Friday, August 14, 2009

Five Things I've Gained from Reading (Part I)

When I was reading the NCTE Inbox entry on Five Things I've Gained from Reading I knew I had to answer the five questions for myself, I just hadn't made a point to do so. So here we go, starting with the first question:

What piece of literature has stayed with you, even though you haven't read it recently?
Every few years I have to go back and read Herman Hesse's Siddhartha, a story about a Brahmin's son and his journey toward understanding the universe and understanding self. This is one of those novels that found me at the right time in my life. Senior year of high school, my Western literature class. I was at a place where I wasn't sure about my faith, and I was able to connect with Siddhartha as he traveled with the shamans, met Buddah, conversed with a man who lived on the river, lived as a wealthy business man and consort, and eventually made his way back to the river, all in order to find himself and figure out what he believed. I had been struggling with religion and faith for seven years when I read this novel. In essence, it validated my search for what made sense to me.
I sent one email to one friend, and used Facebook and Twitter to get responses from others on this topic.

In her email, S said that the novel with a lasting impression on her is Bridge to Terabithia. Recommended to her by her sister, Bridge to Terabithia may have been the first novel she read that dealt with death. She says,
I struggle with making sense of life and death. People's impact on our lives, and then their withdrawal from our lives, whether by death or by paths diverging. Why bother letting people in, if eventually they are going to go away in some form or another? We let them in because we are better for their influence, we are changed, in some way. We need other people to help us become who we are meant to be.
The responses I got from Facebook were
  • Story of B by Daniel Quinn (And apparently CW's readings of this novel follow the advice of Gordy from The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian on reading).
  • Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (JG's mention of this novel made me want to pick it up again--and I started listening to the dramitization like crazy.)
  • The Stand by Stephen King -- this came from someone who's not the biggest Stephen King fan, too, so that was interesting.
I only remember getting one response from Twitter, and now I can't find the series of tweets in which TF gave me her response.

The purpose of the question, Traci Gardner says in her post, is to show literature's "enduring value to the reader." A few of the people I asked responded to me with something along the lines of "I have to pick just one?" And I think that's why I had such a hard time with this question. I've read so many books just in the last few months, and there are so many of them that have made an impression on me, or that I think are fabulous reads and would read again if I didn't have a million other books on my reading list (which seems to gain more books than get ticked off). I couldn't decide if I wanted to discuss Roald Dahl's Matilda, which was one of my favorites growing up--so much so that the cover fell off. Or if I wanted to use Phyllis Curott's Book of Shadows which is another about spirituality and self-discovery. Those aren't the only two I wrestled with, but it came down to those two and the one I ended up choosing.

Hopefully, Part II will be posted without too much delay.
I saw this on the Virgina Library Association Blog and had to share. The post is about Banned Books Week 2009.

The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot

This is another one of those brief posts where I tackle the issue of censorship. It was brought to my attention that one Meg Cabot book was pulled from the shelf at the middle school where I teach for inappropriate content. I can appreciate pulling books from the shelf on the basis that there are ideas/issues that the middle school aged student is not mature enough to handle, but as I understand it, the novel wasn't read in its entirety.

I have a problem with people banning books when the book has neither been read nor thought about in terms of the bigger picture. Like the whole Harry Potter scandal of old. Something about challenging something without having all of the facts, or in this case, the background, doesn't sit right with me. Besides, how do we grow if we do not, from time to time, subject ourselves to something uncomfortable?

All of that being said, because the one book was banned from our library, the rest of the Meg Cabot was pulled from the shelf, the challenger thinking that the remainder of the novels were to be discarded as well. Apparently one of the members of the library staff thought that the books were pulled so the challenger could read them and decide whether or not discarding the entire collection (29 titles show up in a library search for "meg cabot"). So by the same token, should we ban Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach, or Lois Lowry's The Giver (which is award winning) to protect the children? Hmm. I read these as a child and they're fantastic.

That being said, and because I have a defiant streak, I decided to read the first of the Princess Diaries novels. I was curious to see what the challenger could find so objectionable in this novel, that my best friend and her kid had both read already, and to see what they pulled from the novel to create the movie.

The closest things to objectionable I could find are as follows
  • Mia has a preoccupation with breasts. Not in a homosexual way, mind you, it's just that she doesn't have any and thinks being noticed and landing a boyfriend is determined by cup size. Maybe in high school, that is the case, and I know many girls, even at the middle school level, can identify with Mia's obsession over this issue.
  • Mia likes to look out the window at people in her neighborhood, particularly the transsexual who lives across the way. I'm sure some could protest that any slightly homosexual activity or suggestion shouldn't be read by their children, but I'm willing to argue that if people are going to get up in arms because there's a transsexual living across the street from a character in a novel and that's what they're upset about, then they're not looking at the bigger picture -- see the coming-of-ageness of this novel (see me waving my arms around like there's a cauldron in front of me trying to magic people into broader world views).
  • Mia comes downstairs one morning to see her algebra teacher in his underwear--mind you, he's dating her mom. There's an implication there of "inappropriate" behavior between two concenting adults. And Mia does make a point to show that her mother is not promiscous and doesn't bring home every Tom and Harry that she goes out with in the interest of her daughter. The only reason Mia caught them is because she decided not to spend the night at her friend's house.
And honestly, that's it. There are other novels I'd be more apt to consider to remove from the collection than this one. And while the book and the movie are wildly different (though I don't think Clarise is painted as as big of a snob as Anne Hathaway suggested in her commentary to the movie), I can see what they drew from and how they adapted the film for the big screen. I can honestly say that I enjoy both the book and the movie equally.

Take that, people who get upset about movie adaptations and how they differ from the novels.