Banned Books Week

What would you be missing if you didn’t have the unrestricted freedom to read? Banned Books Week, which falls on September 24-30 this year, aims to bring attention to the problem of censorship. It began in 1982 when there was a sudden increase in the number of challenged books in schools, bookstores and libraries. Even today, there are many challenges against books. In 2016, there were 323 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom, however, many cases also go unreported.

Censorship is a slippery slope. Once someone succeeds in having one book banned, for any reason, other people can argue for the banning of more books until we completely lose our freedom of unrestricted access to information.

Below are the top five most challenged books of 2016, all of which can be borrowed from the Greene County Library. Stop by the library sometime this week and celebrate your freedom to read. For more information on Banned Books Week, visit

1. This One Summer by Mariko & Jillian Tamaki – Rose’s latest summer at a beach lake house is overshadowed by her parents’ constant arguments, her younger friend’s secret sorrows, and the dangerous activities of older teens.

2. Drama by Raina Telgemeier – Designing sets for her middle school’s play, Callie tries to overcome limited carpentry skills, low ticket sales and squabbling crew members only to find her efforts further complicated by the arrival of two cute brothers.

3. George by Alex Gino – Knowing herself to be a girl despite her outwardly male appearance, George is denied a female role in the class play before teaming up with a friend to reveal her true self. Continue reading

“Who controls the past controls the future”

1984_coverIt was a lively and boisterous discussion when the Brown Baggers met on Thursday, September 21 to discuss George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel 1984.

1984 has been a frequently challenged book and ranks as high as #5 for the most challenged books of all time- it has been challenged and banned in many US schools. During the Cold War, a teacher in Minnesota was fired for refusing to remove 1984 from his reading list. In 1981 it was challenged in Jackson County, Florida for being pro-communism.

1984 follows Winston Smith through his increasing distrust of Big Brother in the country of Oceania. Oceania has a highly structured class system consisting of the Inner Party, the Outer Party, and the Proles. The Inner Party made up the smallest portion of the population and held the power. Winston belonged to the Outer Party where he worked for the government rewriting history and was under constant surveillance, as were all the members of the Outer Party. Winston had grown tired of his life and Big Brother and wanted to join the revolutionary brotherhood to help bring down the government. And, he thought he found a like-minded person in a higher up from the Inner Party, but soon learns that he can’t trust anyone and that going against Big Brother has the harshest of consequences.

Some readers enjoyed the dystopian novel while others had a hard time getting into and finishing the novel. Many of the Brown Baggers had read the novel in high school and noted that rereading it now didn’t hold the same amount of interest that it used to. Several readers mentioned that the themes in the book- censorship, power structure, control of information- weren’t anything new.

Most agreed that the issue of language in the novel held great importance, for if you control language then you can control thought. However, one problem with language is that everyone has different ideas of what words mean, even when hearing something at the same time. Others mentioned that words can limit meanings and also be the “ultimate weapon.”

Overall, readers felt that Winston tried to be a heroic figure in the sense that he wants to topple Big Brother, but in the end he loses the struggle. Some thought that the novel was a warning about the loss of humanity.

Reviews and articles:
By Isaac Asimov
By the New York Times
Biography of George Orwell
Orwell versus Huxley

Read alikes and authors mentioned:
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Sinclair Lewis
The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Red Rising by Pierce Brown

The Brown Baggers will meet again on Thursday, October 19 at noon to discuss A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman.

“I’ve whispered ‘Racism’ in a post-racial world.”

selloutA small group joined Books on Tap on a beautiful, September 7, at  Champion Brewery to try to “untangle” Paul Beatty’s award-winning 2015 novel, The Sellout.

The plot centers on a Californian African American, an urban farmer home-schooled by his single father, alternately referred to as “Me” or “Bonbon”.  He contemplates how he has ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court over his efforts to reinstitute segregation and put his hometown of Dickens back on the map.  Oh, and he’s also the reluctant owner of a single slave, Hominy, a former child actor in the television series The Little Rascals.  

Going into it, we thought this would be a challenging novel to discuss. It seems to say that one can use racism to make people less racist.  And it questions how much or how little progress has been made on race relations in a supposed post-racial America.  

Some readers were put-off by the language. There were continual references to American Black culture, stereotypes and sometimes over the top, non-stop comedic innuendos that some readers might not “get”. Many reviewers and critics have characterized the novel as “satire”, but we discussed whether we thought the author really intended it as such.  Other readers appreciated the rich, dense sentences but admitted that it made the book a complex read. Readers felt there was some general wackiness and a few subplots that might have distracted from the book’s main storyline. 

There are many L.A.-area neighborhood references and fans of The Little Rascals might find some of the related trivia interesting.

Our discussion perhaps inevitably turned to current events and race relations in Charlottesville due to the author’s prescient wording on page 234.   Describing different ethnic groups at a “Hood Day” celebration, the main character says of a certain group “ was hard to tell if they were from Dickens. Like Nazis at a Ku Klux Klan rally, they were comfortable ideologically but not in in terms of corporate culture.”

In the final pages, the protagonist reflecting on his own silence after a white couple is basically chased out of a black comedy club (p. 287), says that “Silence can be either protest or consent, but most times it’s fear.”  

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Related Reading
The Known World by Edward P. Jones
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
Waking Up White by Debbie Irving

2016 National Book Critics Circle Award (Fiction), winner for The Sellout
2016 Man Booker Prize winner for The Sellout
2017 International Dublin Literary Award long-list for The Sellout

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