are two things I particularly like about this book. One is the imagery. I like how well the descriptions in this book are able to capture the environment and action. You really get a sense of what’s going on, and why. It’s not overly flowery or dense; it just does what it needs to. The other thing that I like is the way that the book portrays the wolves and the main characters interactions with them. I don’t claim to be an expert on lupine behavior, but from what I do know, this seems to be a fairly realistic portrayal of what wolves are like in the wild, without any human interference. They seem to be driven by instinct and generally act like wild animals, but they also show a lot of emotion, and the pack really does seem like a sort of family. They’re not human, but they are still intelligent and social. If there’s one thing that I don’t like about this book, it’s the back story. It’s just not that interesting.

Overall, I think this is a good book that you should give a read. I give it 4 stars and 4 hearts. The next review will be So Far from the Bamboo Grove, by Yoko Watkins. Until then, read more books!

 

Banned Book Reviews: Why I HATE Book Banning

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Hello, nobody in particular. Having just completed the review of House of the Spirits, I realize that I have been somewhat inactive for a while, and while I am doing my best to read through all of these books, I need a placeholder blog. So, I figured that this is the best time to explain why I do these reviews, and also why I usually don’t actually talk about book banning itself. The latter question, I can answer easily: The reason that I don’t talk about the actual banning of these books is that honestly, Everything that can be said about it, I’m about to say. I have the same problems with pretty much every banning, and I’m about to lay them out. That said, let’s dive headfirst into the issue.

There are essentially three reasons that I detest the practice of book banning. The first of these reasons is that the logic behind book banning is stupid. I’ve mentioned before that the reason that I can’t stand reasons like “unsuited for age group” and “occult/satanist themes” is that they’re so broad that they can be applied to any book of a given genre. Other books are banned just for bringing up a sensitive issue, even if they portray it in a harmless light. The reasoning for this is that the readers, usually teenagers or children, can’t interpret it effectively. This is incredibly patronizing, basically saying that children and teens have no powers of observation, must be told every little detail of everything by a responsible adult, and don’t need to go to English class because they have no hope of ever learning to interpret literature. Needless to say, this is total bullshit. (Oh no, I said a bad word. What are you going to do about? Ban my blog? This is the internet. You have no power here.) Anyone who has ever known a child or teenager knows that they are more intelligent than that. And there are some instances of books being banned for the most trivial of reasons (see my I Saw Esau review).

The second reason that I detest book banning is the people who are doing it. I don’t mean them personally; I don’t actually know any (I’m lucky enough to live in a county with a public policy against book banning). I mean the fact that they are a minority making an overarching decision without the consent of the majority. In layman’s terms, this means that a small group of people are deciding which books to ban without asking the people who are actually going to read the books. This means that their personal opinions and beliefs are forced upon everyone in the community, despite others in said community not sharing those beliefs. I believe in the ideals of democracy, and one of those ideals is that of popular sovereignty, or the idea that the decision making body should represent the popular majority. Again in layman’s terms, that means that the people that should be making decisions should be the people that we voted for, and that their decisions should be based on our needs and wants. Book banning violates those principles, as I’m pretty sure that the people doing this are doing it with the permission and election of those affected, i.e. students, teachers, and anyone who wants a book without having to pay for it.

And the final and most important reason that I fight against book banning is this: book banning is nothing more than a way to control information. As a student of history, I can say that throughout the history of human politics, the one thing that people have always sought to control is information. If you control what somebody knows, you can manipulate them to do just about anything. On top of that, if you can control information, you can fit the world into your own ideas and desires. The problem with that is that this is America. In America, we have freedom of expression, which was put in place to insure that nobody could control the information. Thus, all you are accomplishing is preventing people from reading things that could help people make good choices. I realize that most of these books are fictional, but they still contain information – it just happens to be folded within the context of a story. So to any book banners reading this: You are making America dumber. I hope you’re happy.

And in the end, that final reason is why I’m doing what I’m doing. I’m not trying to make a point (well, I am, but that’s not my primary goal). I’m trying to get the word out about these books, whether or not I like them. I’m trying to get people interested and, more importantly, informed, about these books, regardless of my personal opinion. And while doing so, I’m getting to experience a hundred new books, many of which are more than worth the ones that I don’t like, and most of which I never would have experienced otherwise. I’m informing others and myself, which, in my opinion, is the best way to fight against book banners, and anybody else who seeks to control knowledge. And so it is with new meaning that I simply ask you, until next time, to read more books.

Banned Book Reviews: ALA #97: The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende

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Title: The House of the Spirits

Author: Isabel Allende

Reasons for banning: Sexually Explicit, Nudity, Inappropriate Language, Violence, Political Viewpoint, Occult/Satanist Themes

IT’S FINALLY OVER! IT’S DONE! I CAN MOVE ON! Hello nobody in particular, and let me begin this review by pointing out that this review has been in the works since the beginning of the project in September. I have been reading this book for almost FIVE MONTHS, and I just finished it. Yeah, this thing has pretty much made sure that I won’t finish this project by this September. That said, I should probably get this review over with, and wash my hands of this novel.

Alright, to clarify something right now, I don’t hate this book. I like this book. It’s well written, but it’s also one of the densest books I’ve ever read. I mean, this novel makes Lord of the Rings look like a Dr. Seuss book. It’s that dense. (Okay, that’s hyperbole, but you know what I mean.) I repeat: It is a good book – it just takes a lot of willpower to read through. So, what’s the story? Well, the book follows a lot of characters and has a lot of plot lines, but I’ll try to summarize in a couple sentences. The story follows the Truebas, a fictional (I guess) family of eccentrics and radicals, over three generations. They live in Chile (I guess) during a time of great political upheaval. This political upheaval directly affects the family, leading to all kinds of tragedy, conflict, all the things that make for a good story.

Synopsis aside, what do I think of it? Well, I liked it. The characters are interesting, the plot engaging, and the imagery is very good. I really did enjoy reading this one, despite its length and density. However, even setting aside the time it took me to read it, there are a few things that keep it from being one of my all time favorites. I’m probably going to be pretty negative from here on out, so do bear in mind that there is a lot of good stuff in here; I just find it easier to talk about the bad stuff. So yeah, on to the bad stuff. If I had to use one word to describe the bad elements in this book, it would be “confused”. First of all, it constantly shifts perspective. Sometimes its told in first person (by the most unlikable character in the book, I might add), but then it will shift to third person omniscient, and from there to third person limited, and then it will switch characters while still being third person limited, and then it will shift back to first person, and it becomes hard to tell whether it’s in first person or not, and it’s just really convoluted and weird. The pacing is also pretty inconsistent, and that’s a big contributor to why this book is so hard to read. And to top it off, the genre is confused. I’m still not sure whether this book is supposed to be a fantasy, a romance, a family drama, a political novel, or what. None of this is helped by the sheer number of characters and plot lines that the book has to juggle. Although to be fair, the novel actually does a pretty good job of following of these characters and stories without ever really losing the reader. For all the confusing compositional aspects, the story itself is actually told very neatly, and never left me feeling like I didn’t know what was going on; I give it kudos for that.

Now that I’m done rambling, I should probably get to the point. I do consider the book to be pretty good. It’s got a lot of good elements in it, and is definitely worth a read – just be prepared to be reading for a long time. I give it 4 stars, and three hearts. The next review will be of #91, Julie of the Wolves. Until then, read more books.

 

ALA #88: The Handmaid’s Tale, By Margaret Atwood

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Title: The Handmaid’s Tale Author: Margaret Atwood

Reasons for Banning: Violence, Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Inappropriate language, Homosexuality It’s a dystopian novel (I hope I’m spelling that right. Also, that last reason is unofficial).

Hello, nobody in particular! Sorry for the hiatus; between school, lack of inspiration, and general distraction, I haven’t been able to post in a while. However, I have been able to read through a few books on the list, so I should be posting with greater frequency now. Speaking of which, the next review will be neither Fahrenheit 451, like I said in the last post, nor The House of the Spirits, which is next on the list, and that I AM close to finishing. Instead, this review will be of…well, you read the title.

The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel in which America has become a theocratic state in which a distorted version of the bible is used to force certain groups of people, most prominently women, to become subordinate. The novel, interestingly, also brings in and focuses on another element: sex now exists only for reproductive purposes, and not for pleasure or love. Yeaah, do you see why this book is banned? In regards to the plot…there really isn’t much of a plot. The book pretty much consists of the main characters thoughts, and that’s about it. In fact, there are several points in the novel where the narrator refers to the novel as a reconstruction, rather than a story. There isn’t a distinct beginning, middle, and end, there aren’t very many plot elements, and the whole thing is just kind of…there. Really, the important thing is the main character and the world that the author has created. In regards to those, the main thing that I should talk about is this novel’s distinguishing factor. Being a dystopian novel, this book pretty much has to have something unique about it to distinguish it from the rest of the genre. In this case, that factor is the time frame that the story takes place in. Unlike most dystopian novels, in which the story takes place several generations after the establishment of the dystopian society, The Handmaid’s Tale takes place during and shortly after the transition. This isn’t good or bad, I’m just saying this in place of a synopsis.

So, after that overly long summary of the book, what did I think about it? Not much. I don’t mean that it’s bad; I just don’t really know what to think. I’m obviously not the intended audience for this book; so I’m not the best person to judge it. In regards to what did get through to me, I don’t really like it very much. The world, for being the main focus of the story, is just not as interesting as other dystopian worlds that I’ve seen. The story of how the world was created, despite forming a good piece of the book, is still kind of vague and totally unrealistic. Also, the themes and conflicts of this book seem to be nothing more than a collection of the author’s personal problems, and just don’t seem very relevant to me. Don’t get me wrong – I’m sure that this book is very meaningful and thought provoking to it’s intended audience; but the best stories are the ones whose demographic is EVERYONE. Especially when dealing with dystopian novels, which pretty much exist to showcase a theme, you need to make your themes relevant to as many people as possible, because that means that you are writing something that addresses an overarching issue, rather than a very specific (and frankly, first world) problem. I’m sorry but themes about sex, birth control, and things like that simply aren’t important to me.

To wrap up this review filled with disclaimers and semicolons, I don’t really like this book. I don’t hate it, I just can’t really appreciate it’s themes, world, or slower paced story. I give it 3 stars and 2 hearts. The next review will be The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende (for real this time). Until then, read more books!

Banned Book Reviews: ALA #94: Goosebumps (Book 1: Monster Blood) by R.L. Stine

Title: Goosebumps #1: Monster Blood Author: R.L. Stine

Reasons for Banning: Inappropriate for age group (I hate this; you can use it on just about any kids book that you don’t like), Occult/Satanist themes (and you can use this one on just about any fantasy novel), Violence (maybe)

Hello nobody in particular! I’m writing this immediately after writing the last review, because I’ve been falling behind on these. Anyways, I’m just going to say this right now: This book FAILS. I don’t know if later books are any better (my mother tells me that they’re not), but the first book in the series did nothing to impress me.

I’ll start with a synopsis. A boy moves into his crazy, deaf aunt’s house while his parents look for a new home. As you might expect, he isn’t happy about this. As such he goes out into the neighborhood, makes an obligatory new friend, meets a couple of obligatory bully characters, and eventually goes into a weird apothecary/toy shop, where he discovers monster blood, a mysterious substance that, after a while, starts to expand and consume the main character’s stuff. That’s pretty much the plot.

So, what do I like about the book? Not much. I will say that it was gutsy for Stine to try to write a scary story for kids (although, if we’re being honest, the Grimm Brothers were doing it LONG before him, and far more effectively), but other than that, I honestly can’t find much that I like. In regards to what I hate, there’s a bit more of that. I essentially have two major complaints about this book, one of them not even being that major. My less major complaint is that the parents in this are total jerks. They essentially abandon a twelve year old kid to several weeks of living with his crazy aunt, when they could have easily taken him with them to search for a new home. He would have been bored, but I think boredom is better than several weeks with a deranged relative. And are you seriously telling me that all his other relatives were on vacation or whatever for several weeks? I’m calling crap. The more major thing that I hate is the out of nowhere plot twist at the end. I won’t spoil anything for you, but let’s just say that it gives M. Night Shyamalan (or however you spell that name) a run for his money.

Other than that…there really isn’t much to talk about. The characters are so bland I can’t even remember their names, the plot is entirely predictable until the twist at the end, and there’s nothing really that scary about the book. In fact, there’s a lot of stuff in here that I think would work better for scaring kids in a movie than in a book. The author doesn’t seem to understand that what’s scary in a movie isn’t necessarily scary in a book – The pacing, imagery, and conventions are too different. As it is, there’s just nothing scary in the book, and that prevented me from enjoying it. I give it two stars and one heart.

The next review will be #69 on the list (yes, I know, jumping the gun a bit, I don’t care), Fahrenheit 451. Until then, read more books.

Banned Book Reviews: ALA #98: I Saw Esau

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Title: I Saw Esau

Creators: Iona Opte, Maurice Sendak

Reasons for banning: Nudity, Violence(?), Religious Viewpoint(?)

Hello, nobody in particular! I would like to start out by saying that this entry makes me angry. To clarify, it’s not the book itself that makes me mad; it’s the fact that it made it onto this list. This is a compilation of children’s poetry. It’s a bunch of one stanza, simple, easy to remember, catchy little poems that you might here a little kid sporadically chanting. It’s also got drawings by Maurice Sendak, the creator of Where the Wild Things Are. So why is something as harmless, fun, and enjoyable as this on a list of commonly banned books? Because Maurice Sendak put a picture of a naked little boy in it (and yes, you can tell that it’s a little boy). It enrages me that enough people removed a book from childrens’ libraries for something as petty and irrelevant as this to be ranked higher on the list than America, which is ripe with swearing, sex, violence, homosexuality, and just about everything else that books can be banned for. I cannot believe that book banners think so little of children that they believe that they can’t handle a little kid’s butt and the tip of his penis. Little kids see themselves naked all the time. If they have siblings, they’ve probably seen them naked all the time. I think they can handle a drawing. They’re not going to see a picture of a nude child and get an erection! Frankly, they probably don’t even know what an erection is, because the people who are banning these books are withholding that information too! (Trust me, I’ll get to that later.) …I don’t have a clever segway into the next chapter. Sigh.

Alright, now that I’ve ranted for a while, you probably want to hear my opinion. This is problematic because, honestly, there isn’t much to talk about. It’s a bunch of poetry for young children. There isn’t anything complicated or deep about it; it’s just a fun little book of rhyme. I give it three stars and five hearts. It’s not really anything special on a technical level, but it is something special to me and, I’m sure, a lot of other people. The sheer nostalgia and familiarity present in this book makes it immensely fun to read. The drawings are great too, if you’re capable of getting past the naked kid. It’s something to read to your kids or just pick up and read for yourself. I can almost guarantee that you’ll enjoy it.

The next review will be #94 on the list: Goosebumps, by R.L. Stine. Until then, read more books.
 

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