5 of my Favorite Banned / Challenged Classics

Banned Books Week runs from September 23 to 29 in 2018, offering a nice reminder about all of the books that are so awesome that some doofus doesn’t want you to read them.

Here are five of my favorites:

5.) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey: Randle McMurphy conducts a con to convince authorities that he’s insane and belongs in an asylum rather than doing hard time in a prison. It’s a commentary on how free-spirits are viewed by society and the pressures put upon them to conform. It’s been challenged many times on the usual grounds of sex and language, as well as for the “glorification of criminal activity.”

4.) A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess: In a dystopian England, the head of a small band of thuggish teenagers is imprisoned and convinced to undergo operant conditioning that will make any future attempts to engage in violent behavior personally painful. The book is a critique on social engineering, though it should be pointed out that there are two different versions of the book in circulation, one with the final chapter written by the author and one without it, and the inclusion or deletion of that chapter has serious implications for the book’s message. Instances of sex and violence are the usual basis for challenges to this novel.

 

3.) The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie: Two men fall from a plane and survive, one archangel and one demon. The title of the book, and much of its controversy, is owed to a plot point about the Islamic prophet Muhammad (Mahound, in the book) receiving both angelic and demonic guidance and prophecy. This is the most explicitly banned book on the list with at least a dozen countries explicitly banning it — most of them were Islamic countries offended by the portrayal of events when Islam was first coming into existence, but a few banned it out of public safety fears over extremist activity. The author is under Fatwa, religious approval of Rushie’s execution, by Iranian authorities.

2.) Brave New World by Aldous Huxley: In this soft dystopia, people are kept in line by readily available drugs and promiscuous sex. Among the American Library Association (ALA) list of challenges to this book was one suggesting the book be banned because it: “makes [promiscuous] sex look like fun.” Which made me laugh a little.

1.) The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck: A family, bankrupted by the one-two punch of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression, packs up and heads out to the promised land of California, only to discover that it wasn’t all that it promised. Objection to language is the most prevalent cause for challenges to this book.

BOOK REVIEW: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork Orange A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

While it’s a title that probably has had many readers scratching their heads, “A Clockwork Orange” is the perfect title for Burgess’s book. Our brains—while highly capable—are a stringy, wet mess of complexity, and to treat them like a clockwork machine is to invite trouble as well as to muddle what it means to be human.

This book is set in a dystopian future and features Alex, the head of a small band of teenage ne’er-do-wells who roam the streets engaging in random acts of violence. After Alex has a falling out with his band, they abandon him to be captured by the police. Institutionalized, he finds that he’s no longer a lion among sheep, but is a teenager among hardened criminal men. He’s eager to get out and after a violent precipitating event; he’s enrolled in a program that will use drugs and operant conditioning (i.e. the so-called Ludovico technique) to “cure” him of violent tendencies. Once he’s cured, they release him as he’s no longer a threat to society.

The technique works perfectly, but with the side-effect that the classical music that he used to love now makes him violently ill—because said music was used for dramatic effect in his conditioning. The days after his release are no picnic as he has run-ins with past enemies and has no ability to stand up for himself–any violence makes him ill to a physically debilitating level. He finds himself being used by anti-government dissenters who make him a poster-child for the level of authoritarianism the government has stooped to. The government ultimately caves to public opposition, and reverses the procedure. At first Alex immediately goes back to his ultra-violent ways with a newly formed crew, but he finds himself changing.

There are a couple of warnings of note. First, Alex and his friends speak in a dialect called Nadsat that is a kind of pidgin of Russian and English. It’s not hard to follow. Context usually makes the meaning clear, and only a handful of twists on Russian words are used and they are used repeatedly to the point their meaning becomes second nature. However, it should be noted that a considerable amount of the book is not in straightforward English. For example, “horrorshow” actually means “good” and it comes from the Russian хорошо (phonetically: “horosho”) which means “good.”

Second, if you’re buying a secondhand copy, make sure it has 21 chapters. In the US, an edition was released with the last chapter stripped out. (Note: some people do like it better without the last chapter, but you should probably experience it as the author intended and make up your own mind about which is best.) Needless to say, the tone of the ending is completely changed depending upon whether the last chapter is included or not.

The organization is straightforward, and consists of three parts with seven chapters each. The beginning is before Alex goes to prison, the middle is while he’s incarcerated and his experience of the Ludovico Technique, and the last part is from Alex’s release onward.

This book is a classic for good reason. It’s both an intense story and a thought-provoking morality tale. I’d highly recommend it.

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