Uptown Free Readers
is a reading club emphasizing substantive literature that has been banned,
challenged, or censored. We meet on the third Wednesday of each month, from
6:30 PM to 8:00 PM, at the Maple Street Bookshop, located at 7529 Maple Street,
between Hillary and Cherokee streets, in Uptown New Orleans.
Bookshop offers a 10% discount on Book Club readings. Contact the store for
more information at 504-866-4916.
Why read banned books? The American Library Association documents hundreds
of challenges to books in schools and libraries each year, including attempts
to remove, re-shelve, restrict access to, or place warning labels on, books of
all kinds. We read to stay informed
about the kinds of materials being challenged, so we are better prepared to
raise others’ awareness of the problem. It also turns out that many challenged
books are a great read.
-- Our Upcoming Meeting --
15 Sept 2010
Sherman Alexie’s novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian examines the experiences of a teenager growing up on a reservation in Washington State, focusing on his growth toward self-acceptance and other-acceptance in a multi-cultural environment. Although written from the perspective of a 14-year-old boy, adults as well as young adults will find this an enlightening read. The Absolutely True Diary has won multiple awards, including the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, The New York Times Notable Children’s Books of 2007, The Los Angeles Times Favorite Children’s Books of 2007, and School Library Journal Best Books of 2007. In 2009, the book was retained on the summer reading list at an Antioch, Illinois high school, in spite of objections by some parents who felt the book’s language was vulgar and racist. In 2010 it was banned (removed from the school library) by the school board in Stockton, Missouri, supposedly because of “violence, language, and some sexual content.” (Little & Brown, 288 pages, available hardbound, in paperback, and as an audiobook).
-- Looking Ahead --
20 October 2010
Lolita is considered by
many to be among the very best novels ever written in English (click HERE,
for example). This is one of those books that generates a whole host of books
about the book, including literary criticism, readers' guides, and teaching guides, as well as
the usual condensed notes. Author Vladimir Nabokov
(1899-1977) was remarkable in his own right. A Russian who also spoke French
and English from an early age, he had a keen sense of word play and alliteration.
He wrote Lolita in English first,
then translated it himself into Russian.
Lolita has always
been controversial, since it deals with an adult man’s sexual attraction for
under-age girls. When Nabokov finished
writing it in 1953, American publishers refused to print it. Published in
France in 1955, reviewers tended to ignore it, in spite of its growing
popularity. One British newspaper editor called it “the
filthiest book I have ever read.” It quickly earned respect, however, and is now
often included in literature curricula. It is often challenged when used in
high school English classes.
336 pages; available as hardbound, paperback, and audio book.
-- Looking Ahead –
17 November 2010
Ultima is a magnificently written coming-of-age story. Although this is a novel, author Rudolfo Anaya
draws heavily on his real-life experiences growing up in a Spanish-speaking
community in New Mexico in the 1940s. He
paints a colorful and textured picture of a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and
multi-religious environment, exploring the tensions that arise from the
successes and failures of blending disparate cultural elements.
Bless Me, Ultima
occupies position 32 on the American Library Association’s list of the Top
100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009. One recent challenge took place in 2009 at a
high school in Orestimba, California, not too far from Modesto. A parent there "initially complained
about the vulgar language, the sexually explicit scenes and an anti-Catholic
bias," and later added that the book's themes "undermine the
conservative family values in our homes,” according
to the LA Times. While the school board claimed their ban was
motivated by excessive profanity, one cannot help but suspect that the school
board unlawfully removed the book because of objections to the ideas it
272 pages; available in hardbound, paperback, and audio
editions. Also available in Spanish.
15 December 2010
For the busy holiday season, we’ll read something short. A Hero
Ain’t Nothin’ But a Sandwich, by Alice
Childress, is only 128 pages long, and was written for young
readers. It deals with heroin addiction,
and won the American Library Association’s Best Young Adult Book award of 1975. It’s available today as an eBook or
Famously, Hero was
one of a group of books that a school board in New York removed from their
school library under cover of darkness. Parents sued, and in court documents
the board described the books as anti-Semitic, anti-American, and filthy. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme
Court, resulting in a famous 1982 decision known as Board
of Education v. Pico. This
decision affirmed the broad regulatory authority of school boards over
classroom and school library content, but also clarified that school boards
cannot remove books merely out of a desire to enforce political or social
orthodoxy. The court ordered the books
returned to the shelves. The
Library Law Blog has a fascinating interview with Barbara
Bernstein, who was the executive director of the local chapter of the ACLU when the case went to
trial. It’s only twenty minutes long, and is entertaining as well as
informative. Click HERE
for the MP3 audio file.