Banned Book Week

Banned Book Week is this week (September 18-24). I figured a post was in order to discuss banned books and the associated ridiculousness especially since there has been a rise in book bans the past few years. PEN America has been tracking many such bans and have a Banned Book Index available to see what some people think shouldn’t be read by others (with a high likelihood they haven’t read it themselves).

There are common denominators for many of the recent book bans with the easiest to determine being the state where the ban was put in place. The three currently with the highest number of banned books are Texas, Pennsylvania, and Florida. I am not inferring the citizens, or rather politicians, of these states are illiterate (not on purpose anyway). I don’t think any law should dictate what a person can or cannot read. Anyone should be able to determine for themselves what, and why, they read.

Most books that get banned are targeted because they contain an idea or discuss a topic those imposing the ban don’t want others to see. So the question is: Why? The easiest and best example I think is how 1984 was banned in many countries for anti-communist themes in many countries during the 40s, 50s, and 60s. It was also banned for pro-communist themes in some democratic countries and continues to get or remained banned for various reasons. When a book is banned, especially for political reasons, then it often contains ideas that oppose those currently in office or exposes the negative sides they wish to remain hidden.

Many common reasons books are banned is because they contain language or violence and the bans are restricting the books within schools. Some bans are to remove books from a county or state altogether including public libraries. Books have been banned from entire countries. Books have been challenged without being banned, but the rise in bans is absolutely a concern I wanted to discuss.

Again, the first question is: Why would someone want to ban this book? The second question is: What about this book frightens the people who want to ban it? Do they fear children will be exposed to certain horrors of this world (which absolutely exist) too early? Are they trying to protect people from something, or prevent them from gaining a different perspective that differs from their own? The reasoning behind a ban is often ludicrous and should be treated as such.

The questions can go on forever about this topic. Questions should be encouraged. I, for one, see a book ban as a reason to look into a book I may otherwise not have been interested in. Banning a book makes me want to read it, or at least see why people think it would be bad for us to read. I will always advocate for someone’s choice to read and encourage all forms of reading. So this week, I encourage you to find a book that has been banned somewhere or at point in time and read it to discover what reasons someone would not want that book in our society. You may not find any. If so, look up why it was banned and see if you can connect any dots.

Happy Reading.

Here are a few books that have been banned that I have recommended before:

1984
Fahrenheit 451
The Handmaid’s Tale
Harry Potter
Brave New World
Slaughterhouse Five
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
To Kill a Mockingbird

Player Piano

Player PianoAgain I return to Vonnegut and am now recommending his first novel Player Piano. I was pleasantly surprised with this one. This is an incredible debut novel first published in 1952, making it now 70 years old this year. The story follows engineer Dr. Paul Proteus through a world that is near full-automation. Machines run practically everything and only a handful of engineers are needed to maintain the system alongside a group of managers. These managers and engineers believe themselves to be the elite while all others are employed by the government via joining the Army or by joining an organization called the Reconstruction and Reclamation Corps playfully called the Reeks and Wrecks.

Being 70 years old, and Vonnegut himself passing away in 2007 mere months before the first iPhone was released, there was no way this novel could have predicted the development of the technology we know today. However, it does imagine a highly technical, although mechanic, world where humans are quickly replaced by machines to complete their work which leaves them few options and little excitement or pride in their lives. Everything is studied/surveyed en masse prior to anything being produced so everyone gets pre-fabricated houses with the same appliances and all entertainment is generalized and must fit pre-determined guidelines.

People take exams when they graduate/reach adulthood and are given a score that prescribes their future. The score, highly focused on IQ level, essentially tells them they can go to college to be an engineer or will have to choose either the Army or Reeks and Wrecks. Their IQ is public record and cannot be changed. Any discussion of anti-automation is considered treason. The word “saboteur” holds a special meaning and is considered the worst offense.

There is a lot packed into this one novel and it still speaks to much of what society grapples with today. Though machines may not be as prevalent, we have computers that can replace what were once people-operated jobs. The surveying of the public is now market research and we all have experienced the dreadful targeted ads. The Reeks and Wrecks would be considered Socialism and railed against politically, and many people are working multiple jobs for demeaning wages. This book was written at a time when the nation’s wealth was more equally distributed, so it is hard to imagine what Vonnegut would have had to say about the number of billionaires today who pay their frontline workers so little they need to utilize food stamps. But that is a rant for another day.

I think this novel holds up quite well now 70 years later. In fact, it may be one of Vonnegut’s best novels though it doesn’t get discussed as much as Slaughterhouse Five, Sirens of Titan, or Cat’s Cradle. Vonnegut focused much of his work on societal observations and problems people faced or society faced as a whole. Player Piano seems to be the most direct that I’ve read yet. There are more I still need to read, and I will get to them eventually.

Happy Reading.

The Sound of Waves

The Sound of WavesThe Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima was published in 1956 (though I believe this was the date for the first English-translated version). This is the first book by Mishima I have read and I came across it randomly, and I was excited to read something without any prior exposure to it. There is a page in the front of the version I read that gives a brief description of Mishima’s life. He wrote several books including a tetralogy called The Sea of Fertility which he considered his greatest work. According to this short insight, “he frequently said he would die when it was completed.” On November 25th in 1970, the day he finished the final novel, he committed seppuku at the age of 45.

I read this book in a day which I believe is a testament to the story itself but more so to how it was written. With how easy it was to read this story, I am interested in reading his tetralogy and will likely do so at a later time. Just another series added to the TBR.

The Sound of Waves focuses on the fishing village located on the island of Uta-jima where a young, poor fisherman falls in love with the daughter of a wealthy man. What follows is the story of a semi-secret love in a village where lives are intertwined so closely nothing remains unknown for long.

What I liked about this book was how it focuses on the essential aspects of life that get forgotten in the overcomplications society imparts upon us. Granted, this was before modern technology (which may make it an even better reminder), but it was still a great story about human interaction and how simple life should be compared to what most of us often experience. It also focuses on honesty and living with integrity. Life is more than our level of intelligence, how much money we make, and who our family members are. It is about how we treat others and ourselves. How we approach life is who we are as a person.

If you are looking for a good story, an easy read, and a relaxing reminder that life doesn’t have to be complicated, then this might be the perfect book for you right now.

Happy Reading.

Fall Reading Lineup

I have not been reading as much as I would like this year, but I am reading nonetheless and it is always nice to consider the next handful of books I want to read. I have been on a Vonnegut reading spell so it won’t be a surprise that half of this list include him or his work. Here we go:

GalapagosPlayer PianoI am currently reading Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut and intend to read Player Piano, his first published novel, afterwards as it currently is the last Vonnegut novel I own that remains unread. I will likely buy a few more of his books to read in the near future though. Most of his books are really quick or easy reads. I remember thinking I could have finished Cat’s Cradle in an evening if I had the time available.

A Vonnegut-related book I hope to read this fall, or by the end of the year, is And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life by Charles J. Shields. And So It GoesThis is an authorized biography that Kurt initially declined but later accepted (I believe the year before he passed). I look forward to learning more about Vonnegut the person which likely will enrich my reading of his fiction. I’m taking a vacation soon and may take this one with me at my travel book as it is a decent size.

GormenghastI am also currently reading Titus Groan which is the first book of the Gormenghast trilogy by Mervyn Peake. I stopped about halfway through this first book and read Cat’s Cradle and now I’m into Galapagos. I will return to Titus Groan and finish the trilogy, but it may be slow going, interrupted by other books, as the reading is a little dense despite the intrigue threaded throughout. This may be a trilogy that extends into next year depending on how often I return to it and how much reading I can fit in.

The Sound of WavesI also want to read The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima. This one I really don’t know much about but I think it will be a great book that is one of those reminders about the essential aspects of life which get lost in the maelstrom of things wanting or demanding our attention today. I think part of the reason I am looking forward to this book is because I know very little about it. It will be a completely fresh read which will be great as most of my reading includes books that have been on my list for some time and which I already have some prior knowledge about.

So, that is the lineup that I hope to read in the next few months. My time is filled with work and being a father to a toddler. Regardless, I enjoy reading and it relieves stress so I finding more time to fit in books is doubly beneficial.

I hope you find time to read the books you want to or love to read.

Happy Reading.

Cat’s Cradle

Cat's CradleMy Vonnegut trend continues and this time it had me reading his fourth novel Cat’s Cradle. If the novel wasn’t satire, it’d be one hell of a depressing story. However, with Vonnegut’s interjection of humor and ways of pinpointing the absurdity of humanity, the novel is introspective of how we make a mess of things and at its core is a hope of pointing out what is really important.

First published in 1963, Cat’s Cradle is where many of Vonnegut’s fictitious words originate. His creation of the religion of Bokonon also created words such as foma, granfalloon, and karass. This novel is also the origination of ice-nine. All become relevant to the central story but I won’t delve into them to avoid potential spoilers.

One feature I found I really liked about this book is the incredibly short chapters. Right now, time for reading is hard to come by for me and this ~300 page book has 127 chapters leaving many to be only a page or two in length and therefore easier to pick up and put down. Although the book itself is easy enough to read in one sitting if you feel so inclined.

The more I think on the events of this book the more I come to like it as a novel, social commentary, and overall poke in the ribs to every reader. I understand why this is one of his more popular novels. Perhaps it will be one of your favorites.

Happy Reading.