As noted in this space earlier in the week, this is the American Library Association's annual Banned Books Week, a unique celebration of books that have offended the narrow-minded among us - offended them to the point that demands have been made to pull those books from school classrooms and library shelves. The American Library Association has an office whose primary duty it is to track and tally those complaints, and it annually publishes lists of the books which received the most negative attention through demands that they be denied to others.
Every year during this annual event I make a vow to myself that I will concentrate on reading banned books during the upcoming year - but I usually wind up reading just one or two out of the dozens of books that I actually do read in a year. This year I am going to challenge myself to read ten books that the American Library Association has honored among their "banned books" over the years. Five will be books that are new to me - although I do have some familiarity of a couple of those - and five will be banned books that I have read in the past which were so good that I want to have an excuse to enjoy them again.
Here is my list.
- Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. That's right, I know quite a bit about this book but have never sat down and actually read it. I have a son who is a bit of an expert on Salinger, so not only will I enjoy reading this work, but hopefully I will also gain insights by discussing it with Tim.
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I've seen and enjoyed the movie a couple of times on cable - and since books are nearly always better than their films, I suspect that this will be a very good read.
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. This is a classic that I missed throughout my many years as a reader. Bradbury was an especially talented writer whose prose always bordered on the poetic. One of my college professors described Bradbury's writing as "luscious." And, I know the story is about book-burning, so it should be particularly appropriate for this challenge.
- Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya. I am unfamiliar with the author and have a very limited knowledge of the book, although I have heard that it has a focus on satanism and the occult. I may read it in the lounge down at the local senior center!
- Looking for Alaska by John Green. I know nothing about the author or the book, but have heard that it is good. We'll see!
- The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier. I've read the book and seen the movie. It's a gripping tale of a school's campaign to meet a high sales goal in its annual drive to sell chocolates, and the pressures and violence that occurs when one student rebels.
- Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. This, of course, is Heller's classic dissection of the absurdities of war (World War II in Europe, in this case). It is, at times, a tough book to wade through, but well worth the prolonged slog.
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Alexie is, in my very humble opinion, one of our very best contemporary writers of fiction, and he is also a gifted poet. Much of his work, including this book, gives a stark and very real look at life on the contemporary reservation.
- The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. The author puts forth a fictional, yet very real, tale of the war in Vietnam from the perspective of the fighting man. This is a helluva fine novel which takes a lot of its shape and substance from the author's own service in Vietnam.
- A Separate Peace by John Knowles. I first read this book, the story of a tortured relationship between two young men at a private school just before the outbreak of World War II, when I was just starting college - not long after it was first published. I did the second reading twenty or twenty-five years later and found it every bit as good as what I remembered. It is time for my third, and probably final, reading of Knowles' amazing work.