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Nov 01, 2012


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Got a RUCO post in you today Ed?


Thanks. I'll have to read The Handmaid's Tale. If we're gonna compile a list of banned books, I'd like to include ones from Beck and D'Souza.

Peggy Hickle

House of the Spirits is one of my top 10 favorite books so I clearly have my entree into the Gomorrah Club (thank goodness!!) -- and would totally love to read that again as it has been years. As a point of interest -- or not -- I also include The Last Temptation of Christ on that list, which likely gives me a lifetime membership.

David Wharton

Just wondering. What if a group of parents publicly objected to The Handmaid's Tale in the high school curriculum because it's just a lousy book? Trying to imagine the media coverage if a different bad book were in the curriculum, and a different group of parents objected.


If I'm not mistaken, I don't think people want to ban this book, just make it not "required" which I also understand is not the case. I think recognition of the status quo, which is that teachers can assign the book but where students can choose a different book instead if the object, is the antidote to what appears to be unnecessary hyperventilation to me.


"a different bad book"

Not the worst yarn, really. A really terrible foundation for a political philosophy, though.

Ed Cone

DW, a bad review doesn't make The Handmaid's Tale a bad book, any more than the many accolades and awards it won make it a good one.

What did you think of it when you read it?

I remember being slightly underwhelmed, if only because I'd read so many dystopian novels by that point; the lens of women's rights did make it somewhat fresh.

I think Ayn Rand would be great fodder for high school discussion (as the old joke* has it), and I'm all for including the Bible in literary curricula as well. The problems in those cases might well arise not from parents objecting to the inclusion of texts, but to critical thinking and conversation about them.

*There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.


If literary merit is the yardstick, then you have to go with Lolita.

David Wharton

Ed, it was a long time ago, and I didn't finish it. So, underwhelmed, too, I guess. Same for Atlas Shrugged.

No doubt those parents should have read the AP English Course Description before they signed their kids up for that class, because it states the book selection policy very clearly:

Issues that might, from a specific cultural viewpoint, be considered controversial, including references to ethnicities, nationalities, religions, races, dialects, gender or class, are often represented artistically in works of literature. The Development Committee is committed to careful review of such potentially controversial material. Still, recognizing the universal value of literary art that probes difficult and harsh life experiences and so deepens understanding, the committee emphasizes that fair representation of issues and peoples may occasionally include controversial material.

Since AP students have chosen a program that directly involves them in college-level work, the AP English Literature and Composition Exam depends on a level of maturity consistent with the age of 12th-grade students who have engaged in thoughtful analysis of literary texts.

Even so, I'm usually irritated by "book banning" rhetoric. If every instance of un-including books from curricula is "book banning," then every meaningful curriculum necessarily bans books. It's usually not the banning that get objected to, it's just some of the banners.


"just some of the banners"

Who always seem to be the same people, except in hypotheticals.

Ed Cone

Deciding not to include a book on the syllabus is not, in most cases, the same as banning that book because of content that may seem controversial or offensive to some people.

It's possible that the book won't be included because of such content, but the necessarily limited number of books that can be assigned means choices have to be made, and those choices probably depend on things like perceived quality, relevance to the class, relationship to other works on the syllabus, and, even, perhaps, a desire to include controversial or thought-provoking material.

To call exclusion on those grounds a "ban" is to misuse the word and misrepresent the respective positions of the teachers and the banners.


Alright let's use the ALA's word, "challenged," instead.


How trivial that the parents of students who grew up in the digital age and lived through 9/11/2001 and two wars are worried about "sexual" and "violent" acts/passages played out in works of fiction. If anything, such books are convenient and welcome escapes from the disgusting realities that exist outside those hard and soft covers. I highly doubt that anything contained within those books compares to anything Little Johnny of Little Susie has read or seen on the internet or viewed on television.

Summer reading for me before I started my senior year of high school: The Prince of Tides, Beloved, and The Romanovs: The Final Chapter. Doesn't get more sexually graphic or violent, even morbid, than those three. My parents didn't go running to the head of school to whine and complain about the horror and injustice of having to read such stuff.


Jeepers, if it's not banning books, then allusions to the Nazis and Fahrenheit 451 are useless. BTW, it was The Evil Dr. Guarino who recommended proscription, and not a school administration.

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