Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Monday, September 24, 2018

My Great American Read: Banned Books Week Edition

Yesterday saw the start of Banned Books Week for 2018, a yearly reminder about how precious our right to read freely is(especially during the trying times that we're going through at the moment).

As it so happens, another literary event is taking place right now that fits well into BBW's themes. The Great American Read series on PBS,which offers folks a chance to vote daily for their favorite novel of all time, has a good number of titles that were banned and/or challenged at one time or another.

Since I do want to catch up on a few of the GAR books and honor Banned Books Week as well, I decided to start reading Zora Neale Hurston's beloved modern classic, Their Eyes Were Watching God.

The novel was first published in 1937 yet not appreciated in it's time. Interest in the book was revived in the 1970s, partly due to the efforts of writer Alice Walker(who cites TEWWG as a major influence) and it's become a cornerstone of African American as well as feminist literature.

The story follows Janie Crawford, a young woman left to the care of her grandmother Nanny and upon turning sixteen, begins to learn about the power of her own beauty.

When Nanny spies Janie receiving her first kiss from a local boy, she pushes her right into a loveless marriage with Logan Hillicks, an older man in need of a help meet on his farm.

 Despite Janie's protests, her grandmother feels that this is the only way to protect Janie from being as used and abused as her daughter was. The notion of marrying for love is truly alien to Nanny, having come from a lifetime of slavery, but it's that desire which urges Janie to resist but in the end, she does give in to oblige the only family she's ever known:

Once Nanny is gone, however, Janie wants more from life than simply being married to someone she doesn't care for. The first chance she gets, she takes off with Joe "Jody" Sparks, an ambitious man looking to make his fortune and having an attractive wife by his side is certainly a bonus.

While Jody works to build up the small community of Eatonville, Janie wants to do more than be his arm candy and that leads to a vicious falling out which then leads to a permanent estrangement. Later on, Janie seems to find true love with Tea Cake, a much younger man, but that relationship has a tragic ending in store for them as well.

The focal points of the book are race, community and the role of women combined with an elegantly straightforward style that at times reads almost like poetry. Yet in 1997, an objection was raised to assigning TEWWG to high school students in Virginia with the reason given being “sexual explicitness and language”. Thankfully, the book was kept within the curriculum and hopefully, those students saw more in this vividly written novel than that narrow minded vision of it suggests:

With Their Eyes Were Watching God being a short book, I hope to revisit another well known tale that shares equal billing on the GAR and BBW lists this week as well.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of a graphic novel adaptation by Fred Fordham of Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird(it'll be available in October). The original novel is a book that I read for the first time recently and found to be a truly amazing achievement. The best writers are able to capture those authentic moments in time for their characters and readers alike, which this heartfelt novel does in abundance and then some.

TKAM is no stranger to controversy, with calls for it to be banned from classrooms arriving even this very year from a school district in Minnesota. The objections to the book are similar to the ones raised in Mississippi and Virginia in 2017, that of race and racial terms with some saying that the book "made people feel uncomfortable".

Well, sometimes you have no choice but to make people feel uncomfortable in order to get them to truly listen to the problem at hand and that's particularly true when it comes to racism. One of the most touching moments in the book is when Scout unwittingly reminds a group of angry men of their alleged sense of decency in a critical situation, a scene that could easily be a part of the current social movements the older and younger generations are dealing with today:

Banned Books Week runs until September 29 and if you're looking for a good book to read in this category, you can find plenty of them at The Great American Read with such titles as The Pillars of the Earth, 1984 and Bless Me, Ultima having been challenged at one time or another.

You can also check out the official BBW website for other reading selections and find out more about the fight to keep our imaginations and our ideas from being censored and silenced. Setting up a free society isn't easy but maintaining one is even harder,so let us all do what we can to keep our sensibilities on a smooth and steady course towards the promise of a better tomorrow:

No comments: