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Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead Revisited

My final book of Banned Books Week is Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh.  To me, this felt like a very traditional novel.  There are parts of the plot that the characters themselves consider quite scandalous, of course, but it was surprising to me to realize that this book has been banned and challenged quite recently.  I would think fans of Downton Abbey would be reading this between seasons-it has the English countryside, the noble family, the scandals, etc.  It certainly does not have the shock value of Lolita.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.  Waugh’s writing is beautiful.  Fortunately, I had a good amount of downtime this week, because I think this would have been a very hard book to put down!

The thing that stands out the most to me about this novel is the setting, both the time and the place.  The book covers a good span of time, in a changing era that fits perfectly into the turbulent lives of the characters.  Although the novel mainly focuses on a small group of people, the events of the time are woven through the plot, and it was fun to recognize the little historical details here and there.  The locations in the novel: Oxford University, a ship crossing the Atlantic, and of course, Brideshead are so clearly described that they feel like characters in their own right.

I really came to like the characters in the novel.  They are all so dynamic and so different from one another.  Waugh gives you such a strong sense of each identity, and yet you are never sure what they will do next or how they will interact with each other.  I think that was part of what kept me turning the pages so quickly.  Charles Ryder, who is at one point accused by another character of “seeing everything secondhand” makes a perfect narrator; the reader gets to share his first impressions of the family at Brideshead and then his insights into the other characters as an old friend of the family.

I would recommend this book to just about anyone.  If you are a fan of the 1920’s era-and it’s a great one for fiction-I am sure you will find a new favorite in Brideshead Revisited. Because I have been so absorbed in this book over the past few days, I will definitely give it five stars!  ★★★★★



Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov

As a student of Russian, I have had Nabokov recommended to me from time to time.  I had heard that his prose style was excellent, but I was never interested in his most famous and controversial book, Lolita.  It wasn’t until I read another book, Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi, that I became interested in reading Lolita.

Since I had been meaning to try Lolita for several years now, it seemed like a good choice for Banned Books Week.  Lolita was banned in several countries during the 1950’s, usually for being “obscene.”  More recently, it has been challenged in Marion Country, Florida as being “unsuitable for minors.” The novel has also earned a great deal of critical acclaim, including a place on the World Library’s “100 Best Books of All Time.”

Lolita is narrated by Humbert Humbert, the pedophile who becomes obsessed with the young Lolita, in a voice characterized by humor and word play.  This voice creates a constant contrast with the tragic plot of the novel.  It also makes him surprisingly sympathetic, although he is still clearly the villain of the novel.  The book is presented as a memoir/confession he is writing from prison, so the reader knows just by reading the foreword that things are not going to end well for Humbert Humbert.  Despite this premise and the notoriety of the novel, I was often surprised by the plot.  Although I had heard and read about Lolita, it’s reputation comes mainly from the topic and the quality of the writing-most readers should still be able to enjoy the story without knowing what will come next.

Humbert Humbert definitely falls into the category of an unreliable narrator, since his “confession” is being written as preparation for a court trial.  All of the other characters in the novel are seen only through his (often critical) eyes.  As a result, it is very difficult for the reader to know what the characters, even the other main character, Lolita, are actually like or what they are thinking.  In my opinion, this kept the novel very interesting-I was often wondering what the other characters thought of Humbert and doubting that anyone else saw them the way he did.  Humbert’s descriptions of the various settings of the novel also contain his characteristic humor and criticism, but they are above all unique.  It is impressive that Nabokov managed to include such a wealth of description of the American landscape, since he had lived in Europe for most of his life.

Lolita is not a book for the squeamish, but I would heartily recommend this novel to anyone who appreciates good prose.  If you can’t get past the subject matter of Lolita, at least read something else by Nabokov!  He was truly a master of the art of writing.  The prose was some of the best I have ever read, but tragic plots are not really to my taste as a reader, so I will give this novel four and a half stars.  I would also recommend that anyone reading this book skip the introduction.  There is a huge spoiler right at the beginning of it!  (At least, there is in the edition I read.)  I borrowed Lolita from my local library, but you can find it here.



The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Growing up, I was always encouraged to read anything I wanted.  I had never heard of book banning before high school, and in high school it only came up because we read a lot of books that are commonly banned.  I do remember my mother being concerned that Alice Walker’s The Color Purple was on the syllabus for freshman year English (she thought that the book would be more appropriate for older students.)  However, my class ended up running out of time, so we didn’t read The Color Purple after all.  I decided it was a good choice for my first banned book, since it is the only book I can ever remember where there was any controversy about whether I should read it.

Having read the book, I will start out by saying that I now understand why my mother was concerned.  This is a very adult book, and at fourteen, I wasn’t ready for it.  I would have been upset by the violence, and I probably would have missed several of the main points the author was trying to make.  As an adult reader, however, I really appreciated this book.

Celie, the main character and narrator, moves from an abusive home to an abusive marriage.  Although the beginning of this book is difficult, Walker portrays the situation very delicately.  None of the violence in this book is gratuitous (a major pet peeve of mine), and I would even say that much of it is understated.  Slowly, Celie grows stronger and begins to make changes in her life.  The book is told through a series of letters, mostly written by Celie.

One of the many things I liked about this book is that the many characters are complex and well-rounded people.  The great variety of the characters provide many interesting contrasts and juxtapositions: the strong, outspoken daughter-in-law who, unlike Celie, fights back when her husband beats her, the educated younger sister who leaves home to become a missionary in Africa, the famous, charismatic singer Shug Avery.  The story is told with such sympathy for everyone, including many people who start out by harming the protagonist.  Despite telling the story mostly from Celie’s point of view, Walker lets us see the motivations and reasoning behind the other characters’ actions.  There is a strong sense of community between the characters in this book, even when they are not getting along, which I found very interesting.

This is a beautiful story and, despite the difficult subject matter, it is hard for me to see why it is so frequently challenged and banned.  I would recommend it to any adult who likes a well-written, character-driven novel.  Although there are some very tragic situations in the novel, overall, I found the plot very uplifting, because of the positive changes in the characters as the plot progresses.  I give this book five stars.  It completely lived up to its reputation as a classic piece of literature.  ★★★★★


Banned Books Introduction

It’s the first day of Banned Books Week, and we thought we’d start with a little introduction about the banning of books and some links to great websites to get more information (and maybe even pick your next book to read!)

For more resources on banned books, censorship, and defending literature, we highly recommend the American Library Association (ALA) and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), which Becca is a member of.

The ALA has devoted an entire section of their website to advocating for banned books.  Be sure to check out the list of frequently challenged books!  You can also see statistics about what books are challenged each year and why.  They also have some resources for banned books week, including activity ideas and free downloads of Clip Art for your blog or Facebook page!

The NCTE has issued several statements and guidelines regarding challenged literature in schools.  One of the most important is on the students’ right to read.  They have a copy of their 1984 resolution (Can we just say, what a great year to be talking about censorship!) to collect and develop defenses of challenged books and a 1981 resolution opposing censorship.  Their website also has an excellent anti-censorship center where you can find more information on Banned Books Week and more!

Please take advantage of these resources and show your support for these two wonderful organizations!  We are so lucky to have our librarians and English teachers taking such a strong stance against the censorship of books!  In fact, in the list that follows (of banned classics that we picked our books for this week from) had several selections that were covered in our high school English classes!

Frequently Banned/Challenged Classics (from the American Library Association)

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

The Color Purple, Alice Walker

Ulysses, James Joyce

Beloved, Toni Morrison

The Lord of the Flies, William Golding

1984, George Orwell

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck

Catch-22, Joseph Heller

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

Animal Farm, George Orwell

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner

A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston

Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison

Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

Native Son, Richard Wright

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey

Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut

For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway

The Call of the Wild, Jack London

Go Tell It On The Mountain, James Baldwin

All The King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkein

The Jungle, Upton Sinclair

Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D.H. Lawrence

A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess

The Awakening, Kate Chopin

In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

Satanic Voices, Salman Rushdie

Sophie’s Choice, William Styron

Sons and Lovers, D.H. Lawrence

Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut

A Separate Piece, John Knowles

Naked Lunch, William S. Burroughs

Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh

Women In Love, D.H. Lawrence

The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer

Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller

An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser

Rabbit, Run, John Updike