After a few weeks drought, I finally have some more pt library job interviews this week. So fingers crossed that one of them works out. In celebration of Banned Book Week, which I already posted on Sunday, I decided to read a couple of the books on the Most Challenged Books of the Year list. I picked Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa.
I had never read Brave New World, and really before going to library school, the one way I had heard of it was because a friend of mine who is a year younger than me, had read it in 10th grade and loved it. Since I respect her good opinion on books, I decided to give it a try. Wow is the first thing I would say about Brave New World. It is literally unlike anything I have ever read. Honestly I was pretty sure that the author either has one hell of an imagination (remember that this book was written in 1931 and published in 1932) and/or was taking a lot of drugs. He obviously was later when he published his book The Doors of Perception, which is all about his drug experiences. This website helped me understand the book a bit more. Under the Historical and Literary Context section, the author says this about related historical events:
“When Huxley wrote Brave New World in the early 1930s, the world had recently undergone a terrible world war, totalitarian states had sprung up in the Soviet Union and Fascist parties were gaining power in Europe, and another war seemed to be on the horizon. In addition, huge strides had been made in both science and the application of science through technology, and the world had industrialized. Huxley took all these developments and spun them into the World State of Brave New World, a totalitarian dystopia that uses technology to, basically, trick its citizens into loving their slavery.”
When you look at it that way, the book totally makes sense. By using technology to keep the citizenry happy all the time, they are conditioned to understand and not be affected by pain, death, or emotions. They shun solitude and individuality. Because everyone is grown from test tubes, they have no need for families. “Mother” and “Father” have become dirty taboo words. They do not see a need for religion or art, as those are considered “old things,” and therefore not useful anymore. The state promotes sex with multiple partners and there is plenty of birth control to prevent pregnancies. They also promote the use of soma, a drug which makes you happy and unaware. For whatever reason, Henry Ford has replaced God and time is counted from the first year that the Model T came out (1908), and the book is set 600+ years after that. So instead of saying “Oh God,” or other forms of using God’s name in vain, they say “Ford”.
The book is about Bernard Marx, a sleep-learning specialist who tends to prefer solitude and is love-lust with Lenina (even though that sort of thing isn’t supposed to exist in this world). Bernard takes Lenina to New Mexico to observe the Savages, Native Americans on a reservation that have not been “civilized” and live the way people did before: having monogamous relationships, marriage and families, mothers bearing children, and no scent dispensers or soma pills to take one’s mind off hardships. While at the reservation, they discover Linda, a former civilized person from London who naturally bore a son named John who lives among the natives. Bernard decides he must bring John the Savage back to civilization. John has been educated by Linda using songs she knew growing up, her work manual and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, which he has memorized and frequently quotes. John, growing up so sheltered, is very naive and becomes romantically-in-love with Lenina, even though he knows she is immoral and promiscuous, and spurns her sexual advances. As the characters can get kind of confusing, here is a website that explains them.
In my opinion, the best part of the book is in the last 30 or so pages. This is when John the Savage comes face to face with Mustapha Mond, the Controller of Western Europe. Mond sends Bernard to an island for his unorthodox behavior. Apparently Mond has a library of forbidden books, books that are old and considered useless, i.e. The Complete Works of Shakespeare and The Holy Bible. According to the above Who’s Who website in the previous paragraph, “The Controller argues that art, literature and scientific freedom must be sacrificed in order to secure the ultimate utilitarian goal of maximizing societal happiness. He defends the genetic caste system, behavioral conditioning and the lack of personal freedom in the World State as a price worth paying for achieving social stability. Stability is the highest social virtue because it leads to lasting happiness.” After his failed arguments with Controller Mond, John ends up in an abandoned lighthouse in the English countryside, whipping himself in punishment for his sins. He is hounded by the press and finally commits suicide by hanging.
The ALA (American Library Association)’s Office for Intellectual Freedom lists the following as the reasons why the book is constantly being challenged: “Insensitivity, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit.”
I had heard about The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa before, but had never gotten a chance to read it. So when I saw it on the 2011 Most Challenged books list, I figured I would give it a try. I was amazed to learn, after finishing this graphic novel, that the author was male. It is surprising, given the nature of the material. The graphic novel is about a young Korean girl named Ehwa and her widowed mother, and how Ehwa and her mother mature and change as time goes on. The story starts when Ehwa (whose name means “pear blossom”) is nine and a couple of local boys decide to have a pissing contest, and want to see her gochoo (which is the word for chili pepper and also a euphemism for penis). She refused and goes home to tell her mother about it, thinking that she is somehow deformed because hers doesn’t look theirs. Her mother explains to her that she doesn’t have a gochoo, but instead has “a door where babies come from (pg 36).” In the next chapter, Ehwa is still nine and learns about how the Ginkgo tree reproduces. That night, Ehwa and her mother meet the traveling pictograph artist, who steals her mother’s heart. In this chapter, she learns that men and women don’t have babies the way a Ginkgo tree does but rather in a different way. The gourd flower chapter was one of the most interesting in the book because it is the first time that Ehwa meets the young monk, who she falls in love with and him with her, and they exchange their favorite flowers. The proceeding chapters see Ehwa growing up into a young woman, who can’t decide between two boys and discovers more about her self and her sexuality, which her mother describes as perfectly normal (like it should be). I liked how the rain and flowers played such an important part in the book, and as the critic Hwang Min-Ho says in the back of the book: “Flowers even become a metaphor for a lover, or a beloved. And the rain, the element of water, takes on the potency of a life force. With each rainy season, little Ehwa matures a bit more in mind and body (pg 315-16).” The black and white drawings are so beautiful and well-done and illustrate the story perfectly. Definitely looking forward to reading the other two volumes. Highly recommended for ages 14+, 5 stars.
The ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom lists the following as the reasons why the book is constantly being challenged: Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group