For 2016 Hillingdon Library Staff have to read a book of their choice on a particular theme each month.
For January the theme was ‘Banned Books’ just to explore the length & breadth of fantastic books we are able to access in the library service without having to worry about censorship. Fiction seems to have always battled with censorship whether it be because of religion, politics, sex or that someone important just doesn’t like it.
Eleven of us signed up to read our favourite banned books – here they are for you to peruse. Do you think they should be banned?
- Ulysses by James Joyce
In these days of Fifty Shades of Grey and all its spin off’s, one could be forgiven for thinking Ulysses is pretty-tame meat, if not easily comprehensible! But, remember, nearly one hundred years ago, literature was only just escaping the moral strictures of the Victorian Age. Again, there is relatively little sex, obscenity or bad language in this classic modernist text; but what there is is both necessarily and stylistically justifiable in the context of Joyce’s artistic concerns – which are……no less than to meld the ancient epic tradition of the Odyssey with just about every genre of established literary form e.g. realism, romance, lists, dramatic presentation & of course the infamous stream of consciousness technique for which Joyce is most frequently remembered. Read this book with a wry ironic mind; appreciate its complexities, depths and allusiveness; but above all do not be put off, surprised or offended by any of its minor transgressions of taste. And then, watch the 1967 film version, which is excellent, too! To use a brilliant quote from Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake (1939), there is indeed a fun-feral on every page of Ulysses!
5 out of 5 stars
Len – Harefield Library
2. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls dominates over Western literature but despite its reputation as a classic it has received multiple bannings over the years. In 1941 the U.S. Post Office refused to mail the book because of its references to Marxism. In 1973 eleven Turkish publishers of the book were put on trial for spreading “unfavourable” propaganda. The novel is set during the Spanish Civil War and focuses on the young American Robert Jordan and his mission to blow up a bridge. He is sent to a small guerilla outfit in the mountains and meets their drunken leader Pablo (who may have lost his courage), the old but formidable Pilar and Maria, who has escaped from the Fascist regime.All of the classic ingredients of the Hemingway Daiquiri are there. It is tragic, darkly comic, cynical and romantic. Death dominates the novel, from the doomed mission that must be undertaken to philosophical ponderings on the morality of killing during war and suicide. Hemingway captures both the formal and informal dialects of the Spanish language, the overwhelming romance of an ill-fated and all too brief relationship and the troubled thoughts of a soldier in a foreign war. Some odd stylistic choices aside (the repeated uses of “I obscenity in thy milk” and “mucking,” while perhaps necessary, are a bit distracting and at times of over abundance, downright humorous) this is a powerful novel.
4 out of 5 stars
Mark – Uxbridge Library
3. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H Lawrence
For a book with such notoriety, that was banned under the “Obscene Publications Act” I was slightly disappointed. I was expecting (possibly hoping) for more graphic lasciviousness and lots of incredibly naughty affairs but felt that Lady Chatterley was completely justified and wondered how she stayed good for so long! With a husband who unfortunately cannot in any way satisfy her (through no fault of his own), of course this was going to happen, in fact her own father encouraged it! The language is flowery and pleasant and the love scenes with Mellors the Gamekeeper are beautifully described but the essence of this novel is more about class than sex and that’s what you’re more focused on – how class, at that time, got in the way of everything.
I enjoyed the read, the characterisation, the plot and felt a real sympathy for Lady Chatterley but if you’re looking for your next fix after fifty shades this definitely isn’t it.
4 out of 5 stars
Lara – Harefield Library
4. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Hitler ordered all copies of this book to be burned as he felt the content, written by a German author was unpatriotic. He probably felt as world war two approached that this books incredibly bleak portrayal of war would deter men from joining up to fight. The narrator of this novel really describes the fear, horror and indignity of fighting in the trenches during world war one. What he really reiterates throughout the novel is how the young men have lost their young adulthood, they went from school boys, living at home with parents, encouraged to join the war effort by teachers, to men who are haunted by what they have seen and experienced. He feels that he has become an old man and missed out on experiencing life, unsure what he will do if he manages to survive the war.
4 out of 5 stars
Siobhan – Uxbridge Library
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Here’s a book that has been banned many times, the first occasion within a month of publication in 1885. It’s been banned (nationally, statewide and in schools in America) for many reasons over its history, including unchristian behaviour in its protagonist, vulgarity, and more lately the frequent use of the n-word. It did take a while for me to adjust to this last factor, but understanding both the context of the word and the aims of the writer helped me overcome this – Mark Twain was an abolitionist and the word didn’t come to be taboo until well after the book was written. The novel is written in a number of dialects and takes us on a journey down the Mississippi river on a raft with Huck and an escaped black slave, Jim. During the course of the adventures, Huckleberry Finn questions whether the sense of rightness that’s instilled in him really is the best and only way to be – he ends up a kinder, more thoughtful person by rejecting the perceived wisdoms of his elders, realising Jim is as human as he is, a friend he’d rather protect that hand over, despite everything he’s been taught. He’s a hero with an independent mind, like many of the fictional characters we love. Whilst the adventures themselves tend to get tedious, and Tom Sawyer’s 11th hour intervention drags it out even longer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a deeply political and moral work, a Great American Novel disguised as a boy’s-own adventure. That we have to overcome our own misgivings about a word is a small price to pay for reading it.
4 out of 5 stars
Darren – Uxbridge Library
6. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Solzhenitsyn’s own experience as a prisoner in a Soviet labour camp inspires this vivid, unsentimental evocation of a harsh regime, the attempted dehumanisation and the little victories. Written in the simple prose appropriate to the ordinary man at its centre, it speaks with the authenticity of personal experience. It is less surprising that the Soviet Union banned it in 1964 than that publication was originally allowed in 1962, though this was presumably because it dealt with the Stalinist era, then being discredited by the current Soviet leadership. What stays with you is the cold (this is Siberia) and the indomitability of the human spirit.
5 out of 5 stars
Mike – Eastcote Library
7. The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien
Burned by the local parish priest,banned by the Irish Censorship Board and condemned as “filth and should not be allowed in any decent home” by the Taoiseach ,Charlie Haughey,The Country Girls caused waves in the Irish establishment.There is no description of sex in the book but the great taboo, of challenging the catholic church and having a relationship with a married man,outraged the establishment.The two main characters,Caithlin and Baba were determined to shake off the shackles of the oppressive religion and live their own lives.The Ireland of the 1950’s was harsh and the people were manacled by religion.It is a story of optimism despite all the frowning,disapproving faces but the ending is heartbreaking.This is a very well written story taking the reader to a time when people were hardly aware of the world outside their small communities.
4 out of 5 stars
Marian – Northwood Hills Library
8. A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthut Conan Doyle
‘A study in Scarlet’ was the first Sherlock Holmes novel and I was intrigued by the ways Holmes and Watson met and how their friendship began. Holmes is revealed as a brilliant and eccentric individual whose success in solving crimes derives from his powers of observation and deductive reasoning. Watson is his loyal and stable companion who narrates the stories. Although I enjoyed reading the book, there were times when I found it hard to imagine some scene settings, but I enjoyed the character descriptions and was intrigued by its plot elements. The book was banned for its representation of Mormons.
3 out of 5 stars
Franka – Hayes End Library
Having watched so many ‘Sherlocks’ on TV it was an eye opener to re-read this ‘banned’ book.It was banned by American school boards for it’s portayal of Mormons. I had forgotten that Dr Watson narrates the story for a start. I was disappointed actually with the whole thing. I think I’ve been spoilt by the TV adaptations. The controversial section involving Mormons could even have been left out and not affected the story! Also this was Conan Doyle’s first novel so I expect he was finding his way. It had the intricate deduction which I love, but it just didn’t do it for me
3 out of 5 stars
Marie-Louise – Hayes End Library
9. American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis
American Psycho was an enjoyable novel which follows the story of a wealthy young businessman named Patrick Bateman. His fast paced world is the epitome of sex, drugs and rock and roll, or at least night club music. I enjoyed the style of writing as the main character narrates his own story. As this progresses Patrick Bateman seems to become more psychotic and his murders become more and more sadistic, complicated, drawn out and torturous. The novel tells the tale of an unwinding mind and mistakes even start to appear in the telling of the story and confusion of accounts that are given. It makes you start to wonder how much of the activities that are being described are real or are they just a figment of an over-active imagination fantasising about how they could spice their real world up. Either way Psycho was enjoyable and really made me think about the psychology of the main character. It got a bit confusing at times but I think that would be part of the draw to some people and trying to untangle the web of this disturbed mind as it guides you along. I think this book would be enjoyable to anyone who enjoys crime fiction with fairly graphic murders. It definitely gives it a further dimension with the psychological aspect to give you something else to think about. American Psycho was banned in Queensland, Australia. I think it is probably one of the more understandable books to be banned due to the graphic nature and adult themes.
3 out of 5 stars
Richard – Harefield Library
10. The Giver by Louis Lowry
At a time when I seem to be reading a lot of Young Adult books The Giver by Lois Lowry a YA novel published in 1993 really stood out on the different lists of banned books for me. It is one of the most challenged & banned books in American schools with the reasons often cited as ‘Violence’ or being unsuitable for children. The book looks at a world where there is no pain, no hunger, no choices and even no colour, freedom is very much a thing of the past and funnily enough the characters aren’t allowed to read books other than the dictionary or the Book of Rules. The Giver features a world where everything is assigned to you and you don’t question anything, you are even assigned a job when it is time. Jonas, the male protagonist in this book is assigned the role of Receiver of Memory where the exisiting Receiver, an old man known as The Giver has to transfer all memories of the ‘real’ world to Jonas. This process opens Jonas’s eyes to a whole new world and leaves him beginning to question everything he thought he knew and at the end of the book making a radical decision to try and make a change. What I find most interesting about the reason The Giver has been banned & challenged so many times is that it is a book about taking away people’s choices and that those challenging the book or banning it are taking away people’s choice to read it. I found the book both beautiful and alarming, the world that Lois Lowry creates is quite shocking. She does a great job of immersing you into the story and taking you on a journey with Jonas as he begins to learn the truth about the world. Not sure how I feel about reading the other three books that make up this series as I kind of like how it ended but I will be watching the film adaptation in the near future.
4 out of 5 stars
Sam – Manor Farm Library
So will you venture into Banned Book Territory? If you do please let us know what you think.