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.

Maple Street 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


Bless Me, 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 contains.

272 pages; available in hardbound, paperback, and audio editions. Also available in Spanish.

--Looking Ahead—

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 paperback. 

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.