Saturday, October 1, 2011

Uncensored Librarians: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Book banning is an aggressive form of thought policing.  It’s The Man trying to control you, trying to tamp down threatening ideas.   Why is The Man always trying to keep us down, man?   It’s because he has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo – the seat of his power.   It is fitting that so many banned books involve a protagonist struggling against oppression; be it governmental, economic, religious, or societal– there is always some manifestation of The Man trying to assimilate, commoditize, silence, and in all ways strip a person of their dignity.

In Ken Kesey’s 1962 classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Man is actually a woman, the steely despot, Nurse Ratched.   Hers is a literal example of someone who ought to be an inmate running the asylum.  She controls the patients through intimidation, social coercion, drugs and violence.  This is an environment where she can order physical and chemical restraint, isolation, electrical shocks, and even lobotomy.  Her abuses are condoned by the facility’s doctors because they, too, have been manipulated and bullied into accepting the efficacy and rationality of her approach.

All is copacetic in her cruel little world, until the group is joined by Randle McMurphy, a new patient who has conned his way out of prison and into the institution by feigning insanity.  McMurphy is a Good Time Charlie, an unabashed devotee of gambling, booze and women, who is happy to kick back in the relative comfort of the hospital.  While there, he manages to entertain himself by giving the staff a hard time; getting a particular kick out of undermining Nurse Ratched -that is, until he learns that his release is conditional upon her approval.   The power struggle between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched becomes, in a very real sense, the fight for his life.  The smart thing for him to do would be to keep his head down and toe the line, but it is not as simple as that – first, it’s contrary to his character, but more importantly he realizes that his rebellion is an inspiration to the other patients, bringing them out of the fog of abusive psychiatry to reclaim their personhood.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest touches on themes of race, homosexuality, patient’s rights, emasculation, governmental control, mental health, sex, drugs, rock and roll – you name it.  It has been challenged or banned in schools on a fairly regular basis since its publication.  On the American Library Association’s website, they note that in one lawsuit against a school district, the book was described as “pornographic… [It] glorifies criminal activity, has a tendency to corrupt juveniles and contains descriptions of bestiality, bizarre violence, and torture, dismemberment, death, and human elimination.”  But kids love that stuff!  And more importantly, the severity of the imagery and the discomfort it causes shakes a person out of their complacency and allows for a broader and deeper understanding of other people’s experiences.

So reading a Banned Book is, in effect, sticking it to The Man.  I suggest you do just that.

Ransom - Reference

Friday, September 30, 2011

Uncensored Librarians: In the Night Kitchen

Spoiler Alert! This book contains a penis.

I love Where the Wild Things Are. Love Chicken Soup with Rice. I just got a copy of Bumble Ardy, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to love it, too. I really love Maurice Sendack’s illustrations in Little Bear and Brundibar and especially in The Bat Poet (if you’ve never read this little gem that pairs Sendak’s art with a charming fable from Randal Jarrell about imagination and inspiration, you are in for a treat). All that being said, I can’t stand In the Night Kitchen.
The saying goes that we hate what we fear, and that may explain my strong feelings. I hate this book because I find it freakish and disturbing and terrifying--both the story and the drawings. Seriously. I am terrified of a picture book. But for the sake of this article and in the spirit of banned books week, I cracked it open today to revisit the horror. And I’m still scared.

I’m scared of the bakers who look like Oliver Hardy and bring to mind Shakespeare’s weird sisters. The fact that this freakish trio bake little Mickey into the cake freaks me out. I’m only mildly repulsed by the pictures of the kid wearing his cake batter pants and fashioning an airplane out of dough--seriously, how gross would cake batter pants be? I’m scared that he’s going to drown in the giant bottle of milk that he falls into. And the page with the three bakers singing a tune and strumming instruments, their noses red and bulbous? That page will show up in a nightmare soon, I have no doubt. Quite simply, I find this book disturbing.

Guess what doesn’t disturb me? The Penis. Yes, the little kid’s penis shows up exactly 3.5 times. That’s why this book has been challenged and/or banned. A penis. The irony of this struck me once when reading it to my kiddo while he was running around more than half naked himself. And guess what? He never even noticed little Mickey’s penis in the illustrations. I’m guessing most kid’s don’t notice it.

Apparently, plenty of adults have noticed, and taken offense, as this beloved children’s classic is one of the 15 Most Controversial Children’s Books and on the list of the most frequently banned books. But it’s made a lot of other lists, too. In addition to being named a Caldecott Honor Book, when In the Night Kitchen was released in 1970, it won honors from the New York Times, the American Library Association, and the Library of Congress.

Susan - Marketing

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Uncensored Librarians: Challenged Letters from Charlie

Charlie, the narrator of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, is perhaps the most sensitive, emotional character I’ve ever come across. The book is full of thoughtful sentences, such as, “And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be” and “Charlie, we accept the love we think we deserve.”

We follow Charlie’s freshman year of high school through a series of letters written to a mysterious recipient. He starts the year friendless; he lost Michael, his best friend, the previous year. Charlie is ready for a change and soon he finds it; he discovers creative new friends, On the Road, The Smiths, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. He finds music that makes him “feel infinite." This poignant tale gives us a peek into the mind of a bright, incredibly sensitive boy who has a perspective worth witnessing.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
is a regularly challenged book. Topics such as homosexuality, drug use and sexual behavior have been cited as reasons for these challenges. Wonder what all the fuss is about? Check out a copy from the library to see.

As Charlie says, “Love always,”

Jenny C. - Children's

P.S. In a recent Spotlight entry I posted a mix of songs that I thought Charlie would enjoy listening to in the car. Have a listen:

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Uncensored Librarians: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian

You may know and admire Sherman Alexie for his books for adults, but he’s also made a brilliant foray into young adult literature with his semi-autobiographical novel, The Absolutely True Diary of Part-Time Indian. This book is about Arnold “Junior” Spirit, a 14-year-old growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Dissatisfied with his prospects if he stays in the reservation school, Junior chooses to attend the nearest white school instead. Daily he makes the twenty-two mile journey to a place where he doesn’t fit in and returns, branded a traitor.
Junior has the soul of a poet and the pen of a comic artist. His cartoon illustrations pepper his story which touches on things every teen faces (friends, sports, dating, identity, parents, school, etc.) and things only some teens face (violence, poverty, alcoholism, discrimination, and death). It’s an incredibly powerful book, making you laugh out loud on one page and devastating you on the next. The audio version, read by the author, is particularly moving as his voice is infused with emotion you believe he must have actually felt as a 14-year-old.

In this novel about social injustice, struggle for identity, Indian culture, and coming of age, perhaps the most universal theme is self-empowerment, that with courage, ambition, persistence, and hard work, you can change your life. Certainly, for teens, this is an important message. Despite the amazing message and spirit of this book, it is one of the most frequently challenged books of 2010. It was banned from the curriculum and removed from the high school library by the Stockton, Missouri School Board which said “that it had too much profanity to be of value.” A teen who spoke in support of the book at the school board meeting described its value perfectly: “This book in a nutshell is about hope. It’s about overcoming adversity. This book is about believing in yourself, believing you can become whatever you want to become.”

Rebecca - Teen Zone

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Uncensored Librarians: Brave New World

College is a time for new experiences, new understandings and new perspectives. During my own post-secondary education, I encountered Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, and it opened my eyes to a whole world of dystopian images and repressive social control systems. The class was 20th Century English and American Lit., and my young, impressionable mind had already been bombarded with offensive language and insensitivity, so I was ready for anything.

Huxley began his most notable title with a tour of the "Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Center"--a thirty-four story factory specializing in the creation, incubation and modification of human beings. Chemically engineered and divided into five castes based on their intelligence and physical growth, these human beings make up the majority of the world's more efficient population. This doesn't sound like too far of a stretch from the purposes of the Human Genone Project of the 90s. It's interesting how sometimes an author's imagining of how certain aspects of current society will affect the future is spot on.

Ranked #16 on the American Library Association's list of most challenged books, Brave New World is most often cited for offensive language, insensitivity, racism and for being sexually explicit. That's not too surprising, considering recreational sex is an integral part of the novel's society, encouraged by The World State as a social activity rather than a means of reproduction. Contraception is conditioned, individuality is abhorred, and citizens are controlled by pleasure. It's probably for these reasons that the novel found itself at the top of the list of the most challenged books even as recent as last year.

Reading Brave New World as a twenty year old college student, though, I was more fascinated with the imagination that Huxley presented in the novel. Even then, I understood there was something we could learn from the story--something more than what the challengers of the book fear.

William - Reference

Monday, September 26, 2011

Uncensored Librarians: Anaïs Nin

“How wrong is it for a woman to expect the man to build the world she wants, rather than to create it herself?” - Anaïs Nin

Although on the surface they might just look like naughty little stories, Anaïs Nin's Delta of Venus and Little Birds represent a breakthrough for women's lib and a reclamation of female sexual identity. While still often considered a serious taboo in American culture, Eros -- sensuality, erotic love -- is an integral facet of the human experience, and I believe that we risk losing a core piece of ourselves when we begin challenging and suppressing these voices.

Nin, a French-Cuban author who lived in Paris during most of the 1940s, is hailed by critics as one of the first women to explore fully the realm of erotic writing; before her, erotica written by women was rare, with a few notable exceptions. The story goes that an anonymous patron paid Nin and her friend Henry Miller $1 per page to write erotic vignettes, and that the pair continued writing the stories as a little joke. Whatever the true genesis of Delta of Venus and Little Birds, the income sustained one of the most mysterious, sensual, and feminine voices of the 20th century.

What I admire most about Anaïs Nin as a writer, and these two volumes in particular, is that she had the courage to challenge a masculine construction of the female experience and instead offer something wholly female. She believed in sharing her own unique voice, and then used that authorial voice to create a world all her own. Fearlessly, Nin plunged the depths of an American taboo, staying true to her view that "The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say."

Rachel - Programs

Delta of Venus and Little Birds are not currently in our catalog, but if you'd like to check them out, you can request them through interlibrary loan by clicking here.

In our holdings:  Anaïs Nin