Lord of the Flies, Where Everyone Hates the Smart, Fat Kid

#8 Lord of the Flies – William Golding
Published:
1954
Reasons For Being Banned/Challenged: 
Challenged at the Owen, NC High School (1981) because the book is “demoralizing inasmuch as it implies that man is little more than an animal.”
My Rating: 1 Powerful Conch Shell

Hello dear readers.  It’s been much too long since our last Banned Book Chat.  I wish I had a good enough excuse as to why I haven’t written anything recently (moving back to the United States into my parents’ house, or looking for a new job, or anything justifiable) other than the fact that I didn’t really like Lord of the Flies but I don’t.  I just really didn’t like Lord of the Flies.

Flipping through it, I thought it should be easy.  Barely 200 pages, 12 chapters, and a fat kid gets killed.  How long of a read would it be?  Long enough, apparently.  I realized that if I know someone is going to be killed before reading a book, I want instant gratification.  Everyone who hasn’t read Lord of the Flies like I didn’t, basically know two things about it: kids are on a desert island, and Piggy gets offed because he sucks.

I knew something was wrong with me when I read Piggy’s complaining and was like, You’re right, Piggy.  These other kids are little assholes.  From page one, I was sympathizing with the annoyingly useless kid on the island.  He couldn’t collect firewood, or help hunt.  But he was smart, rational, and had glasses for fire.  I’m sorry, but I feel like for any tribe, the one who makes fire IS THE MOST IMPORTANT.  Everyone should have been kissing Piggy’s fat ass instead of teasing him.  Bunch of jerks.

Lord of the Flies was basically the English children’s version of Survivor without Jeff Probst riding a skidoo at the finale from Borneo (or wherever they’re Survivor-ing from) to New York City with the vase of winning votes.  It may have been nicer if the kids were just like, “Piggy, the tribe has spoken… you suck” and kicked him off instead of smashing him to oblivion.

Of course, the two characters I did like were Simon and Piggy.  I am still grieving over Simon and never want to hear anyone chant, Kill the pig! Cut his throat! Kill the pig! Bash him in! ever in my entire life.  And reading this book was like one giant cliffhanger for me.  I was turning pages carefully, waiting for the moment to come where Jack — the ginger from hell — would just murder poor, fat, smart Piggy.

Only to find out that it isn’t even Jack who kills him!  Fucking Roger hides his psychotic tendencies the entire novel until Jack gives the okay to become savages and he just goes bananas.  Sticking sharp sticks up live pigs’ rectums, killing Piggy with giant boulders, and hunting down Ralph with the intention to cut his head and offer it to the beast of the island as a sacrifice.  Holy lord, this kid is a maniac.

Even better, whenever that conch shell was mentioned, I immediately thought of that episode of SpongeBob Squarepants where he and Patrick start worshiping this magic conch shell that they use to tell them what to do.  And when they are abandoned somewhere, the conch shell tells them to do nothing… so they sit there, driving Squidward insane.

What really bummed me out about Lord of the Flies was how both nothing happened, and everything happened all too soon.  The first eight chapters are of these English boys trying to survive on a beautiful island, electing Ralph as chief, and doing whatever they can to survive.  Jack was being a bit of a spoiled brat most of the time, but then all of a sudden everything shifts.

The last four chapters try to throw in all the chaos with Jack Merridew (best last name ever, by the way) breaking away and taking all the others with him.  And then IT happens.  Those savage little brats kill Simon.  Poor Simon!  He was the best thing on that crappy island.  Although he did begin tweaking out, walking alone in the jungle at night, and having hallucinating seizures.  But other than those issues, he was the best one!  So he had to be killed.  Way to Game of Thrones me, Golding.  Killing the TWO characters I liked and leaving those shit kids alive and well.

It also just ended so abruptly.  Right when things get good, with the kids setting the entire forest on fire, beginning the man hunt for Ralph, Piggy finally getting bowled off a cliff, and complete chaos breaking loose, a military ship sees the smoke and comes to rescue the boys.

Of course, the adults think the kids are just playing games, unknowing of how savage they have become.  And when one asks if anyone has died as a joke, Ralph is like, “Yeah, asshole.  Two of my friends.  But don’t worry, their bodies got swept into the ocean.”  Even better is when he asks who is in charge and Ralph steps up saying, “I AM,” while Jack Merridew shrivels into himself and realizes how he is weak.

And then Ralph cries from sadness, causing the other boys to cry, causing the military man to turn away, because of the awkwardness of the situation THE END.

Seriously, that is how it ends.  THAT IS HOW IT ENDS.

Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.

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Beloved, the Classic I Really Wanted to Love

#7 Beloved – Toni Morrison
Published: 1988
Reasons For Being Banned/Challenged: Challenged at the St. John’s county Schools in St. Augustine, Florida (1995) and by a member of the Madawaska, Maine School Committee (1997) because of the book’s language.
My Rating: The Haunting at 124

You can pretty much tell how invested I am in a book by how quickly I can write a blog post about it.  And Beloved had all the ingredients towards being an awesome read: murder, haunted houses with ghost babies, and … I guess that’s it.  I should also warn you that there are going to be a lot of Supernatural gifs within this post so yeah, get ready for that.

With many of the books on my Challenged List, I had no real knowledge of what the books are about.  After giving up 2% into Ulysses, I thought Beloved would be the jumpstart I needed in my reading.  It sounded interesting enough with its post-slavery setting, mostly female cast, and ghosts(!).  But I was wrong.  It took me a month to read this measly 300-pager.  I was so not interested in this book that in the month I tried to read this, I was able to read four other books while ignoring Sethe, Denver, Paul D, and Beloved’s stories.

So where did I go wrong?  Why was I so dissuaded from this novel?  I will say that Morrison started off strong.  Within the first paragraph, no, the first sentence, I was interested:  “124 was spiteful.  Full of a baby’s venom.”  I was like, “Oh shit, this is going to be so good!”  I was giddy on the train, wiggling in my seat, waiting for some more ghost baby hauntings.

But then things shifted.  We went from ghost baby fingerprints in flour to Sethe crying over the sink, going on about having a tree on her back.  And I was lost.  These timeline jumps in the narratives, combined with the stream of consciousness narration had me so confused, I had to retrace a lot of my steps to figure out where I was supposed to be.

I would be with Sethe, as she talks about how they stole their milk from her (and that was something that took me a long time to understand) and then all of a sudden, we were inside Paul D’s head, as he came around her and cupped her breasts in his hands.  And then we would be twenty years in the past, talking about Sixo’s girlfriend who didn’t have a name, but was called thirty-mile-girl.  And this confusion is all in the first few pages.

Reading Beloved was like watching Memento.  There was the same story being told on two different planes.  The past being the black and white scenes, the present being the colored ones.  But with Beloved, there was no way in telling when you were reading a scene from the past, or  the future until you were a couple paragraphs in and you were thinking, Wait, what were we just talking about three sentences ago?  I said that a lot.

And poor Paul D.  He just wanted what’s best for both Sethe and Denver.  But instead he got Beloved banging on his door, asking for the sex.  And I guess I should clarify what is all happening within this novel.  Sethe is being haunted by the ghost of her two-year-old daughter after she murdered her.  Sethe — as well as many of the other characters — were born and raised into slavery, and eventually fled.  But when Sethe made it to freedom, her slaveowner tracked her down, and tried to bring her back — thanks the to Fugitive Slave Act.  But Sethe believed it was better for her children to be dead than slaves, and attempted to kill all four of them.

But she only succeeded in killing her two-year-old baby, which she called Beloved on her gravestone.  The baby’s ghost then begins haunting the house at 124, causing both of Sethe’s sons to run away.  Which, honestly, I am not surprised to hear.  I would have thrown deuces and peaced out of there a looooong time ago.  Once furniture is thrown at me, and baby giggling sounds are heard in the hallways of my babyless home, I am Audi 5000.

All Sethe has is Denver, her youngest daughter who is at this point eighteen, but completely alone after the town alienates their family.  But after Paul D comes, he gets rid of the ghost spirit by yelling at it, Sethe asks him to stay, Denver becomes jealous, and a random girl lands on their doorstep with clean clothes, no recollection of how she got here, and goes by the name Beloved.  And nobody is like, Wait a minute here, your name is Beloved like my dead daughter/sister?  And you’re, what?  Twenty years old?  The same age my daughter/sister would be now if she was alive?  Something is pretty fishy here.

Nope.  They’re like, Come on in!  Pull up a chair!

Denver seems to be the only one like, “Dude, this is my dead sister.”  Sethe could care less, and Paul D is like, Hell no, get this creep out of here.  And Beloved is obsessed with Sethe.  So she does what is best to get rid of Paul D: she creeps him out and forces him to have sex with her …?  That works…?

But what really gets Paul D out of there is when Stamp Paid, the man who brought Sethe across the river to freedom, tells him the story of Sethe killing her baby.  That makes him run out of there faster than shit from a goose.

With just Beloved, Sethe, and Denver living at 124, things start getting a bit… weird.  Beloved and Sethe become obsessed with each other — Beloved enjoys reminding Sethe how she murdered her, Sethe reminding Beloved how she did it out of love.  Beloved says jump, Sethe asks how high, and Beloved yells at her for not jumping high enough.  Sethe is so dedicated to not leaving Beloved’s side that she lost her job because she just stopped going.

Poor Denver is like, What the hell, guys?  I’m here too!  So she begins leaving her house and talking with others in her black community, asking for work, and getting donations of food from locals.  I’ve gotta hand it to Denver.  She saw how awful things had become with Beloved and Sethe so she decided to change it.  She left her home for the first time since she was eight, and reached out to her community.

And once the town discovers why Denver needs help — i.e., her dead sister’s ghost is parasiting her mother to death — they ban together to exorcize Beloved out of the house.  But Mr. Bodwin, a white man who comes to pick up Denver for a job, comes at the same time.  And when he pulls up at the same time the townswomen come to exorcize Beloved, Sethe and Beloved — who is now naked and fat, maybe even pregnant? — walk out onto the porch.

When Sethe sees a white man coming up to get Denver, she freaks out, and tries to attack him with an ice pick.  But one of the townswomen punched Sethe in the jaw to stop her, and knocked her out cold.  And right then, Beloved was gone.

The novel ends with Sethe sick and wanting to die because Beloved is gone, Denver is a working girl, doing what she can to make some money for herself and her mother, and Paul D comes back to Sethe, telling her that he loves her and wants to be with her.

And everyone in town has forgotten all about Beloved.

By and by all trace is gone, and what is forgotten is not only the footprints but the water too and what it is down there.  The rest is weather.  Not the breath of the disremembered and unaccounted for, but wind in the eaves, or spring ice thawing too quickly.  Just weather.  Certainly no clamor for a kiss.

Beloved.

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To Kill a Mockingbird, or just one giant Boo Radley appreciation post

#4 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Published: 1960
Reasons For Being Banned/Challenged:  
This novel has been repeatedly challenged and banned in numerous states on the grounds that it “contains profanity and racial slurs.”
My Rating: 1 misunderstood town enigma

I have read this book three times now, and each time I do I fall more and more in love with it. I love this book. I love everything about it. I love Scout’s tomboy antics and childish yet truth-telling voice, Jem’s growing up and turning into the man his father is, Calpurnia’s wisdom, Miss Maudie’s acceptance of all people, and Atticus.  But most importantly, I love Boo Radley.

One of the two mockingbirds in Lee’s masterpiece, Boo Radley is the J.D. Salinger of the literary world.  A misunderstood recluse who hides behind dark shadows and town folklore, Boo Radley’s innocence was snuffed out too early by an abusive father.  But Jem and Dill are so adamant about understanding his questionable background that they do whatever they can to try and will him out of his home.  They put notes of fishing hooks, try and look through his window, and even create a game of reenacting his life.  If anything sticks in my mind from reading To Kill a Mockingbird, it’s that scene of Boo Radley allegedly cutting up newspaper clippings, suddenly stabbing his father with the scissors, whipping them out again, and continuing to cut clippings.

Although everything everyone says about Boo Radley is in fact a lie, there is just something so captivating about him.  You can understand why Jem and Dill are so enthralled by him.  The scissors story, his fingers being stained red from eating squirrels and cats, and flowers frost overnight because Boo Radley breathed on them. Every time his name is on the page, it jumps out at you, and you just can’t wait to get there and find out what is being said.

Throughout the novel, we come to grow and love Boo Radley just as much as he grows to care for Jem and Scout. His constant surveillance over the Finch children has not only helped  them once or twice, but he has also saved their lives from the biggest asshole ever known to anyone, aka, Bob Ewell.  (I feel that I should do a Ranking the Assholes of Literature post and look into every character I have ever called one.  Because it seems that I am always calling someone an asshole in these posts)

Bob Ewell is the man who angers the crap out of me and makes Heathcliff and Tom Buchanan look like ant bullies in comparison.  Harper Lee creates Robert E Lee Ewell as the personification of the darkness of the South in the 1930s with his ignorance, poverty, squalor, and hate-filled racial prejudice. Bob Ewell’s knowing wrongful accusation of Tom Robinson ruins lives and threatens the wellbeing of others.  But what makes Ewell so awful is that he is so real.  There are still Bob Ewells in this world, but with shifting prejudices.

But then there is Atticus Finch.  Atticus is one of the most amazing characters ever created.  This year, Out Of Print Clothing is doing a Book Madness bracket of Heroes vs Villains.  And although some people are blabbering on the championship match being Harry Potter vs Voldermort, I know in my heart of hearts that if Atticus Finch does not win then I am ashamed to be a book enthusiast.  Because Atticus Finch is a hero among men.  And just like Ewell, Atticus is capable of existing.  A part of him can be in anyone; we all have the ability to be Atticus Finch.

What really affected me when reading To Kill a Mockingbird was not Atticus’ closing statement, but his walking out of the courtroom afterwards.  There was nothing left for Atticus to do.  He had given his everything in helping Tom Robinson.  There was no way that Robinson was guilty.  The deck was completely stacked against Ewell’s case.  But there was still something going against Robinson.  One. Little. Thing. The fact that he was black and Ewell was white.  Bob may have been trash, but he was white trash.  Which was still good enough to have Robinson convicted.  And when Atticus left that courtroom, he was respected for what he had tried to accomplish.

I believe that To Kill a Mockingbird is a book that should be required to be read by all. Harper Lee’s classic teaches you that you can never understand someone unless you crawl in their skin and walk around in it.  And I truly believe that Atticus — as well as Boo Radley — is one of the greatest creations in all of classic literature.  The fact that this novel is continuously challenged and banned due to the language is completely ridiculous.  Honing in on the language used in a novel about prejudice in the 1930s deep South is like calling the Civil War of the United States the War of Northern Aggression, or firing teachers from public schools for teaching evolution.  It’s trying to hide aspects of history that one does not agree with or understand.  To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most beautiful books in American literature and I thank Harper Lee for her masterpiece.

Your father’s right,” [Miss Maudie] said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy […] they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

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The Grapes of Wrath Part II: What the What?

#3 The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
Published:
1939
More Reasons For Being Banned/Challenged: 
It was challenged in Greenville, South Carolina schools (1991) because the book uses the name of God and Jesus in a “vain and profane manner, along with inappropriate sexual references.”
My Rating: ¢20 pay for a ¢30 job

Last post, I had read the first 250 pages of The Grapes of Wrath and things didn’t go well.  Reading 250 pages of snoozefest, I was not looking forward to what was ahead of me. And good god.  I feel like I should have won a medal, or gotten a cookie or something for finishing it.  Because it’s a whopper.  And first thing’s first, I have decided to rename John Steinbeck as Debbie Downer.

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The Joads had finally made it to California, and no one knew what their future held.  Right when the Joads crossed into California, they stop by the Colorado River, cool off, and run into more people heading back east with horror stories of what California actually has to offer.  Ma is the first to experience someone calling her an “Okie” and it really brings everyone down.  The guy tells them they have to leave soon, and they’re all, “Yeah, you got it, we’re going.”  But Noah Joad has such a wonderful time on the riverside that he decided that he is going to live there instead, completely abandoning the family.

So let’s get a quick tally of the Joads:
Granpa Joad
 stroked out
Granma Joad
Pa Joad
Ma Joad
Uncle John Joad
Noah Joad turns into Huck Finn and runs away
Tom Joad
Rose of Sharon Joad-Rivers
Connie Rivers
Al Joad
Ruthie and Winfield Joad
Preacher Casey

When they get into town, the cops stop them at a checkpoint.  Ma tells the men that they don’t have time to waste, because Granma is very, very sick.  One of the cops shine a light on her, and is all, “Eww, gross.  Yeah, go ahead.”  After driving for a couple hours, they stop for a break.  That’s when Ma breaks it to them that Granma had been dead long before the checkpoint.  But to make sure the cops allowed them to cross, Ma had lied down and slept with Granma’s body.  For like, hours.

I will say that Ma Joad is by far, the most amazing character in this book.  Her husband has lost everything, and has no idea what to do with himself now.  Her brother-in-law is a drunk who is incapable of anything, and her pregnant daughter is whining every ten minutes about her pregnancy.  But Ma Joad is like, “Suck it up, errbody.  We have nothing left behind us, so we have to move forward.”  She is constantly kicking the men’s asses in gear, and doing her damnedest to keep the family together.  Hell.  Yes.  Ma.  Joad.

They get into a Hooverville and all I can say is that it’s bleak.  People are starving and dirty, they can’t find work anywhere, and Ma Joad is trying to make stew while children of the corn surround her, begging for food.  And then, at one point, a cop looking for workers comes in and tries hustling them.  One guy starts a bit of a tussle and Tom tries to calm it down, but instead he trips the cop and clobbers him with his billy club.  Yes, Tom Joad who a) just got out of prison for killing a guy and then b) left Oklahoma which is breaking his parole.  That guy decided to get in a fight.  Casey takes the fall for him, and tells Tom and Al to go hide by the water until the cops leave.  As Al and Tom are laying low by the river, they witness Connie running away from the camp.

Rose of Sharon is in the car/hut/trailer/whatever it is they sleep in and talking to her mom about how Connie is going to go to school, and learn how to fix radios, and they are going to have a wonderful life together.  But when Tom and Al come back and tell her that he ran away from her faster than a frat boy with a peen that burns, she becomes even more of a whiney little girl than she already was.

Granpa Joad stroked out
Granma Joad hallucinates to death next to sleeping Ma
Pa Joad
Ma Joad
Uncle John Joad
Noah Joad turns into Huck Finn and runs away
Tom Joad
Rose of Sharon Joad-Rivers
Connie Rivers pussies out
Al Joad
Ruthie and Winfield Joad
Preacher Casey

Continue Reading

The Grapes of Wrath Part I: Oregon Trail without the Dysentery

#3 The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
Published:
1939
Reasons For Being Banned/Challenged:
Banned by the St. Louis, Missouri public library (1939) on the grounds that “vulgar words” were used.  The library ordered three copies to be burned.  It has also been challenged for its portrayals of California farmers, the poor and the working class.
My Rating: 12 Joads a Moving

For The Grapes of Wrath — and any other larger books I’ll be reading — I will break up blog posts.  So here is Part I, the first 250 pages of The Grapes of Wrath.

I have never read John Steinbeck before.  I know, it’s hard to believe, but it’s true.  For the summer of my sophomore year of high school, I was supposed to read East of Eden, but I knew that I would be moving from Connecticut to Illinois.  Thus meaning I would start at a new school, and not have to read it.  But I did try.  I was at my Uconn basketball camp with Geno Auriemma,  sitting on my bunk bed, I read the first page, understood nothing, and tossed it aside for the rest of the camp.

 But this is fun: on April 14, The Grapes of Wrath is celebrating its 75th anniversary!  NPR is even doing a bit of a social media book club with Monkey See for anyone and everyone who wants to read it too.  But that is neither here nor there.  I am here to talk about what I have read so far.  And so far, I can make the claim that the first half of The Grapes of Wrath is, drum roll please…

Really, really slow.

Okay, I went into reading this book totally blind.  I didn’t know what it was about, how long it really was, anything.  Even the book I have can’t tell me what it’s about.  (The copy I have from the library decided to place a big, white sticker on the middle of the back cover, blocking the summary of the book because, REASONS.)  And in case you don’t know, it’s about the Joad family from Oklahoma during the end of the 1930s.  For you non history buffs, this was toward the end of a massive drought that, combined with the Great Depression, left a huge chunk of Americans with no home, work, or food.  So the Joads — as well as everyone else in the Great Plains — pack up and move to Cali; the land of milk and honey.

While reading, I found out that Steinbeck broke up his 30 chapters in 3 sections.  The first 10 chapters are about the Joad clan still living in Oklahoma, getting ready to go to California.  The second 10 are about their actual traveling to California, Oregon Trail style. And the last are of them actually in California.

Steinbeck also does this thing where every other chapter is poetic, and literary, and deep, and full of imagery, and just so boring.  I feel like I am going to be bombarded by Steinbeck fans telling me how I wouldn’t know a literary genius if he slapped me in the face poetically with his words.  But I just hate those chapters.  I understand their purpose; I just don’t care.  They’re supposed to juxtapose the Joad family’s experience with the fact that this was happening to everyone.  Steinbeck is able to discuss the effect the Dust Bowl and the Depression had on a large population of people, as well as familiarize the reader with one particular family’s struggles.

And what a family Steinbeck chose.  There are so many Joads.  Joads everywhere.  Here’s a Joad, there’s a Joad, everywhere a Joad, Joad. We have: Granpa Joad, the crazy old man who is running around swearing, drinking, and raising hell; Granma Joad, his wife who shot a shotgun at him once because he was disrespectful towards her;  Pa Joad, who constantly blames himself for Noah’s physical and even mental slowness; Ma Joad, the voice of reason and moral compass; Uncle John Joad, Pa’s older brother who is the strong and silent one.

There’s also Noah Joad, the eldest son who is kind of deformed because when Ma was giving birth to him, Pa panicked and started pulling and twisting his body, trying to get him out (Note to self, NEVER have Pa Joad try and deliver my children); Tom Joad, the second eldest son who just got out of jail for killing a guy — in self defence; Rose of Sharon Joad-Rivers, the oldest daughter who just got married to a guy named Connie and is pregnant; Connie Rivers, who is not really a Joad, but married into the family so he counts.

Al Joad is the mechanic of the family who went on a couple girl-chasing benders; Ruthie Joad is 12 and kind of ladylike, but not really; and finally, Winfield Joad, who is only ten, and a wild child that for the first 50 pages I thought was a girl because I kept reading his name as Weatherfield after reading  The Catcher in the Rye, and there were never any pronouns used for him.  It always just said “Ruthie and Winfield this,” or “Winfield and Ruthie that.”  He is, and I repeat, a boy.  Not a girl.  So yeah, there they all are. Got it?

There’s also Casey, the old preacher.  But he gave up preaching because he used to give his sermons and then take women behind the church and bang them in the grass and I guess he felt morally corrupt after that?  I mean, I guess that’s a good reason to give it up.  Anyway, now that the entire cast has been introduced, I can talk about the story a bit more.

Um, well, things are happening.  Tom gets paroled from prison on good behavior and bumps into Casey.  They both walk to Tom’s home to find it abandoned.  His family had to pick up and leave because the drought was making the land uncroppable.  So the banks who owned the land told the Joads to piss off so they could just knock everything down and plant cotton — even though it’s bad for the earth, I think?

Tom and Casey become buddies and walk to Uncle John’s.  They make it just a few days before the family leaves for California, and Casey is invited to come along with them.  He agrees to go, they then prepare by butchering some pigs for food for the trip.  Steinbeck goes step-by-step on how exactly one would slaughter and salt a pig and it is really graphic.  I mean, the pig slaughtering was the most interesting thing that happened.  I had to read about a stupid turtle trying to cross the road for a whole chapter and I was like, “Dear lord, kill me now.”  But the pig slaughtering was at least educational.

And then, when they’re about to go, Granpa is like, “Actually, no. Imma stay here, instead.”  The Joads are like in the car, ready to go.  It isn’t a minivan either.  It’s a jalopy with their entire lives on it, as well as 13 people!  That was the hardest thing for me to picture.  But Granpa decides that this is the perfect time to be a jerk.  So Ma decides to put Nyquil in his coffee and drugs him.  And he is pissed that they tricked him into going and pays them back by having a stroke and dying.

Yeah, that’ll teach them, gramps.  When they stop for the night, the Joads meet the Wilsons, a  husband and wife.  They see how sick Granpa is, allow him to sleep in their tent, and then he’s like, “Thanks, strangers.  I’m gonna die now.”  And then he just strokes out and dies.  What kind of thanks is that? Casey then says how Granpa and the land were one and how Granpa couldn’t leave his life behind.  What really bothers me with Steinbeck is that sometimes he puts some great symbolism in his work — like the interconnectedness of Granpa and the land — but then he goes and explains it.  Like, I get the symbolism, Steinbeck.  But you just ruined it by breaking it down for me.

The Wilsons’ car is broken, so Al and Tom fix it and then they hatch the plan to split all of their things together between the Joads and the Wilsons.  So now it’s a bit more comfortable and each car isn’t so crowded.  Everyone is happy, even though Granpa just died in their new friends’ tent, they had to bury him, and now Granma is acting all kookie and weird.   YAY, ROAD TRIPS!

Now, they are meeting people along the journey and some of them aren’t heading west, but leaving CaliforniaApparently, California isn’t as sweet as everyone says it is.  Ooooh, drama!  And the Joads are like, OMG, what are we gonna do if we can’t find jobs? and everyone is just bubbling over in antici…. ….pation.

And that’s how far I’ve gotten in The Grapes of Wrath.  TUNE IN NEXT TIME!  Will I be able to make it through another 250 pages?  Will there be any real action?  How are they all fitting in that small car?!  WAIT AND SEE!

How can we live without our lives? How will we know it’s us without our past?

Want to read along with me?
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The Catcher in the Rye: You Better Pay Attention

#2 The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
Published:
1951
Reasons For Being Banned/Challenged:
Since its publication, this title has been a favorite target of censors mostly due to language and content.  Recently, it was removed by a Dorchester District 2 school board member in  Summerville, SC (2001) because it “is a filthy, filthy book.”
My Rating: 4-time prep school dropout

Almost everyone has read this book.  And if not, they know who Holden Caulfield is at least.  I was first introduced to Holden’s outlook on life when I was in 8th grade.  I was thirteen, and stuck at a school where I didn’t get along with any of the girls, and was picked on by a lot of the boys.  This was the age where I thought I would piss off my Catholic school teachers by painting my nails black, experimenting with black eyeliner, getting my cartilage pierced, and listening to Blink 182 and Good Charlotte.  But I also played soccer full-time and basketball during the winter.  So I was a punk-jock girl?  Yeah, I was that girl in middle school.

Anyway, The Catcher in the Rye was a big deal for me.  I — as well as every other “misunderstood” teenager — felt this connection with Holden.  And the fact that he just swore the whole goddam time was amazing.  I couldn’t believe we were being allowed to read it in school.  I devoured it in days, as if our school would suddenly notice what we were reading and take it away.  I also discovered something about myself: I wanted to be a writer.  J.D. Salinger made it seem so easy to do.  Holden’s tone was effortless and personal.  He sounded like a friend.  Like someone who got what I was going through.  The Catcher in the Rye is, and always will be, a very special book for me.

After reading it a few more times since then, I noticed certain little tidbits I had missed before.  Maybe I was too young, or unobservant.  But you have to understand that The Catcher in the Rye isn’t just a book about a whiny sixteen-year-old prep school kid.

1. Holden’s Hat — The red hunting hat is a staple for any Holden fan.  And I can go into the symbolism of it, talking about it being his individuality and inability to connect to his peers, and when Phoebe puts in on his head at the end she is accepting him, but that’s boring and you should know all that already.  But what many people either don’t realize, or ignore is that he liked wearing it backwards (And like, Holden wants to “catch” any kid that gets too close to the adulthood-cliff and a catcher in baseball wears his cap backwards and Allie had a baseball glove with poetry in it and just, BASEBALL!).

The way I wore it, I swung the old peak way around to the back — very corny, I’ll admit, but I liked it that way. I looked good in it that way. 

It was like a goddam light bulb went off in my head when I figured this out.  I don’t know why I was so proud of myself for this discovery, but I was, so deal with it.

2. Comin’ Thro’ the Rye — Not many people actually look up the the Robert Burns poem/song Holden mishears a little boy singing.  I find this to be a bit odd, considering it’s what essentially gives the book its title.  I’ll be honest, when I first read it, I didn’t think much of it.  And the second and third time I did, I thought, Wow, I really need to look up the original poem and then probably forgot about it later.

“Comin’ Thro’ the Rye” is a common 18th century Scottish children’s song, but the poem is actually quite sexual.  Which further intensifies Holden’s desire to help children keep their innocence.  The fact that Holden heard a little kid singing this explicit song is just so incredible.  The whole issue Holden has in The Catcher in the Rye is his desire to keep childhood innocence intact.  Many of the issues he faces are with him growing up and moving towards adulthood, or how children are sometimes forced to leave their innocence behind.  I like to see him as a more modern-day Peter Pan with a goddam language problem.  Below, are two versions of Burns’ poem.  The first is more playful, with a whimsical sound.  The second hones in on the sexual content of the work.

 

3. Holden’s Health — If you actually pay attention to Holden’s thoughts and behavior, you would realize that he isn’t just an angsty teenager.  He’s constantly feeling hopeless, and describes himself feeling lousy.  Sometimes he would openly start crying, especially at very emotionally low moments.  He can never focus on what he is saying, and repeats some stories or jumps from one subject to the next with no reason.  He is irritable and intolerant towards others — “Sleep tight, ya morons!” — and has no drive to do anything.

Holden is really suffering from some deep-seeded depression.  And it’s quite easy to see where it stems from: his ten-year-old brother, Allie, dying of leukemia.  Although it was three years from the book’s timeline, it’s obviously affecting Holden.  He talks to his brother by either having old conversations with him that he wishes he could have changed, or asking Allie to make sure he doesn’t disappear.  But what I completely missed was that at the end of the book, Holden was in a psych ward for a mental breakdown.  I was so oblivious the first time I read it.  I mean, come on.  It’s mentioned on the first page of the book:

I’m not going to tell you my whole goddam autobiography or anything.  I’ll just tell you about the madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas just before I got pretty run-down and had to come out here and take it easy.

The main thing I love about The Catcher in the Rye is what Holden says about constantly going to the museum.  Nothing inside it ever changes, but you do.  That’s how I feel about The Catcher in the Rye.  The words never change.  They tell the same story.  But I am a little bit older, a little bit more experienced, a little bit changed.  The meaning evolves with me.  When I first read it, I saw it as a, “Yeah, tell everyone to fuck off!” kind of read.  But then, the older I became, the more I saw Holden’s cracks.  His issues.  His insecurities.  And that’s what makes The Catcher in the Rye an amazing book.

Then the carousel started, and I watched her go round and round…All the kids tried to grab for the gold ring, and so was old Phoebe, and I was sort of afraid she’s fall off the goddam horse, but I didn’t say or do anything. The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off, they fall off, but it is bad to say anything to them.

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It’s An American Classic, Old Sport: The Great Gatsby

#1 The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Published:
1925
Reasons For Being Banned/Challenged: 
Challenged at the Baptist College in Charleston, SC (1987) because of “language and sexual references in the book.”
My Rating: 2 judging eyes of Dr. TJ Eckleburg

I really like this idea of having a song go with each blog post, giving you a tiny playlist with each read.  So I hope you like them too, because this is going to be a regular thing.  I was also gonna play “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody,” but I just thought it was too soon (RIP Myrtle).

So I read this baby of a book — only about 100 pages — in high school.  I also got to watch the 2000 made-for-TV movie of it with Paul Rudd as Nick Carraway; so much better than Tobey Maguire.  When I read this classic in high school, I felt like it was a lot longer and a lot more awesome than I did the second time.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I still love F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby, but honestly, everyone in this book is just a dick.

But before I talk about that, lets talk about why it was challenged: sexual references.  Sexual references?  Really?  Not the overload of drinking and making bad decisions, the absolute disregard to marriage vows, or the murder?  Now, I don’t believe in banning/challenging books, but come on.  If you’re gonna push for a book to not be read, get a better reason.  Because there really aren’t any sexual references anywhere.  Okay, there is one.  But you can easily miss it if you are a high schooler and reading this (because honestly, you only read this book in high school too).

What’s the line?

[Gatsby] took what he could get, ravenously and unscrupulously — eventually he took Daisy one still October night, took her because he had no real right to touch her hand.

Cool your jets, Scotty!  Kids can’t handle all that sex!  It’s so vivid and real.  All them kids there that be getting educated learning about the sex having in classic literature.  Damn Gatsby, falling in love with Daisy and then having sexual relations with that woman. Gatsby is a sexual fiend.  I can totally understand South Carolina’s disgust with it.

Anyway, as I stated earlier, I did not remember everyone being total dicks in The Great Gatsby.  I mean, everyone sucks.  The Jazz Age should be remembered as “Dickheads R Us” with Tom Buchanan as the mayor.  Honestly, how the hell does he get the audacity to be pissed at Gatsby for being in love with his wife while he has a secret love apartment with another woman?  And is also abusive?  Hi, yeah. Remember that part, kids?  He beat the shit out of Myrtle one time for saying Daisy’s name.

And Daisy.  What can I say about her?  Oh yeah, she’s the worst.  She’s a passive aggressive snob who thinks having old money makes her better than everyone else.  On top of that, she is officially the world’s worst driver. Hello, she killed a her husband’s mistress and simply drove away without stopping.  If that’s not a PSA against drinking and driving, I don’t know what is.

And Gatsby’s like, “It doesn’t matter, I still love her!  I’ll take the blame!  I love her.”  She also doesn’t have her priorities in check.  Do you remember that she has a daughter?  Because she sure as hell doesn’t.  And then when she does, she says stupid crap like this:

I’m glad it’s a girl.  And I hope she’ll be a fool — that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.

Very nice, Daisy.  Sending feminism back to the stone age with that line.  She is basically saying that women can do nothing but look beautiful and act stupid.  You go, girl!  And she just leaves Gatsby.  Without a care in the world.  I mean, sure, she didn’t know that he was murdered, but still.  If she loved him, she would have stayed.  When Tom was all, “Pack your bags, we’re Audi 5000,” she could have pulled a Bartleby and been like, “I prefer not to.”  And then gotten emaciated and died under a tree.  That’s how it should of ended.  Damn you, Fitzgerald! I don’t really understand what Gatsby loved so much about her.

He pined for her for five years.  He tried to make something of himself solely to be with her.  And she thanks him by marrying Tom the Dickhead.  Poor Gatsby.  The Great Gatsby is how Aladdin would have played out if it wasn’t made by Disney.  Poor boy falls in love with rich girl so he does whatever it takes to become rich and win her heart — be it becoming a bootlegger or getting a genie and magic lamp.

But that’s where these two stories fork.  Because Aladdin does get the girl and the money and to stay alive.  Poor Gatsby gets nothing.  He gets shot by his — get ready for this one — love’s husband’s mistress’ husband.  The first and only time Gatsby goes swimming, and he gets killed.  He gets nobody at his funeral after everybody mooched off him and his wild and crazy parties.  He gets the catchphrase “Old sport” and says it so many times that Tom actually shouts at him for it.

And Nick is the sassiest man of the 1920s.  He throws so much shade at everyone it’s hard to believe that he made any friends and got a girlfriend that one tragic summer. There were times where I outright laughed at his quick wit and sarcastic banter.  What made it better was that half the time, nobody else picked up on it and I pictured Nick just rolling his eyes in anguish.

But was Nick and Gatsby as good of friends as Nick says?  I don’t know.  He doesn’t see that Gatsby became friends with him to get to Daisy.  He never questions their friendship.  Plus, they’ve only been friends for three months.  Is that enough time for a guy to be like, “Gatsby’s story must be told!  And I’m the one to tell it!”?  He even says, “I disapproved of him from beginning to end.”  Thanks, best friend.  I’m taking my East Egg/West Egg friendship necklace back.

In the end, I do actually love this book.  It shows how money corrupts people, living in the past can ruin your life, and trying to change yourself to impress others won’t make you happier.  Fitzgerald took his era and revealed its flaws.  He took the American Dream and dissected it.  It is a masterpiece.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning —

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

tumblr_mmx6t7Pw8c1qm44gao1_r1_1280Want to read along with me?
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