Favourites Friday #12: Banned Books Edition – Slaughterhouse-Five

Red Epic Reads Badge

Banned Books Week was launched throughout America in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982. According to the American Library Association, there were 464 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2012, and many more go unreported.

The 10 most challenged titles of 2012 were:

1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey (Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group)

2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie (Reasons: Offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group)

3. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher (Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group)

4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James. (Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit)

5. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson. (Reasons: Homosexuality, unsuited for age group)

6. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. (Reasons: Homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit)

7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green. (Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group)

8. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz (Reasons: Unsuited for age group, violence)

9. The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls (Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit)

10. Beloved, by Toni Morrison (Reasons: Sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence)

In the UK public libraries are free from censorship, but there is always talk surrounding school reading criteria and censoring/banning books from school libraries so I still find the idea of Banned Books week important.

There is a really interesting list of famous/popular books (From the Canterbury Tales to Carrie) that have been banned around the world and why here.

Two of my favourite books of all time are on that list, Slaughterhouse-Five and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Today my spotlight is on Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.

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Kurt Vonnegut’s absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut’s) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden.

I love EVERYTHING about this book. It is an anti-war commentary masking as a pretty insane Science Fiction story and it’s probably the most powerful piece of fiction I have ever read. READ IT. NOW!

Sources: Epic Reads, Banned Books.org.uk and as ever, Goodreads.

Favourites Friday #11: Peter Pan (curse you, Peter!)

Peter Pan was probably the first book I really loved and I generally read it at least once a year. I don’t even know what it is that I love about it so much, it’s just such a comforting read. It warms me up in winter.

A few years ago the lovely Dianne over at Icefloe gave me this amazing copy for my birthday (or maybe Christmas) and I love love love it.

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We are also both big fans of the 2003 live action adaptation mainly because Jeremy Sumpter is the perfect Peter and nailed the arrogant ‘oh the cleverness of me’ side to the character. Leading to the inscription below which cracks me up every time I see it.

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Curse you Peter. You totally led poor Wendy on. And put some clothes on!

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Favourites Friday #10: Open (Just Look at Those Sad, Sad Eyes!)

In honor of the US Open which I’ve lost many hours to this last week and a half, my favourites choice for today is pretty different to any of my other picks!

Click to view on Goodreads
Click to view on Goodreads

I don’t read many auto-biographies but this is my absolute favourite. I was a huge fan of Agassi growing up and JUST LOOK AT HIS SAD EYES. Don’t you want to give him a hug?

The great thing about this book isn’t the revelations of him taking Crystal Meth or wearing a hair-piece it’s his brutal descriptions of some of the best/worst matches of his life. They are written like battle diaries; playing with injury on top of injury; through excruciating pain but doing anything in your power to win. I’m not sure if you’ll feel the same if you’re not a tennis fan, but Open is written beautifully and is a thrilling and heartbreaking read.

From Andre Agassi, one of the most beloved athletes in history and one of the most gifted men ever to step onto a tennis court, a beautiful, haunting autobiography.

Agassi’s incredibly rigorous training begins when he is just a child. By the age of thirteen, he is banished to a Florida tennis camp that feels like a prison camp. Lonely, scared, a ninth-grade dropout, he rebels in ways that will soon make him a 1980s icon. He dyes his hair, pierces his ears, dresses like a punk rocker. By the time he turns pro at sixteen, his new look promises to change tennis forever, as does his lightning-fast return.

And yet, despite his raw talent, he struggles early on. We feel his confusion as he loses to the world’s best, his greater confusion as he starts to win. After stumbling in three Grand Slam finals, Agassi shocks the world, and himself, by capturing the 1992 Wimbledon. Overnight he becomes a fan favorite and a media target.

Agassi brings a near-photographic memory to every pivotal match and every relationship. Never before has the inner game of tennis and the outer game of fame been so precisely limned. Alongside vivid portraits of rivals from several generations—Jimmy Connors, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer—Agassi gives unstinting accounts of his brief time with Barbra Streisand and his doomed marriage to Brooke Shields. He reveals a shattering loss of confidence. And he recounts his spectacular resurrection, a comeback climaxing with his epic run at the 1999 French Open and his march to become the oldest man ever ranked number one.

In clear, taut prose, Agassi evokes his loyal brother, his wise coach, his gentle trainer, all the people who help him regain his balance and find love at last with Stefanie Graf. Inspired by her quiet strength, he fights through crippling pain from a deteriorating spine to remain a dangerous opponent in the twenty-first and final year of his career. Entering his last tournament in 2006, he’s hailed for completing a stunning metamorphosis, from nonconformist to elder statesman, from dropout to education advocate. And still he’s not done. At a U.S. Open for the ages, he makes a courageous last stand, then delivers one of the most stirring farewells ever heard in a sporting arena.

With its breakneck tempo and raw candor, Open will be read and cherished for years. A treat for ardent fans, it will also captivate readers who know nothing about tennis. Like Agassi’s game, it sets a new standard for grace, style, speed, and power.

Favourites Friday #9: Mystery Man (and Laughing So Much You Get Funny Looks In Public)

Click Images for Goodreads.
Click Images for Goodreads.

Colin Bateman is a legend. He has a huge amount of books in his back catalogue and the Mystery Man books are my absolute favourite. The first time I read this, I remember being on the tube and finding myself in fits of laughter and getting some very funny looks from the other passengers. I think The Bookseller With No Name is possibly one of the best fictional characters I have read (big statement – I know!).

If you’ve ever seen Black Books, imagine Bernard Black trying to solve a mystery…That!

Blurb: A superbly gripping and blackly funny mystery by the king of the comic crime caper.

He’s the Man With No Name and the owner of No Alibis, a mystery bookshop in Belfast. But when a detective agency next door goes bust, the agency’s clients start calling into his shop asking him to solve their cases. It’s not as if there’s any danger involved. It’s an easy way to sell books to his gullible customers and Alison, the beautiful girl in the jewellery shop across the road, will surely be impressed. Except she’s not – because she can see the bigger picture. And when they break into the shuttered shop next door on a dare, they have their answer. Suddenly they’re catapulted along a murder trail which leads them from small-time publishing to Nazi concentration camps and serial killers…

Many of Bateman’s characters are hilariously inept yet tenacious but Mystery Man is so perfect with his Irish wit and eccentricities. He’s a complete eejit, but you have to love him. He gets himself into the most ridiculous situations, and does some awful things, but y’know, his heart’s in the right place.

There are so many great lines in this book it’s hard to choose, but I have managed it, just for you:

“Bookselling is like prostitution, you sell your wares, you close your eyes, and you never fall in love with the clients. You also keep your fingers crossed that they won’t ask for anything perverted.”

“I gave her my hard look, which is like my normal look but harder. At this point, if she’d had any sense, she should have asked for ID, and I could have shown her my Xtravision card and my kidney donor card and dribbled off into the distance ranting about this or that, but as it happened my hard look proved more than adequate”

He was the type of man women said they hated, they absolutely hated, they absolutely and categorically hated, and then they went to bed with him. I was the type of man women said they hated, and then they went home.”

“Serial Killer Week got off to an inauspicious start when the opening wine and bean evening was invaded by a former prisoner who misinterpreted the poster, but he was at least able to give us the professional’s view of the genre.”

Also, I have a morbid fear of rates, and mice, and nettles and wasps and jagged cans and rotting food and damp newspapers and the unemployed.”

About Colin Bateman
Colin Bateman was a journalist in Northern Ireland before becoming a full-time writer. His first novel, DIVORCING JACK, won the Betty Trask Prize, and all his novels have been critically acclaimed. His book Murphy’s Law was adapted for the BBC television series Murphy’s Law (2001–2007), featuring James Nesbitt.

This post has also reminded me that this should be arriving sometime soon- completely funded by Kickstarter.
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Colin Bateman’s first collection of short fiction and drama. Dublin Express is a collection of five rare short stories from one of Ireland’s most acclaimed novelists, together with the complete script of his hugely successful first play, National Anthem.

Also in the Mystery Man Series:
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Favourites Friday #8: Under The Dome and those pesky trust issues!

I’ve read some pretty bad reviews of the TV adaptation of Stephen King’s Under the Dome but I’m really intrigued to see it. I used to be a fan of his when I was a teenager but I feel like I kind of grew out of it or something (which is hilarious when you consider which books I love to read now *cough* Twilight *cough* The Selection). So I was surprised by how much I loved Under the Dome. Here’s a review I wrote some time ago for some website or other.

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As far as Stephen King fans go, I’d say I’m barely on even the spectrum. I’ve never really trusted him as an author since that part of It when it just goes batshit, (you know the one…right?) or the end of Cell which was such a let-down I wanted to throw the book out of a window and demand the twelve hours of my life back that it took me to read it. He seems to have a problem with endings, that or I just have a problem with his endings.

So when it came to UTD – a mammoth tome even by King’s standard – coming in at over 1000 pages, I was understandably hesitant. I’d given him a wide berth since Cell but one trusted friend plus one enthusiastic book seller convinced me to give it a go, and once I’d got past the quite frankly daunting list of characters that would give George RR Martin a run for his money, the opening chapter had me hooked with a capital H.

UTD is the story of Chester’s Mill, Maine; a small, relatively normal town which is suddenly enveloped by an invisible and seemingly indestructible dome. The dome not only cuts the inhabitants off from the rest of the world but also hacks off a few body parts and slices a woodchuck in two in a suitably bloody fashion as it slams down. As you’d expect, panic ensues and the pages actually fly by.

At its core, UTD is a story about a community and its power struggles, and I almost hate to say it – politics. Like all good microcosms of society there are good guys and bad guys and their varied reactions to the bizarre situation leads to incidents of rape, arson, murder, even a bit of Necrophilia, and thanks to King’s stunning characterisation it’s all entirely believable, enthralling, and disturbing.

I might have to rethink my trust issues; I even enjoyed the ending. A lot.

I’ve only read this once, because y’know- long! but I’ve been longing to read it again ever since I finished it which is a sign of a true favourite.

Favourites Friday #7: Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson

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The first ten lies they tell you in high school. “Speak up for yourself–we want to know what you have to say.” From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless, outcast, because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether. Only her art class offers any solace, and it is through her work on an art project that she is finally able to face what really happened at that terrible party.

In Laurie Halse Anderson’s powerful novel, an utterly believable heroine with a bitterly ironic voice delivers a blow to the hypocritical world of high school. She speaks for many a disenfranchised teenager while demonstrating the importance of speaking up for oneself.

Speak was a 1999 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature. Image & Synopsis from Goodreads.

Speak is one of those books that doesn’t blow you away at first. It’s a slow burner but once you have read the final word you are left speechless. It is a dark and frank portrayal of the high-school experience that will speak to many, and move most. It’s harrowing and depressing but also intensely funny.

Anyone who has ever felt like an outcast or a victim can find solace in Speak, and all can learn from it. Pay attention to your kids, World.

Favourite Lines:
Opening line: ‘It is my first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomach ache’.

OUR TEACHERS ARE THE BEST… My English teacher has no face. She has stringy hair that droops on her shoulders. The hair is black from her parting to her ears and then neon orange to its frizzy ends. I can’t decide if she has pissed off her hairdresser or is morphing into a monarch butterfly. I call her Hairwoman.

‘Sometimes I think high school is one long hazy activity: if you are tough enough to survive this, they’ll let you become an adult. I hope it’s worth it.’

When people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time. You’d be shocked at how many adults are really dead inside—walking through their days with no idea who they are, just waiting for a heart attack or cancer or a Mack truck to come along and finish the job. It’s the saddest thing I know’

You should probably read the book before you watch this video, just sayin.

Favourites Friday #6: Tuck Everlasting and why Immortals are so hot!

Click to view on Goodreads
Click to view on Goodreads

When Winnie stumbles across a spring which can bestow the gift of everlasting life, she also stumbles across the unforgettable Tuck family. The Tucks, having drunk from this spring, will never age, and will never die. With a calm clearsightedness they have kept the spring’s whereabouts secret, realising the harm and chaos full knowledge of it would bring. But the Tucks need to take grave measures when the spring’s secret is in danger of being revealed…

Disclosure: I think this is the first book I’ve chosen for Favourites Friday that I didn’t give a full 5 stars to on Goodreads and that I have read less than 3 times. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not great! I think one of the main reasons for deducting a star was that it was too short. I wanted MORE.

I discovered this book late. Like really late. It was first published in 1975 (and you can tell…it has that great old whimsical style to it where every word counts) and I probably first read it when I was about 20. If I’d read it when I was younger I know for a fact that I would have fallen in love with it even more than I did then. That weird thing happened on my first discovery of it too, I went to look it up thinking ‘I feel like this should be a film’ only to find out that Disney had released it a few years earlier (2002). And then literally about a week later, it was shown on TV on a Saturday afternoon. I went from being completely oblivious to it being everywhere. Weird how that happens, huh? I LOVE the film too btw…but more on that later.

I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of immortality. Vampires are my favourites, obviously, but there’s a lot to be said for just your average boy that can’t grow up. Peter Pan was probably my first ever fictional crush, (does he really count as being immortal? Anyway…) but after reading this Jesse Tuck was a big contender too. He’s quite clearly the cutest thing ever even if he’s a bit aloof initially. He’s funny too.

You mustn’t drink from it. Comes right up out of the ground. Probably pretty dirty” he began to pile pebbles over it again. “But you drank some,” Winnie reminded him. “Oh. Did you see that? Well, I’ll drink anything”

Man after my own heart!

There’s something really sweet in the way tries to discourage Winnie from drinking the water from the spring that has turned them immortal, you instantly realise that maybe living forever isn’t quite the gift that it sounds.

The rest of the book is basically the Tuck family keeping Winnie ‘hostage’ until they figure out what to do, or until they believe that she won’t tell anyone about the spring, and to convince her of that they have to tell her the truth.

Do you understand, child? That water – it stops you right where you are. If you’d had a drink of it today, you’d stay a little girl forever. You’d never grow up, not ever.

It’s heart-breaking really, the whole story is just mega sad, but beautiful too. This is the line that always particularly sticks in my head whenever I’m thinking about immortality (happens a lot):

You can’t have living without dying. So you can’t call it living, what we got. We just are, we just be, like rocks beside the road.

It’s that old chesnut isn’t it? You can’t have good without bad, or how do you know what good is? There’s no good without evil after all.

So, you should definitely read the book. It really reminds me of Alice Hoffman too, it has that magical, sleepy summertime prose to it that makes it perfect for a quick sunny Sunday afternoon read.

But, can we talk about the film for a second? I think I love the book even more after seeing the film, which never happens to me.

Here are some reasons why the film is awesome:

1. They made Winnie older (she’s only 10 in the book, and Jesse is 17) so they could play a bit more on the romantic element between the two characters. In the book they have a beautiful childish and harmless love for one another but in the film they can get down to sexy time (they don’t really, I think they just kiss…but SWOON).

2. Winnie is played by none other than RORY GILMORE…and I’m not being funny but who ISN’T in love with Rory Gilmore, right?
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3. Jonathan Jackson. Nuff said. I knew Jesse was going to be hot, and Disney did good. I nearly spat out my coffee a few months ago when I saw him being all hot in Nashville and was like ‘IT’S JESSE TUCK GONE SEXY’ I’m sure he’s been in loads of stuff but that’s just not important.

4. I mean SRSLY, look how hot they are!

They are too perfect. I hate them.
They are too perfect. I hate them.

5. Sissy Spacek as Mae too, the casting was OWNED.

I’m going to hunt down the film now. Or maybe just watch Gilmore Girls.

HAPPY WEEKEND!!!