Sunday, 15 September 2013

Getting the Banned Back Together

I tend to write an awful lot about my opinion on this blog, and as a result there exist some very stupid people that would disagree with me. I haven't really heard from them, but it's inevitable isn't it? People do disagree.
I don't really mind that, everyone is entitled to their opinion, to err is human, I don't mind if you disagree. However, one thing that does bother me, something that really pisses me off, is when people that don't agree with me think they have the right to silence my words.

Thankfully, this blog hasn't come to that, nobody can silence my words except me, (I'm trying to make a point here). I believe in Freedom of Speech, I believe that you have the right to express yourself, even if people disagree. In fact, disagreement is a part of Freedom of Speech. One person says one thing, another disagrees, debate continues. We continue to grow and learn as a society when we allow thoughts and ideas to flow freely. Hell, even bad ideas can teach us about ourselves.
So it is an affront to education, and in my opinion an absolute disgrace, when we silence words in the form of Banned Books.
The Word of the Day is: 'BANNED'

Banned /band/ adj. 1. Prohibited, forbidden, or barred: The dictator banned all newspapers and books that criticized his regime. 2. Archaic a. To pronounce an ecclesiastical curse upon. b. To curse; execrate. ♦n. 3. Prohibited by law; interdicted. 4. Informally denounced or prohibited, as by public opinion: Society's ban on racial discrimination. 5. Law a. Proclaimed. b. Publicly condemned. 6. Ecclesiastical Formally condemned; excommunicated. 7.

I've already talked about my hatred of censorship, in posts like "The Dark Word" and "For F_ck's Sake", but today we're talking about something more specific. Today, we're talking about Banned Books. Why? I hear you ask.Well, because it's Banned Book Week of course!

Except that, it's not . . . that doesn't start until next week (Sunday the 22nd to Saturday the 28th) as it's held during the last week of September; but I'm celebrating it now because I'm writing this post as part of the Banned Book Event, being hosted by Book Journey. For my involvement you can thank my friend Miss Sridhar over at "A Faceless Author", who introduced me to the event (and will be writing a banned book post of her own).
I wasn't exactly sure what to talk about, until I came across something rather peculiar while looking into the American Library Association's List of the Most Frequently Banned/Challenged Books of all Time.
See, although I don't really do reviews (because this isn't a review site after all) I still wanted to talk about some of these books that I've already read. What surprised me was that I've actually read quite a few of them. Unfortunately, I also realized that for a lot of these books that I've read (or heard about), they all have something in common . . . I don't actually like most of them.
Some of them are poorly written, some of them are bad ideas & some of them are written perfectly, but I just didn't like what they were about or the message behind it.
But, I wanted to talk about them, so I'm going to do just that. In list form, because list-writing is easy. I've listed them in ascending order according to where they appear on the "Most Frequently Banned" list. So, without further ado, allow me to introduce:


6. Where's Wally by Martin Hanford
(#88 on the list - depicts nudity)

The Book: Wally is travelling around the place, sending you postcards from everywhere he goes. Each picture is a large scene of a heavily populated area with hundreds of people, including Wally. Your task is to identify Wally by seeking out his beanie, jeans, glasses & trademark red-and-white shirt. Sometimes he was also carrying other tourism equipment such as a camera, a backpack and satchel, as well as a magic walking stick (it's magic in the TV show, at least; but, if it's not magic then why would be need it?). This is on the banned list because in the beach scene, a sunbather's breast can be seen. It's on an angle, from behind, at a distance. The breast itself is about 2-3 millimeters big on the page . . . yeah, I can see why they complained.

Why I don't Like it: This is a book about finding Wally. Once you've found him, you can also look at the picture and some of the funny scenes it depicts, but other than that there's no replay value. I feel justified in using a gaming term, because this isn't a story, it's a game. Find the guy! I have nothing wrong with the nude chick. Children have nothing to fear with breasts, they were probably sucking on them a few short years ago so they don't care. My issue is that this is a game with 12 levels, and the difficulty is only raised when either Mr Hanford's drawing ability falters or Wally is obscured by some of the random crap in the scene.

Why you Might like it: The game is fun while it lasts and young children can have fun with the little jokes while they're looking for Wally. This is also a classic book series, and some of the later books include more people and things to find, so even if this is a one-trick pony, there's an awful lot of it to be had.

5. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
(#22 on the list - depicts paganism & questions religion)

The Book: Meg Murray is the daughter of two scientists, her beautiful mother, and her father, who went missing after a freak tesseract experiment. After encountering three witches with stupid names, Meg her love interest Calvin & her brother Charles get transported to a mystical land of love and light to find her father. The three witches reveal themselves to be centaurs, and tell the children that they're under attack by an evil creature known as The Black Thing. They then visit a medium called the "Happy Medium" who uses a crystal ball to see that Earth is covered in a darkness that, apparently, a lot of nice people have been fighting against. One of the witches then says that she used to be a star, but she sacrificed herself to fight The Black Thing and . . . you know what? I can't go on, this is stupid.

Why I don't Like it: Are you kidding? Unless you can tell, this book is god-awfully stupid. For one thing, that's not what a tesseract is. For another, the villain is basically "Evil" and the kids fight it using "Love". It's so lovey-dovey sickly that I think I'm going to vomit. But I don't hate nice stories about love defeating hate and evil, what I hate is when it's done this badly.
Good vs. Evil has been done so many times before, and better, that it is an insult to even call this a story! It's just a collection of clichés, wrapped in a book cover and sold for $11 apiece. This is the only book that I would happily burn and it spawned the only movie that I stopped watching half-way through and I watched all of Bio-Dome!

Why you Might like it: What? You won't, it is the worst story I've ever heard! . . . What?! It's so stupid!
Oh, fine. I hate cliché-ridden drivel and bad story structure, but if you can stomach it this has been on some "Top 100" lists for children's books, so obviously it's well-written. The characters seem kind of interesting and, I guess, if you really like hearing the Good vs. Evil story for the millionth time then you might enjoy this surreal attempt at the ancient tale of the eternal conflict.
But in my opinion, there's only one way to enjoy this, and that's as a case study. I believe this is the true anti-novel, a perfect example of a bad book. I think it's a concentrated form of story so bad that when it comes into contact with other stories, they are both annihilated leaving behind nothing but annoyance and disappointment in their wake.

4. Goosebumps (series) by R.L. Stine
(#16 on the list - depicts frightening, occult/satanic themes)

The Books: Each story is about a middle-class, twelve-year old boy or girl whose parents are either scientists or have abandoned them, leaving them in the care of a scary relative. Usually, they have just moved house, or are new in the neighbourhood and don't know what to expect. They inevitably come across some kind of surreal or supernatural horror and must use their own wit and imagination to escape it. Once they overcome the horror, the books often end with a twist whereby the children are punished in a scary, unexpected and often disproportionate way.

Why I don't Like it: These books are poorly written. They often fail to Show without Telling, the stories are often "surreal" in so much as it seems like the author was just making it up as he went along and they are most definitely not scary for anyone over the age of thirteen. The characters are often stupid or unrealistic; the dilemmas and resolutions often make no sense at all and a lot of the stories are the same, with the only difference being the Monster of the Week.

Why you Might like it: Nostalgic Bliss. These books are horribly written, so the part about them I hate the most is how much I absolutely adore them. They introduced me to reading, and I'm sure that trait is universal. No matter what century you were born in, if you're pre-teen or younger then you will enjoy these books. You may even find them scary.
If you're older than that, you definitely shouldn't read these books for the first time because they're not good. But if you're like me, then reading these crappy books again can still be enjoyable just for how bad they are. Hell, I'm proud to say that I own all sixty-two of the original series. Just because I enjoy them, it doesn't mean I like them; but just because I don't like them doesn't mean you can't . . .

3. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
(#09 on the list - depicts death , blasphemy and non-Christian values)

The Book: Jesse Aarons is frustrated. He's bothered by the numerous chores he has to do on the family farm and by the many annoyances of his many sisters. He's a bit of a dreamer and he likes drawing pictures, which annoys his pragmatic father, so Jesse feels a bit "stuck", since few people understand him. But through a series of events, he is introduced to and becomes friends with the new girl at school, Leslie Burke as she too is misunderstood, because she's quirky and tomboyish. Together, they create an imaginary world called Terabithia, where they fight imaginary monsters to uphold their kingdom and escape from the real world with its school and family troubles.

Why I don't Like it: Even if the story isn't exactly about it, I can't help but get that feeling that the story is about using your imagination to escape reality. I like escapism, it's the cornerstone of literature, the want to escape into another's reality. But in multiple ways, it seems like the children use this imaginary reality as a coping mechanism to deal with life's troubles, and by its very nature the book seems to encourage other children to do so as well.
That is messed up. Imagination is one thing, but after a while it seems more like this book is encouraging delusion. That is not healthy at all. I was a kid once, I played around using my imagination, but always with the knowledge that I was playing make-believe. This book blurs the line too far, and makes me feel uncomfortable. Also, I wasn't fond of the ending.

Why you Might like it: This is a great book. I don't like the delusional aspects, but that is not the only way to interpret this text. The characters are great, there are a lot of great themes in this story, particularly lessons about bullies, religion and grief. This book is also on a lot of Top 100 lists (hell, it's probably on a lot of Top 10 lists) and it won the Newberry Medal in 1978.
It's a great story and worth a read. If you're buying it for young children, then I recommend you give it a read through beforehand because you're supposed to do that anyway, but in this case you'll need to decide if your child can handle and you may need to prepare yourself for the questions your child could ask because of it. I honestly believe this is a great book, but this is just one of those occasions when I don't like a story for personal reasons.

2. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
(#06 on the list - vulgarity, racial slurs & allegedly promotes euthanasia)

The Book: George Milton is a clever old fellow, if uneducated, who wants to find good, steady work for himself and his friend Lennie Small, a retarded, large-bodied man who likes "soft things", but doesn't know his own strength. They're travelling California during the Great Depression, trying to outrun rape allegations due to Lennie grabbing a woman's soft dress and come across a ranch in Soledad where there are many other interesting characters who are hoping to overcome their misfortune and achieve their dreams.

Why I don't Like it: It's kind of boring. It's a novella, so it doesn't take too long to read, but not very much actually happens in the story. A lot of the story is just time passing between the scenes where Lennie Small abuses his strength. It's like the entire story is just build-up to the inevitable last scene.
Unfortunately the book is also aware of this fact, so chooses to abate it by including a lot of characters whose stories it seeks to tell. However, as an avid reader, I can see through this books attempts at diversion and all I can see is a 5- to 10,000 word story that was written in about 30,000 words.
Then, on top of that, this is a very American story. That's not a bad thing, but it has this whole "American Dream", "Over the Rainbow" feel to it that I've never had any interest in.

Why you Might like it: The characters are fascinating, the atmosphere is done well and this has good tension. I would hesitate to say it has a good "story", since this is more about the atmosphere and themes than it is about the content of the tale, but I think the drama is very well done. Actually "well done" is an apt term for all of this story. Everything is very well done, it is a technically proficient story. So while I feel the story is longer than it needs to be, all of those extra words are expertly written. To me it just feels like treading water, but it's nonetheless proficient prose.
The thing is, after reading this book once I decided that I would never read it again. I felt like it was too much time and effort just to read the story, but I wasn't bored by the experience, so I consider that a point in its favour. You won't want to read it again, but you should definitely read it at least once.

1. Scary Stories (To Tell in the Dark) (series) by Alvin Schwarz
(#01 on the list - depicts violence, frightening imagery)

The Books: A collection of folk-tales, urban legends and campfire stories, this book is exactly what it says on the title page. Stories like: "The Big Toe", where a boy eats a rotten toe he finds in the garden and is haunted by its owner; "The Thing" where two boys find a strange animal in a field that scratches one of them, infecting him with sickness and horror; "The Hearse Song", a song about how you'll rot in your coffin when you die; "The Hook", that Hookman urban legend where a couple is harassed by a madman with a hook for a hand; "The Babysitter", the urban legend with a young girl being harassed by obscene phone calls & "Bloody Fingers" the story of a haunted hotel room (on the 13th floor of course) haunted by a ghost with bleeding fingers.

Why I don't Like it: Are you kidding? I don't like this book because it's goddamned terrifying and will give you nightmares! Oh, but not because of the stories. These can get a little creepy at times, but most of these are quite tame and the urban legends will, at best, give you the heebie-jeebies.
No, what makes this terrifying are the illustrations by Stephen Gammell. Seriously, DO NOT Click this link if you're reading this at night in a quiet room on your own, you will have nightmares, it links to a site with some of the illustrations from the books (as well as stories) you have been warned!
Those images are unsettling, nightmarish depictions of inhuman horror; warped depictions of a darker reality. No child should see that. No adult should see that. Hell, I don't think any human should see that, it's unnatural.

Why you Might like it: If you've been adequately warned and you're not reading it on your own, I think that you can look at those images without vomiting from sheer terror. Then, once you get over those pictures, the stories are quite tame and the perfect campfire ghost story. From what I've seen, some even include instructions to scream at the right moment so as to really scare your listeners. It sounds like a lot of fun.
Heck, even that creepy "Hearse Song" could be tamed if it was a campfire sing-along, I guess. I just don't understand why anyone thought such horrific pictures would be suitable for kids. The books are for kids after all, yet even the front cover has a picture of a screaming scarecrow from the hell dimension. Then again, if any child is brave enough to pick up the book, then I guess they're old enough to read it.

Anyway, that's my list, and those are some Banned Books that I don't like. I don't really recommend them, but I guess you can check them out if you want to. In fact, that's kind of the point I want to make . . .
I don't like banning books, because a lot of these are good books, and taking them away makes us a less cultured people. But it's not just the good books that I want to save. See, I personally dislike these books (in fact some of them I hate and detest) but I would never dare take them away from you. I don't like them, sure, but that doesn't mean they're worthless or inappropriate. It's not up to me to decide what you should be allowed to read. That's what these people don't understand, those that challenge books or request they be removed from school curriculums and library shelves.
So, I encourage you to try to enjoy these books that I dislike or despise, because it's not up to me to tell you what you can and can't read.

It's up to you.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and until next time, I'm going to see what kind of writing I can get away with before someone tries to ban it . . .


  1. Fantastic post on banned books! I really enjoyed reading it!

  2. Interesting perspective....thanks for sharing your hilarious thoughts.

    1. Your welcome, I guess; and thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts.


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