Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Banned Books: All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

Jack Burden was a political reporter for Chronicle. That was until Willie Stark, the newly elected Governor, reached out to Burden offering him a position on his staff. Willie and Jack have a history. Jack can remember back in 1922, before Willie Stark had ever run for Governor, meeting him in the back of a bar while discussions were taking place about the construction of a school. Back then Jack wasn’t even drinking. He was an honest man, husband to a school teacher, and son to a farmer. But that was over a decade ago. Both men have changed quite a lot. Governor Stark isn’t as trusted as he used to be, something to be considered with his position of power and keeping certain people in line. Many people know of his different affairs outside of his marriage, but they turn a blind eye because of how much they respect his wife. Jack is essential to Willie’s staff. He trust Jack. Jack is the guy that can dig up dirt as long as there is dirt to be found. Now that the political alliance of Judge Irwin has changed, the Judge is Jack’s new target. The information he finds will change everyone’s life, including Jack’s. He doesn’t know this when he begins his search. He is just doing his job.
All the King’s Men was as much about Jack Burden, our narrator, as it was about Willie Stark and the corrupt politics he employed. This novel is one of reflection. Burden, by remembering his life as a companion and friend to his Boss, is considering the path that he took in life. How did he become the man so entrenched in the inner workings, however corrupt, of Governor Stark? Jack is looking at his own transformation from the reporter that was tracking Stark’s first race for Governor, to the man that Stark confided to and trusted. It was a long road that stretched over decades. The change didn’t all happen at once and Jack knows that is true for both men.
This was an easy novel to enjoy. Warren wrote an extremely hypnotic story about the transformation of man. It’s filled with blackmail, back door dealings, threats and, more so than anything, the struggle to get ahead. Everyone is looking out for themselves. They know what relationships will benefit them and which ones may cost them more than their jobs. Each circumstances leant itself to a new problem, that had to be solved. It was an interesting novel filled with well developed, interesting, believable characters. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t a light hearted read. It is filled with a reality that politics can be messy and that not every person that runs for office has the best intentions for their constituents. The seeming immorality of the novel and the “depressing” view this novel has is the reason why it was challenged in Dallas in 1974. The Dallas Independent School District, who was approached with the challenge, rejected it. Even though some did not approve the way in which the message was conveyed they weren’t, in this case, allowed to stop others from enjoying the Pulitizer Prize winning novel about politics.

“The Challenging of All the King’s Men”     http://www.noladefender.com/content/challenging-all-kings-men    Retrieved 07/13/2014

Friday, July 25, 2014

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

The last novel in the Simon Snow series is set to be released at the end of Cath and Wren’s first year at the University of Nebraska. The twins are huge Simon Snow fans, wrapped up in the magic and in fan fiction. Cath, more so than Wren over the last couple of months, since Cath has a huge following online and has been working on her own installment of the Simon Snow series that she has been slowly releasing to her followers. But this freshmen year has been a year full of change. It all began when Wren told Cath she didn’t want to be roommates their freshmen year of school. For the first time ever Cath is without her built-in best friend. Their father is at home alone causing Cath to constantly worry about his wellbeing. It doesn’t help that she thinks her roommate Reagan hates her. And to top it all off, her mother who left the family when Cath and Wren were eight years old suddenly wants to have a relationship with the twins again. It’s too much for Cath to handle! She always finds herself going back to Simon and The World of Mages because she is too afraid to live in the real world and Simon’s world is one she understands and knows.
Fangirl is a great coming of age story that grips you from the beginning. Cath and Wren have always been a package deal and now that partnership is broken. The sisters are on two different playing fields and Wren has absolutely no problem spreading her wings while her sister flounders. Emotions are constantly running high and Cath’s anxiety paired with good ole’ college angst is the foundation for an amazing coming of age story. Cath is afraid of navigating her way through life and has been using her sister as a buffer. Their father was the sole parent the majority of their life and had his own mental issues and dilemmas throughout which adds to Cath’s paranoia. Growing up without a mother has scarred Cath and Wren and it’s apparent as the story goes on that they each have developed separate coping mechanisms. The people that Cath begins to interact with and develop relationships with, slowly begin to coax her out of her shell and away from the fear that she has developed. College is about learning but it’s also about the experience and Cath can’t experience anything if she stays in her dorm, scared to venture out of her comfort zone.

Rowell did an amazing job developing this story and truly embracing that college experience. The characters were thoroughly flushed out, engaging and well imagined. It was believable and made me remember that college angst and that experience of my own freshman year. There were moments where I couldn’t stop laughing, others where I was blushing and a few when I felt quite embarrassed for our main characters. This was an easy read that I couldn’t put down. The Simon Snow aspect was both a gift and a curse to this story for me. In my opinion, it was reminiscent of Harry Potter and the fandom (which I am a part of, even though I don’t read the fanfiction) that lives with people and in their being. It was endearing to see Cath’s dedication to the characters and how they really did make up a significant part of her life. What I didn’t like were the “excerpts” that were included in Fangirl from the Simon Snow series and from the fanfiction. There was an excerpt before every chapter which was fine but I got so distracted when an excerpt was added into the actual story line. I simply wanted to read this novel.  Every reference to what was going on in the Simon Snow series could have been paraphrased for all I care. I still give this novel 4 out of 5 stars. I couldn’t put it down and it brought out genuine emotions from me. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone in the mood for a great coming of age story with a twist. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Banned Books: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Charlie Gordon is going to be the first human being whose IQ is increased by surgery. He is thirty two years old, works at a bakery, and has an IQ of 70. Dr. Strauss and Professor Nemur have been conducting experiments to increase intelligence and have found success with one particular mouse, Algernon. Now they want Charlie to undergo the same procedure as Algernon, undergoing surgery and subsequent testing. Charlie who has always yearned to be smart and have friends is highly motivated. The surgery is a success and Charlie, like Algernon, is a phenomenon. Charlie’s mind is opening but his maturity and emotions are also changing and it’s a struggle for him to become this intelligent and respected man, when the memories of his past and the understanding of his circumstances are constantly intruding and making their presence known.
                Flowers for Algernon is an ingeniously crafted story. The novel was told through the eyes of Charlie in the form of Progress Reports. He is supposed to write down all the things that are happening to him throughout the course of this experiment. It is through these progress reports that we experience the story of Charlie. It is such a simple and honest form of storytelling. In the beginning Charlie’s reports are barely legible, lacking any kind of punctuation or structure and filled with misspelled words. Slowly but surely their structure begins to change and the sentences have new meaning. His outlook on life is beginning to change. He is very honest and upfront with his emotional struggles and the memories he is dealing with. Charlie is very aware that everything he is writing will eventually be shared with the world and his eagerness to make a difference for people like him is obvious throughout.
                I’m not sure where to begin honestly. This novel was amazing. It beautifully captures one mans journey into understanding life, love, languages and the world in general. Keyes started with a simple man who wanted only friendship and to be more than what he was. The history of his family is revealed throughout the story and the effect that childhood traumas have had on his day to day activities is essential to the man he has become. It is the reason behind his motivations and his yearning. It is also a hindrance for him when he begins learning and begins to outstrip those who have worked to increase his intelligence. It is always lingering and threatening to, in many ways, destroy him. There were moments while reading this novel where my heart was literally breaking because of the cruelty he endured. The moments where he realized how na├»ve he had been was almost worse than the moments where he relived his past. I was rooting for Charlie the entire novel. I wanted him to be happy. I wanted his fate to not follow the path of Algernon who was slowly starting to deteriorate.
                Now Flowers for Algernon has frequently been challenged and banned. It is ranked in the top 100 books banned by the American Library Association from 1990-1999. Sexually implicit passages and language seem to be the main reason this book was banned in places like Emporium, Pennsylvania and Glen Rose, Arkansas and challenged in cities in Wyoming, Ohio and Florida.  There were no complaints about the way in which adults with mental disabilities were treated and disrespected which was a much more prevalent issue throughout the novel. It seems that sex will always be a sensitive issue with novels even when handled delicately. Are people just prudes or are they scared of sexual revelations? Keyes handled every aspect amazingly but when people are unsettled they find reasons to prevent others from experiencing those same emotions even if it is enlightening.

Challenged and Banned: Flowers for Algernon http://suvudu.com/2008/10/challenged-and-banned-flowers-for-algernon.html 
Munley, Kyle  October 3, 2008

100 Most Frequently challenged books 1990-1999

Friday, July 18, 2014

Son by Lois Lowry

Son by Lois Lowry

                The Ceremony of Twelve is the most important ceremony for children. At this time they are given their Assignments, their schooling will change and they will begin training for their assigned task. Some will be Nurturers, others will work in the House of Old and some will be assigned to practice Law. There were many assignment to be made throughout the community, all would help the community thrive. Claire, to the disappointment of her parental units, was assigned to be a Birthmother. When her body began to mature she became a Vessel and produced a Product. But something went wrong during the Task and Claire was left with a scar across her belly. The Product, number thirty six, a male was fine but she was decertified and reassigned to the Hatchery, helping provide sustainable fish as a food source for the community. It was here that Claire realized how different she was. She felt a loss and yearning for the Product she carried. She felt a sense of loneliness that no one around her understood. She was the only person she knew that didn’t take the Pill and she believed that might be the reason she felt these emotions. Now all she wants is a relationship with the child she carried but no one would assign her a child, even if it is her own. When a young boy escapes the community, taking her baby with him, she knows she must find him.
                Son is the last book of The Giver Quartet. Though we are familiar with most of the characters mentioned in this novel, Claire is a new addition with an interesting and singular story to tell. The first section of Son takes place at the same time as The Giver. Claire’s position as a birthmother and her friendship with the Nurturer we know as Jonas’ father gives us that information. Which also makes it apparent that the young child she produced is Gabriel, a central character in the first novel as well. Claire’s quest to find her son, intrigues anyone who has read the first novel, who was also curious to what happened to the young child. Claire’s journey becomes one of strength, determination and love. Only her son can fill the emptiness she has felt throughout the year. She is willing to sacrifice anything to find her son.

                This was a necessary novel. Lowry created an amazing story with The Giver and I became extremely invested in what happened to Jonas and Gabriel. I was willing to read all of the books to find out how their story ended. So I did. After reading all of the books all I can say is that this novel couldn’t have been more anti-climactic. I don’t know what I was expecting but this wasn’t it. What started off as an amazing take on a dystopia, turned into a fantasy realm of good vs. evil. This novel was actually interesting when it began but it became predictable and boring. It was an easy, simple read with Lowry’s great writing to carry it along but the plot wasn’t well managed. I give this novel 2 out of 5 stars. I wanted more than what Lowry had to offer with this last novel. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Banned Books: A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Meg is unknowingly about to take place in adventure through time and space. Her father, a scientist working for the government, hasn’t been heard from in over a year when the letters he had been sending home abruptly stopped. Charles Wallace, Meg’s little brother, has made friends with an unlikely trio, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which, who are making preparations for the two children to help their father. The classified studies Mr. Murry was participating in has taken him to a place that only Meg, Charles Wallace and their unlikely companion, Calvin, can save him. They will have to come together and focus not only on their strengths but their weaknesses if they want to rescue Mr. Murry and return home alive.
                A Wrinkle in Time is a young adult, science fiction novel. The protagonists Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin are dealing with forces they have never imagined and struggle to understand. They are approached with the most unlikely circumstances and forced to tackle challenges that would make most adults cringe. Meg, who has become unruly after her father’s disappearance, has the most to overcome. Charles Wallace, the youngest of the three, is surprisingly the most talented and self-assured. Though slow to develop, he is extremely in tune to with the emotions of others and communicates very well. Calvin, the only child involved that is not part of the Murry family, is looking for a family and finds comfort in the Murry clan. Together we see bonds formed between the three children that will take them through time and space on an incredible adventure.
                L’Engle created a very original and imaginative novel. This is a great introduction to the science fiction genre. It has complex ideas and a vivid imagery that stretches the boundaries of the imagination. As a child I wasn’t a big fan of this novel. The writing is amazing but I wasn’t entranced by the story. Even know I’m not captivated by the world that was created or the story that was being told. I can however completely respect the complex nature created by L’Engle and can see how people have fallen in love with this story. It’s a completely different view of the world and how it’s lived. It is full of science, which I love, but the undertones of fantasy to me were overwhelming. This novel has always attracted a lot of attention because of the themes it discusses which are a mix of science and religion. It has biblical references and even discusses Jesus within its pages. It is because of some of these religious undertones that this book has been banned. The Jerry Falwell ministries has challenged the book because of its references to God in what they consider to be an undermining fashion. It was even banned in Alabama because it referenced Jesus and secular artist in relation to one another. I find it absurd when people use religion to block others from enjoying literature. If it’s a question of faith, then I doubt a fictional novel about kids and space travel will affect the belief of faithful. The removal of this novel then becomes one based on fear and ignorance. I might not have loved this novel but I’m sure someone else will for a number of reasons.

“Banned Book Awareness: A Wrinkle in Time” Baldassarro, Wolf    http://bannedbooks.world.edu/2011/12/05/banned-books-awareness-wrinkle-time/

Friday, July 11, 2014

Messenger by Lois Lowry

Messenger by Lois Lowry

              Mattie has been in the Village for six years now. He lives with the blind man known as the Seer in a home they share. The Seer is like a father to Mattie and well respected in the Village which has been known for its selflessness. Many who have suffered come to the Village to find hope and a place for themselves. Mattie, who had been neglected by his mother where he previously lived and was a perpetual liar and thief, was one of those people who found a home. Now, after attending school and learning how to read, write and be respectful, he delivers messages around the Village and to the areas surrounding it. He is familiar with everyone and has always felt welcome. But things are changing. There are talks of closing the border to the Village and no longer allowing others to join. The Forest is becoming more hostile and those who were once allowed to leave are now receiving warnings that they should not return to the trees. Mattie has discovered his own power but it is a secret he must keep until he can understand how it will affect him and the others in the Village.
                Messenger is third book in a quartet. The previous novels The Giver and Gathering Blue introduced two separate dystopian lands that exist after the Ruin. There is a very stark contrast between the dystopias introduced in the two previous books. These books find their commonality in the Messenger. Mattie is an interesting character that has undergone an amazing amount of growth. He is introduced in Gathering Blue and expanded on in this sequel. Messenger takes place six years after Gathering Blue and goes into quite a lot of depth regarding the Village that we were introduced to earlier. The life and the contrast it holds to the two previously described areas is interesting. It adds diversity to the quartet as a whole with this additional layer of storytelling.

                I was hopeful when I began reading this novel. Mattie was a character that I really enjoyed and found entertaining in Gathering Blue so I was excited to see his story expanded further. Unfortunately this story proves to be my least favorite so far. The first two novels were filled with a genuine complexity and intrigue. This novel was filled with more mysticism and it was almost a distracting aspect. This felt like it was meant to simply be a bridge between the first two novels to bring two of the main characters together in preparation for the last novel. This fell short to me. The writing was great but the plot lackluster. Easy to read? Yes, because Lowry is a great writer. But this novel just doesn’t do it for me. I give this novel 3 out of 5 stars. This must be a vital part of the story for it to be included, but more imagination and interesting plot would have been appreciated. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Banned Book: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Tom Joad is making his way home to his family’s farm in Oklahoma. He has served four years of his seven year sentence for murder. A man stabbed him during a bar fight and Tom retaliated with a shovel. Now he is on parole and the home he thought he would find is empty and broken. The only crop on the farm now is cotton. His Pa, Tom Joad Senior, has moved the family in with their Uncle John. The banks have taken the land and the only choice the family has is to move west to California. A hand bill has been circulating asking for workers. Farmers need people to pick peaches, apples and grapes. There is no work to be had in this part of the country. People are either moving or starving. Tractors are taking over and doing the work of hundreds. The Joads have bought and packed up a truck with all of their belongings. What they couldn’t pack, they sold. Tom has made the decision to go with his family the two thousand miles west, keep his head low and start anew. There’s a new life to be had in California. Or so they have all been told.
                The Grapes of Wrath is an amazingly poignant novel that thoroughly examines the Great Depression and the migration of families to the west during the Dust Bowl. The Joad family is the typical Oklahoma family. All the decisions that are being made are for the good of the family. They sincerely believe that their only option, at this point in their lives, is to move west to California. They have dreams of good paying jobs, white houses and stability. It seems like a dream. A dream they can believe in and pour their hearts into. Then the journey begins and slowly the dream starts to unravel. The truth is being revealed with each mile they travel. More and more people are migrating west. They are one family out of hundreds of thousands of families moving west with the same high hopes and expectations. Fear, hunger and desperation begin to hunt the Joads. It begins to change the Joads and all the people around them.
                In my opinion, it is hard to put into words what Steinbeck did with this novel. In the beginning you are filled with the same kind of expectancy as the Joads. You have high hopes for them and you want them to succeed. Then your heart starts to slowly break when you realize the hardships that they are going to face. Reading this now as an adult, opposed to the teenager I was the first time I read this novel, it’s terrifying. I could never imagine having to make the decisions that the Joads had to make. The idea of watching my child starve or suffer in this manner is unbearable. The Grapes of Wrath was hard for me to read at times because of all the emotions I was experiencing. Especially that sense of hopelessness that becomes overwhelming. This was so ingeniously written with the Joads as the center point but with moments during the narration when you were made aware of other occurrences. Just beautifully put together.
                Now this book was published in 1939. At that time the book was actually burned by a public library in East St. Louis and banned from a library Kansas City, Mo for its vulgar use of words. This novel has been challenged and banned for religious reasons like taking the Lord’s name in vain and because of its description of a preacher who lost its way. It saddens me when a story so full of life and descriptions of hardships are ridiculed for something as minor as foul language. Look beyond the script to find the deeper meaning in the text. I’m sure the last thing Steinbeck wanted anyone to focus on in the over four hundred page novel is the word “Bitch” and “Goddamn.” If anyone reading this book couldn’t handle the language within, they probably wouldn’t have been able to handle the hardships and life lessons experienced within these pages.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

Cormoran Strike has reached a certain level of notoriety since solving the Lulu Stark murder case eight months ago. Business as a private investigator is booming and he is finally able to start paying off his considerable amount of debts. Most of his clients are dealing with adulterous spouses and bad business dealings that is until he is approached by Leonara Quine. Her husband, the novelist Owen Quine, has been missing for ten days. Unwilling to go the police because he has disappeared before and been found at his mistress’ house, she simply wants him to be located and to return home. Cormoran begins investigating the novelist’s disappearance and learns of his latest manuscript, Bombyx Mori. The manuscript that he was hoping to get published, angered many members of the literary community, including his agent and publisher, with the outlandish claims he was making on their personal lives. When the investigation of a missing man turns into a murder investigation, Bombyx Mori will not only provide the motive for the crime but the suspects as well.
The Silkworm is an intense, dramatic, murder mystery novel. Our main character, Cormoran Strike, is filled with depth and complications. In short, he feels real. He is likable and capable of handling the situations that are being thrown at him. Robin, his assistant/secretary/right hand, is eager to prove herself and to eventually become his partner in the business as an investigator as well. As the case becomes more complicated, their tasks change but their integrity stays. Their journey seems never ending and the murder unsolvable because of Bombyx Mori and all of the people who are given motives, or at the very least incentives, to hate him.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Robert Galbraith is J.K. Rowling’s pseudonym. What has become the Cormoran Strike series is amazing. The Silkworm is a brilliant bit of storytelling, filled with layers that slowly reveal themselves and with a conclusion wholly unexpected, in my humble opinion. Galbraith took on a tremendous task by including so many “suspects” in this novel, but it was tasks that was handled beautifully. Each character was completely flushed out and thoroughly developed. I was engrossed in the story from the onset. I was already familiar with Cormoran Strike and his unique position in life and I was interested to see how Galbraith could develop this character further. At this point I am hoping for more novels involving this character. The subtlety of the writing and intensity that developed on each page was extremely entertaining. The exploration of the characters, the idea of revenge and its consequences, the criticism of the literary community as a whole made this novel great. I give this novel 5 out of 5 stars. I couldn’t put it down. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Banned Book: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kessey

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kessey

Randle Patrick McMurphy is a betting man, always has been. So when he was sent to the psychiatric ward as a transfer from the work farm, he bet the other patients that he could get Nurse Ratched to lose her cool and break her rock hard demeanor. You see, McMurphy isn’t insane. Oh no, he is as sane as they come. He just wanted a break from the work farm. But Ms. Ratched is the head nurse of this particular ward and there are things she simply doesn’t allow, like gambling and not taking your medicine. She is in complete control of not only the staff but the mindset of the patients and McMurphy recognizes her power as soon as he arrives. The bet led to a rivalry that would last for months between McMurphy and Ratched. It was struggle that would lead to hostilities between patients and those in control at the mental hospital. It was fight McMurphy was prepared and ready to win at any cost.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was an interesting observation of people in a controlled setting. Here we have patients in a mental institution, some will be there for life, while others have the option to leave under their own free will. All of the patients believe that they are not prepared for what lay outside of the gates. They are not mentally capable of living their lives outside of these gates for a wide range of reasons. But who convinced them of that fact? Society? Nurse Ratched? Their families? These patients were restricting themselves and McMurphy realized the truth. He saw Nurse Ratched, who was an extremely imposing figure, as the physical representation of that restriction and he sought to fight against it. McMurphy’s bravado, charisma, demeanor and character gave strength to those around him and eventually many started to recognize those things that were holding them back.
Kessey’s novel was extremely intriguing and unique. It’s told through the eyes Chief Bromden, another patient in the institution whom everyone thought was deaf and dumb. He was a treasure trove of information because of all these things he was allowed to see and hear because of assumed disabilities. It proved for an interesting way to tell the story. A man who knows the history and can see through the manipulations being broadcast. Our narrator went through his own awakening, in more ways than one, which greatly enriched the novel. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest observed a plethora of themes regarding human nature, fear, sexuality, and mental health. While I can appreciate the necessary aspects of exploring the honesty of human nature in literature, others don’t always feel the same way. For example, Ohio residents actually sued the board of action to remove the novel in 1974 because of its display of pornography, criminal activity, and its descriptions of other acts. When looking at this novel as a whole I can’t honestly describe how any of these issues take away from the story or impact the reader. None of the above mentioned transgressions are highlighted enough in the story to where they can reasonably leave a lasting impression. They were simply used as vehicles to make a specific point or highlight reasoning. Those who support the banning must obviously feel otherwise. But I shouldn’t be affected by their issue with any aspect of the novel, which is why banning is so disconcerting. Where you find offense, I may find art and there are no rules, nor should be there be, regarding how anything should be defined.