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BBW Day Four (and a contest!)
Sep
29
2009

When I was growing up, the library was my refuge, it was my theme park, my day at the beach (though I had those too, LOL). My mom would drop me off at the Norwalk Public Library (and for those of you in Southern California, if you haven’t been there, it’s still standing, though I haven’t been there in many years) and I would spend four hours there that were gone in the blink of an eye to me.

I’d come out to the car with so many books I could barely walk and over the next two weeks I would read them all, many more than once and head back to get more.

My mom would look at the books I’d checked out, look them over and over the next weeks, I’d tell my parents about what I was reading. I remember discovering Susan Cooper’s the Dark is Rising and the rest of that series.

As I grew up, my parents never censored my reading material, but we did talk about what I read, something I’ve been able to do with my kids now and I must say I love that they trust me to share their feelings with. I love puzzling over things the characters did and why. As a writer now, I have a new perspective on this process, LOL, but it also feeds that part of me, that story brain part.

I suppose my larger point is – books FREE your mind. Books are not weapons of mass destruction, they are tools to build, they are spaceships, they are pirate vessels, race cars, the hollow of a tree where the squirrels live – whatever. And there’s nothing else in the world like books.

I’ve talked about Judy Blume in years past so I thought I’d talk about another book on the most challenged list for the 1990’s – Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. The book is most often used in the higher high school grades, not to a seven year old who couldn’t understand the layers of this dystopian world where women able to breed are in short supply and they’ve been caught up by the government and renamed Handmaids – they are given to rich and influential families, wrapped in religious trappings and they breed, the child is taken and they are reassigned. (This happens to be in my top five most favorite books – I adore this book nearly as much as I adore Atwood for her fearless, intensely personal and intimate storytelling (Megan Hart has this intensity too).)

This is NOT a happy book. The protag is a woman whose life has been stolen from her. She had a family, she had a life until the troubles started. Now she has nothing but her working reproductive system. She is nothing but for that. She has no rights, she has no sense of self. She cannot move independently. Some handmaids are no more than whores as you can well imagine there will be people who use them for more than just that “holy union” to knock them up.

The book is meant to challenge the reader. There’s so much value in books like that. Whether you agree with them or not, it’s not the point (I had to read The Fountainhead and I don’t agree with a thing Rand says). The point is, teaching young people to take in information and to think critically about it. Critical thinking is a ridiculously important skill and if more people possessed it, we’d be in way less trouble than we are now.

High school literature courses are not only about having students read what they like, it’s about giving them tools to deal with information, giving them tools to understand there exists a wide variety of perspectives on the world and how to read them – even if you don’t agree, especially if you don’t agree. That’s what good literature does, it challenges. It’s OKAY not to agree with the book, agreement is not the point.

The extreme irony of course is that censorship if a major theme in the book – sigh.

We seem to have gotten to a place in our culture where people believe they should only see things they agree with, and they’ll push that off on their children too. I think this is the utmost intellectual laziness and it’s destroying the next generation. The world doesn’t work that way. We’re confronted with ideas of all types, all day long – this is part of the greatness of our culture, and literature is a great way to open worlds up, it’s a great way to encourage critical thought. It’s just a great way to learn about yourself and others.

How about I give a book away then? Oh I know – two books!

A copy of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and a copy of Ann Aguirre’s newly release Doubleblind are up for grabs for two winners (one book each). What book did you read that challenged you? Doesn’t have to be a big important book, you don’t have to have agreed or disagreed with it.

I’ll choose the winners at random from the comments by noon pacific tomorrow (September 30).

24 comments to “BBW Day Four (and a contest!)”

  1. RKCharron
    September 29th, 2009 at 8:27 am · Link

    Hi Lauren :)
    Thank you for the great thoughtful post.
    ATLAS SHRUGGED by Ayn Rand challenged me and I had to read it again just to wrap my head around it. It made me look at the news with a different perspective.
    :)
    All the best,
    RKCharron
    xoxo



  2. limecello
    September 29th, 2009 at 9:19 am · Link

    Hm, I don’t know why I keep reading “challenged” as changed… but as I think of it, three books come to mind. (p.s. I *loved* Susan Cooper – I recently bought the Dark is Rising series, but am scared to re-read it.)
    As for books that challenged me… well one is a play. The Crucible. I hated it. I get the point Miller was making – and that it’s supposed to do that – but I was livid. I remember having to walk away from the book a few times. Next, was Wuthering Heights. I used to only read classics. It took me six weeks to finish. I did not enjoy it. (I can read up to 3 novels a day if I have the time.) I suffered. I bought it again to give it another chance, but can’t get over the six week thing. (Heh I guess it was scarring.)
    And lastly… Jude the Obscure. As part of my “classics” kick – I read a number of Thomas Hardy novels, in a row. My mistake, I know. I got so depressed after Jude I remember lying curled up on the bathroom floor for 40 minutes. It was at that point I couldn’t stomach classics/sad stories anymore, and turned to romances. :) The rest is history.



  3. Laney4
    September 29th, 2009 at 9:23 am · Link

    I remember back in the 70s as a teenager having to read Moby Dick. Just hated it.
    Can’t think of anything recently….



  4. DL
    September 29th, 2009 at 10:19 am · Link

    Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle: It remains one of my favorite books and to a large extent it allowed me to see the world differently but first there I had to accept that it was okay to see the world that way.



  5. Pamk
    September 29th, 2009 at 10:23 am · Link

    Pilgram’s progress which I absolutely loathed and I can guarantee that our teacher probably hated several of us by the time the class was over lol.
    I read the The Stand when I was 13 for the first time and man that flu virus really hit me. I can remembering thinking if it wasn’ for the old grandmother and the walking dude this book could really happen. Some of the things that people expirement with could wipe out civilization as we know it.



  6. flip
    September 29th, 2009 at 10:35 am · Link

    The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy.

    Not happy books….but these books helped me form my own opinions.



  7. Feisty
    September 29th, 2009 at 10:42 am · Link

    The Handmaid’s Tale changed me. Awesome blog!!



  8. Donna S
    September 29th, 2009 at 11:01 am · Link

    The book I read that really challenged me was Catch-22. I read it in college than read the “sequel” and ended up having to re-read them and really think about what was going on and the meanings.



  9. Sabrina
    September 29th, 2009 at 11:18 am · Link

    I read Quicksand and Passing by Nella Larsen in College. It was a very heartwrenching book that opened my eyes. Both amazing stories in one book.



  10. Cybercliper
    September 29th, 2009 at 11:28 am · Link

    Yes, yes, yes – I get excited whenever anyone mentions THE HANDMAID’S TALE. Everyone should read this book. I always name this book as one of my all time influential books. I give copies away to all my reading friends and family and ask them to read it even though it may be out of their preference zone!!

    Another one of Atwood’s that rocked my world just as much….ORYX AND CRAKE – when social engineering, inequality, and environmental disregard collide…



  11. Samantha
    September 29th, 2009 at 11:35 am · Link

    Handmaid’s Tale has always been one of my favorite novels. I still get blown away whenever I re-read it (and it’s one of the only books that I ever have re-read).

    And I am so excited to actually get the chance to meet her next week when she’s in town for her reading/signing.



  12. Amanda Hampton
    September 29th, 2009 at 11:50 am · Link

    Hi Lauren I am new to your books I bought Laid Bare last week and I really loved it! Cant wait to get another! What a better way to get one then to win so I hope you chose me that would be great!



  13. SusiSunshine
    September 29th, 2009 at 12:16 pm · Link

    The first book I thought about is a German one and I’m not sure anyone outside Germany knows it. It’s Deutschland, Ein Wintermärchen(Germany, a Winter’s Tale) by Heinrich Heine. I read it the first time in school with 15 years and it was the first schoolbook that made me really think. It’s a satiric book about Germany in the 19th century and criticizes censuring and proclaims the fight for freedom and equality for everyone. It’s in poem form and one of the best books ever. Just love it. So if you find this one in English or you can read German: Go and get it.



  14. Ilona
    September 29th, 2009 at 12:22 pm · Link

    Animal Farm was the one for me. It was the book that helped me learn to read German as well as made me think about equality and how hard it is to achieve.



  15. CrystalGB
    September 29th, 2009 at 12:49 pm · Link

    The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway.



  16. Fedora
    September 29th, 2009 at 1:45 pm · Link

    I admit that often I avoid books that challenge me because these days, I usually read to escape :) One challenging book was Mists of Avalon–it also got under your skin afterwards and got your brain churning…



  17. Amy M
    September 29th, 2009 at 2:20 pm · Link

    I don’t know that this one challenged me, but it for sure had qualities that I understood and parts that I just did not agree with at all. It was Hard to Handle by Jodi Picoult. In the beginning of the book, I understood the mom and her struggles, having a daughter that has a heart condition that limits her abilities, is on a ton of medicine and is only 3. However, as the book progessed, I had a lot of issues and did not agree with what the mother in the story was willing to do. I enjoyed it tremendously and it did open my eyes to a life outside of what I think of and what some people are willing to do.

    Thanks!
    Amy M



  18. Natasha A.
    September 29th, 2009 at 2:36 pm · Link

    Well, I would have to say Harry Potter. I know it has been a challenged book, and I think in some places banned. These books didn’t change me, I feel that they changed the world. Yeah, I know…some people will argue with me over that, but you know what? It got kids reading again. OMG there’s magic in them! WOohoo!



  19. Diane Sadler
    September 29th, 2009 at 3:38 pm · Link

    I had to read Pearl S Buck’s The First Wife, and it revealed to me how women are treated in different cultures and countries around the world; I wasn’t so much as shocked as unbelieving, since I could not even imagined being a poor second class lower than your farm animals citizen. I made a point to read many most if not all of her books



  20. Barbara Elness
    September 29th, 2009 at 4:54 pm · Link

    There are a lot of books that I’ve enjoyed and think about years later. The one that comes to mind is Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein – it did really make me think.



  21. vitch36
    September 29th, 2009 at 6:34 pm · Link

    I didn’t come into reading on my own. It was mandatory in my home growing up.

    Drama in Real Life from the Readers Digest, or from school, Where the Red Fern Grows.

    Then one day when trying to appease my Grandparents by finding something ‘Classical’ yet ‘Spooky’…I found Edgar Allen Poe and learned I LOVED to read!

    Not sure if that answers the question well enough…



  22. Tez Miller
    September 29th, 2009 at 11:34 pm · Link

    My first Jodi Picoult read was Perfect Match. Genetics, sexual assault and religion all rolled into one. Also, the law. Big issues about parenthood as well – would you kill someone who assaulted your child? But what if the child’s speech impediment meant that you killed an innocent man instead of the culprit? Intriguing stuff!

    Would love to win either book. Doubleblind was already on my Wishlist, but I’m all for dystopia in fiction, so The Handmaid’s Tale should do me just fine :wink:



  23. Frana
    September 30th, 2009 at 1:24 am · Link

    I remember reading The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka in high school and that book has as great impact on me now as it had then. Also, his Process was a book that left me thinking about the world and our society for a long time.
    Recently read influential book was Broken by Megan Hart – it left me thinking about my relationships with different people in my life.



  24. JP
    September 30th, 2009 at 3:34 am · Link

    Oh man, The Handmaid’s Tale is a favorite of mine as well.

    As for challenging me, one book that gave me indelible screaming nightmares — and stands out to me because it was REAL — was Night by Elie Wiesel. Nothing, and I mean nothing, about the Holocaust struck me so much before. It just blew me away, but getting through it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done as well.





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