Tag Archives: Freedom to Read

Reading for Diversity, Knowledge and Equality

So after going through the countless books that I could have chosen for this month’s theme of diversity and equality (what with Freedom to Read, Black History and Equality week all in this month), I’ve narrowed it down to a mere 22 books that I will be displaying.  I won’t post about them all, but here are a few that I have chosen.

Handmaid’s Tale

Summary: Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, once the United States of America.  She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets, where pictures have replaced words because women are forbidden to read.  She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, for Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable.  Offred can remember a time before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge.  But all of that is gone now…

Something to talk about: In 2008, this brilliant dystopian book was challenged by a parent in Toronto who felt that it should not be part of the Grade 12 curriculum.  Her/His reasoning was that this book contained themes that violated the school policy of tolerance toward others because of its anti-Christian overtones, profane language and “sexual degradation” (Challenged Books and Magazines, 2009).  Luckily, the Toronto District School Board decided to keep the book on the curriculum!

My thoughts on the book: This is probably my favourite book by Margaret Atwood.  Her stark look at how quickly things can change, and how ideas that were once considered “uncivilized” can quickly become normal is scary.  All it takes is one generation to change a way of life.

Color Purple

Summary: Life wasn’t easy for Celie.  But she knew how to survive, needing little to get by.  Then her husband’s lover, a flamboyant blues singer, barreled into her world and gave Celie the courage to ask for more – to laugh, to play, and finally – to love.

Something to talk about: This novel is written as Celie’s diary (also known as an epistolary novel), and is one of the most challenged books according to the American Library Association (ALA – Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books – 2000-2009) .  Banned for its “explicit” content.

My thoughts on the book: Yes, this book has explicit content.  Yes, it can be hard to read.  But in the end, you come to love Celie, and Shrug and learn to despise Mr. ______.  I chose this book because it also fits in with Black History Month as well as Equality Week.

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Summary: A breathtaking story set against the volatile events of Afghanistan’s last thirty years – from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to post- Taliban rebuilding – that puts the violence, fear, hope, and faith of this country in intimate, human terms.  It is a tale of two generations of characters brought jarringly together by the tragic sweep of war, where personal lives – the struggle to survive, raise a family, find happiness – are inextricable from the history playing out around them.

Something to talk about: This is the second book by Khaled Hosseini dealing with the rise of the Taliban after the expulsion of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan.  It follows the life of two women and illustrates how their lives change in the span of 43 years.

My thoughts on the book: This was recommended to me as a good fit for the theme that I’m working on this month.  I have yet to read it, but I have read his first book, The Kite Runner and I enjoyed it.

Note: Both The Handmaid’s Tale and The Color Purple have a movie tie-in.  The 1990 film of The Handmaid’s Tale was not anything spectacular, but from what I can remember of the film, it stayed fairly true to the original story. I have not seen the 1985 movie tie-in for The Color Purple which was directed by Steven Spielberg.  But since it is Steven Spielberg, it should be good.  Below is a short movie trailer for The Color Purple.  Surprisingly (or not), The Handmaid’s Tale didn’t have a movie trailer available.

Other Recommended Books for February @ SGSS:

  1. The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseine
  2. Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris
  3. Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan
  4. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  5. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  6. The God of Small Things by Arundhati  Roy
  7. The Alchemist by Paulo Cohelo – Graphic Novel
  8. What my Girlfriend Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones (I felt that this would be a good book to promote diversity.  Not because of the content, but for the style it is written in)
  9. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  10. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  11. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Here are a few movies to watch as well which deal with diversity, censorship and equality.  And they can be found @ SGSS!

  1. War Dance
  2. Pray the Devil Back to Hell
  3. The Stoning of Soraya M.
  4. The Cove
  5. Good Hair

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Freedom to Read… can one be against censorship when one participates?

Freedom to Read week is coming to Canada within the month, and I find myself in a bit of an ethical pickle.

For the first time in my entire “reading” career, I have censored a book.  I have become one of those people who looks at a book, looks at the demographic of the people who will possibly read it, and without any guilt said, “Nope, this one isn’t hitting the shelves.”

Now, many of you may be shaking your heads and tutting in self-righteous indignation (as I would have a year ago) and saying to your fellow bookies, “Another one trying to take away creativity from young minds.”  Or whatever it is that I’m taking away from them.  Knowledge, freedom, choice, diversity, etc.

But hear me out.

The day of my slip from righteous advocate of tossing censorship began like any other work day.  I arrived in our small library to see a new box from Amazon waiting to be opened and the treasures inside to be given to the masses of young students.

Looking through the books, I excitedly pulled out a book I had ordered after hearing rave reviews from every website I looked at.

Precious based on the novel Push by Sapphire

I LOVED this book.  It was… amazing.  It painted a very real picture of what young women from poor demographics struggle with.  While filled with lots of pain and degradation, it was also filled with hope and promise.  I can see why the movie won the Sundance Award if it is even a tiny bit true to the story ( I have yet to see the movie).

But while I was in the midst of my “OMG, I love this book” self-dialogue, I began to doubt if 12-15 year old boys could honestly understand or even handle the scenes that are within this book.  I mean, I felt sick after reading parts of it!  I was left feeling disgusted with men and people in general.  I was simply overwhelmed at all the emotions that this book evoked.  For a book that has only 150 pages, it took me 4 days to read!!  I honestly felt that the younger students wouldn’t be able to deal with this book.

So with all of this going on inside my head, I did the only thing I could think to do.  I recommended that it be removed from circulating collection and placed in the workroom.  Which is where it now sits.

So here is my question to myself.  After fighting against censorship and speaking out about Freedom to choose what we want to read, know, discover… and after willingly deciding to not put a controversial book out on shelves where young readers could possibly pick it up… how do I reconcile the two different perspectives?  And is this what the real issue is in relation to censorship.  Maybe those people who have chosen to censor controversial books in the past were asking themselves the same question.

All I know is that this year for Freedom to Read week, I’m going to do a display on one censored book in particular… the one I censored.


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