It’s Banned Book Week!
I don’t know about you, but I see banned books lists as a challenge. Someone tells me I “can’t” do something, and I’m MORE curious about it than I would have been if they’d just kept their mouths shut. In fact, I went to see The Last Temptation of Christ BECAUSE of all the whackadoodle Christians who were protesting and wailing and condemning the film (most of them, I might add, without ever having seen it; the uproar started before the thing was even released). How’s THAT for heresy! (also, and not for nothing, I kind of liked the film…)
Not only do I READ “banned books,” I teach them, too. Here are ten of my favorites:
1. Native Son. I teach this to seniors whenever I have the chance. The book is difficult and ugly and painful, but it’s also, I think, an important look at the ways in which poverty (and the systems that both create and perpetuate it) affects EVERYONE adversely. It’s also a great way to talk to students about privilege, which is a desperately important conversation to have.
2. To Kill a Mockingbird. I teach this one to freshmen every chance I get. The novel requires a bit of background for the kids; most of them have no concept of the society in which the novel is set and, as a consequence, they have a hard time grasping the main conflict in the story. Once we do a unit on Jim Crow, though, everything starts to fall into place.
3. The Kite Runner. I taught this in a Film and Literature class, and offered it as a free reading choice to sophomores last year (three of my 16 kids chose that book). It’s a gorgeous novel that asks students to take a hard look at loyalty, friendship, kinship ties, and responsibility.
4. The Things They Carried. I teach the eponymous story when I’m teaching my unit on descriptive writing. O’Brien’s story is a strange combination of stark, raw, lush, and beautiful. The end gets me every time, and I’ve been teaching the story for years.
5. The Lovely Bones. Here’s another one I taught in both the Film and Lit class and offered as a reading choice to sophomores last year. I don’t love this novel, but I do love the questions it inspires in the students. The themes of remembrance and letting go are difficult ones to process, and despite my being lukewarm about the book, I’m always pleased by the work we do with it.
6. The Handmaid’s Tale. I’ve taught this novel several times, and EVERY SINGLE TIME, I’m amazed by the really great thinking that it generates in my students. My most recent go-round with it was last year – you know; just as the whole Sandra Fluke, contraception hysteria was really getting going? – and it was both incredibly satisfying and singularly terrifying how relevant the novel was.
7. The Golden Compass. I taught this in a Film and Lit class two years ago, and it may well have been my favorite novel of the course. It asks students to think about institutional control, what we are and are not allowed to believe, and what belief inspires/compels some people to do, particularly in the pursuit and maintenance of power.
8. Harry Potter. Duh. The righty wingnuts get their panties in a bunch over magic. Whatever. I don’t teach the whole series, but I have taught The Prisoner of Azkaban in my Film and Literature class.
9. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Technically, I have never taught this book. I did, however, encourage a coworker to teach it to sophomores two years ago, and I was planning to teach it this year if I had still been in the classroom.
10. The Hunger Games. I taught this to freshmen last year, and I think that it was an entirely successful enterprise. One of the things I work on is teaching kids to look beyond the stories; to use the plot as a metaphor for something larger. I think that most of my class was able to see the themes of individual responsibility, protest, and resistance as we made our way through the novel.
What are YOUR favorite banned books?