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Alan Moore’s Watchmen was my first graphic novel, and I must say that it surpassed all of my expectations. I’d heard good things about it from a few folks beforehand:
“Told with ruthless psychological realism, in fugal, overlapping plotlines and gorgeous, cinematic panels rich with repeating motifs, Watchmen is a heart-pounding, heartbreaking read and a watershed in the evolution of a young medium.”
Time Magazine, 100 Best Novels: 1923 to Present
“Remarkable … The would-be heroes of watchmen have staggeringly complex psychological profiles.”
New York Times Book Review
“Watchmen is fucking awesome.”
Dash, Who Often Dresses Up As Rorschach
First of all, Watchmen had an unexpectedly cinematic quality that impressed me. Check out the transition on the opening page, for instance, which makes use of a zoom-out effect very similar to the opening of a film (click for more detail):
Dave Gibbons’ illustrations also make great use of color. I was a big fan, for instance, of his use of red-tinted panels during flashbacks of fight scenes, and of his use of color as a transition device.
I also loved how, just as in any good piece of writing, every single detail was there for a reason. Advertisements, graffiti, the headlines on the newspapers blowing around the corners of each panel — you name it, you’d better pay attention ot it. This richness of detail did seem to decrease as the novel progressed (although then again, that maybe have just been because I was so engrossed in the plot that I stopped noticing).
I’m definitely going to have to read it again anyway to catch all the hidden clues and artistic choices I missed the first time around. For instance, did you know that the panels in Chapter V, “Fearful Symmetry,” are a mirror image of themselves, with the line of symmetry halfway through the chapter on page 14-15? I didn’t. Brilliant.
I don’t know what else I can say without spoiling anything, except: Go read Watchmen. Now.
This list is a follow-up to my earlier article on Time’s recommended list of 10 banned books. If you’re still shaking your head over how books like Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that challenged the status quo and are now considered literary classics were actually banned at some point as being dangerous for young minds, take a look at what books are being challenged today. (Oh wait, Huck Finn is still on this list and being challenged 120 years later.)
The following list was taken from the American Library Association’s compilation of the 10 most challenged books of 2007. Challenges are culled from newspapers nationwide and from personal complaints filed with the ALA. (The ALA estimates that for every 1 challenge recorded, there are 4 to 5 that go unreported.) Keep in mind that while a challenge is not a ban, it is essentially an endorsement for one.
Without further ado, a countdown of the top 10 books that are allegedly poisoning the minds of young people today:
10.The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Stephen Chbosky
What it’s about: “The story takes place in a suburb of Pittsburgh during the 1991-1992 school year, when Charlie is a high school freshman. Charlie is the wallflower of the novel. He is an unconventional thinker, and as the story begins he is shy and unpopular.
The story explores topics such as introversion, teenage sexuality, abuse, and the awkward times of adolescence. The book also touches strongly on drug use and Charlie’s experiences with this. As the story progresses, various works of literature and film are referenced and their meanings discussed.” (Wikipedia)
Why it’s being challenged: “Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group.”
9. It’s Perfectly Normal: Robie Harris
What it’s about: “Frank yet playful, [this book] portrays a reassuring array of body types and ethnic groups…allowing readers to come away with a healthy respect for their bodies and a better understanding of the role that sexuality plays in the human experience.
Birth control, abortion, and homosexuality are given an honest, evenhanded treatment, noting differing views and recommending further discussion with a trusted adult. The dangers of STDs, teen parenthood, and sexual abuse are examined.” (School Library Journal)
Why it’s being challenged: “Sex Education, Sexually Explicit.”
8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: Maya Angelou
What it’s about: “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a 1969 autobiography about the early years of author Maya Angelou’s life. [It] begins when three-year-old Angelou and her older brother are sent to Stamps, Arkansas to live with their grandmother and ends when Angelou becomes a mother at age seventeen years old.
The author uses her coming-of-age story to illustrate the ways in which racism and trauma can be overcome by a strong character and a love of literature.” (Wikipedia)
Why it’s being challenged: “Sexually Explicit.”
7. ttyl: Lauren Myracle
What it’s about: “An epistolary novel [crafted] entirely out of IM transcripts between three high-school girls. Far from being precious, the format proves perfect for accurately capturing the sweet histrionics and intimate intricacies of teenage girls.
Myracle’s triumph comes in leveraging the language-stretching idiom of e-mail, text messaging, and IM. Reaching to express themselves, the girls communicate almost as much through punctuation and syntactical quirks as with words.” (Amazon.com Editorial Review)
Why it’s being challenged: “Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group.”
6. The Color Purple: Alice Walker
What it’s about: “The Color Purple is an acclaimed 1982 epistolary novel by American author Alice Walker. It received the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award.
Taking place mostly in rural Georgia, the story focuses on female African American life during the 1930s in the Southern United States, addressing the numerous issues in the black female life, including their exceedingly low position in American social culture.” (Wikipedia)
Why it’s being challenged: “Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language.”
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
What it’s about: “The drifting journey of Huck and his friend Jim, a runaway slave, down the Mississippi River on their raft may be one of the most enduring images of escape and freedom in all of American literature. By satirizing Southern antebellum society that was already a quarter-century in the past by the time of publication, the book is an often scathing look at entrenched attitudes, particularly racism. ” (Wikipedia)
Why it’s being challenged: “Racism.” (Oh irony.)
4. The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman
What it’s about: “The Golden Compass tells of Lyra Belacqua’s journey north in search of her missing friend, Roger Parslow, and her imprisoned father, Lord Asriel, who has been conducting experiments with a mysterious substance known as Dust. Both the trilogy and the film adaptation have faced controversy, as some critics assert that the story presents a negative portrayal of the Church and religion.” (Wikipedia)
Why it’s being challenged: “Religious Viewpoint.”
3. Olive’s Ocean: Kevin Henkes
What it’s about: “Twelve-year-old Martha Boyle stands on the brink of discovery: about her family, about first love, and mostly about herself. Martha is given a journal entry from her classmate, Olive, who was killed in an automobile accident. Martha didn’t really know Olive, but the journal entry makes Martha reflect on what might have been if Olive hadn’t died. In her two weeks on Cape Cod, Martha learns to deal with the changing emotional landscape that comes with adolescence.” (AudioFile)
Why it’s being challenged: “Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language.”
2. The Chocolate War: Robert Cormier
What it’s about: “Set at the fictional Trinity High School, the story follows protagonist Jerry Renault as he challenges the school’s cruel, brutal, and ugly mob rule. Because of the novel’s language, the concept of a high school’s secret society using intimidation to enforce the cultural norms of the school, and the protagonist’s sexual ponderings, it has been the frequent target of censors.” (Wikipedia)
Why it’s being challenged: “Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Violence.”
1. And Tango Makes Three: Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell
What it’s about: “The book is based on the true story of Roy and Silo, two male Chinstrap Penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo who for six years formed a couple. Roy and Silo hatched and raised the healthy young chick, a female named “Tango” by keepers, together as a family.
This book aims to send the reader the message that it is okay to be in, or know someone who has, a “non-traditional” family.” (Wikipedia)
Why it’s being challenged: “Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group.”
For those of you counting, “Sexually Explicit” was the biggest reason a book was challenged in 2007, with 7/10 books falling under that category; “Offensive Language” came in second with 5/10 books; and “Homosexuality” and “Unsuited to Age Group” tied for third with 3/10 books.
If you’re wondering who challenges these books, the ALA has compiled the following graph of challenges by initiator from 2000-2005. Parents lead by nearly four times the challenges as the next group. Particularly troubling is the inclusion of elected officials and government as active challenging parties.
I have a few thoughts of my own about this list from the ALA, such as Since when is “Homosexuality” a reason to ban any book?, Why are my elected officials campaigning for the banning of books?, and Have these challengers of literature checked out what their kids have been watching on TV for the past decade? I’d like to hear your thoughts.
Time magazine recently came out with a list of their recommendations of the top 10 banned books to read. I think it’s pretty solid. Here’s a preview of the article; click on any book to read the full story:
In a nutshell: “This classic French satire lampoons all things sacred — armies, churches, philosophers, even the doctrine of optimism itself.”
Intriguing quote: “The effect is equal parts hilarious and shocking. (Imagine Monty Python circa 1759).”
In a nutshell: “Critics deemed Mark Twain’s use of common vernacular (slang) demeaning and damaging.”
Intriguing quote: “In an attempt to avoid controversy, CBS Television produced a made-for-TV adaptation of the book in 1955 that lacked a single mention of slavery, or even any African American cast members to portray the character of Jim.”
In a nutshell: “Huxley’s 1932 work — about a drugged, dull and mass-produced society of the future — has been challenged for its themes of sexuality, drugs, and suicide.”
Intriguing quote: “In Huxley’s vision of the 26th century, Henry Ford is the new God (worshipers say “Our Ford” instead of “Our Lord,”) and the car maker’s concept of mass production has been applied to human reproduction.”
In a nutshell: “[Nineteen Eighty-Four] chronicles the grim future of a society robbed of free will, privacy or truth.”
Intriguing quote: “Oddly enough, parents in Jackson County, Fla. would challenge the book in 1981 for being “pro-Communist.” (Did they even read it?)
In a nutshell: “Literary critics have both hailed and assailed the novel, which broke the literary mold with its focus on character development rather than plot. Holden Caulfield, the novel’s protagonist, has since become a symbol of adolescent angst.”
Intriguing quote: “The book introduced slang expressions like the term “screw up” (as in, “Boy, it really screws up my sex life something awful.”)”
In a nutshell: “This 1955 novel explores the mind of a self-loathing and highly intelligent pedophile named Humbert Humbert, who narrates his life and the obsession that consumes it: his lust for “nymphets” like 12-year-old Dolores Haze.”
Intriguing quote: “[Lolita was] first published in France by a pornographic press.”
In a nutshell: “This 1970 memoir angered censors for its graphic depiction of racism and sex, especially the passages in which she recounts being raped by her mother’s boyfriend as an eight-year-old child.”
Intriguing quote: “The American Library Association ranked it the 5th most challenged book of the 21st century.”
In a nutshell: “Powell was just 19 when he wrote this 1971 cult classic. The guerrilla how-to book managed to not only anger government officials, but anarchist groups as well.”
Intriguing quote: “Other critics attacked the book for more practical reasons — some of the bomb-making recipes that Powell included turned out to be dangerously inaccurate.”
In a nutshell: “This book sparked riots across the world for what some called a blasphemous treatment of the Islamic faith.”
Intriguing quote: “Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini put a $1 million bounty on [Rushdie’s] head; Venezuelan officials threatened anyone who owned or read the book with 15 months of prison; a Japanese translator was stabbed to death for his involvement with the book; Walden Books and Barnes & Noble removed the book from shelves after receiving death threats; under the protection of British authorities, Rushdie himself lived in hiding for nearly a decade.””
I’ll leave the last book on the list as a surprise.
Looking back, it seems almost unbelievable that these books, many of which are now regarded as classics, were once banned or continue to be challenged. Wondering where your favorite book is on the list? Take a look at the ALA’s list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000. Want to know what modern-day books are causing a stir? Check out part 2 of my post on Banned Books Week, featuring the 10 most challenged books of 2006, coming soon.