Tag Archives: dystopia

Banned Books Week

27 Sep

It’s Banned Books Week, so let’s do an old fashioned book parade! Dress up like your favourite book character… I bags being Dawn from The Baby-sitters Club! (That used to be my old standby – we both had long blonde hair so it was easy.)

Okay, no, the aforementioned parade is actually a Book Week activity, which is an entirely different animal. From September 24 to October 1, America (and therefore the world?) holds Banned Books Week to draw attention to censorship by hosting a variety of events, both IRL and online.

So what kind of books have been banned in the past? Well, you name it – if it has a story, it seems to have pissed someone off somewhere, what with its religious viewpoints, unsuitability to its age group, anti-family values, sexually explicit material, offensive language, violence and homosexuality (oh my, what a book THAT would be).

The list of challenged books is pretty interesting, and the American Library Association has a great database, listing them by year, author and decade. Then there’s the list of challenged classics: of the Top 100 from the Radcliffe Top Novels of the 20th Century, at least 46% have been challenged. In fact, of the top 15, 12 have been protested (crossed out below) – yes, people have had to fight to keep these books in libraries and schools:

  1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  2. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  6. Ulysses by James Joyce
  7. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  8. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  9. 1984 by George Orwell
  10. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  11. Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov
  12. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  13. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  14. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
  15. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Scary, huh? Imagine how bland the literary world would be without these wonders floating around out there. I’m trying to avoid using emoticons in these posts, but sometimes you just need to use a sad face 😦

If you’re a fan of not having your reading list dictated to you by a crazy minority group, you might want to take part in the BWB YouTube channel. It features people reading snippets of books that have been challenged at one time or another – you can just watch other people’s or upload your own. There are famous readers, like Whoopi Goldberg, and people like this guy, who’s reading The Lorax (challenged because it “criminalises the foresting industry”… yes, really). It’s strangely addictive.

 

XVI

13 Apr

XVI by Julia Karr, 2011

XVI julia karrIn case you didn’t know, there’s a bit of a dystopian trend happening in the literary world at the moment – well, in the young adult literary world anyway (if you don’t believe me, you can read all about it in a NY Times debate). And that’s the excuse I’m using for reviewing two books in a row that depict a very bleak future for our world (the last being Super Sad True Love Story).

The narrator of Julia Karr’s XVI is Nina, a 15-year-old who’s dreading her next birthday. Why? Because when girls turn 16 they’re considered fair game for every man who wants to have a crack at them – whether it’s one guy in an alley, two guys on a bus or a pack of guys at a party, the girl has to go along with whatever the men want. And on their 16th birthday, the girls are forced to have their wrists tattooed to show their eligibility. They’re also trained to look forward to this “sexteen” experience. Nice, huh?

There’s more to this world – everyone’s implanted with a GPS tracker, there are Governing Council spies all over the shop, troublesome citizens are lobotomotised – but as a teen, Nina is most freaked out about the whole sex-slave thing… especially when she starts to – wooo! – actually like a boy, and realises sex mightn’t be as evil as she’s always thought. And then, even more especially, when it turns out her family has a big anti-government anti-sexteen secret that has her fearing for her life (dum dum DUM!).

I wanted to really love this book. I loved the premise, and Nina’s a cool chick. But, at the risk of showing my pedantry, there’s some shoddy editing. For one, a whole chapter has a heap of quotation marks that face in the wrong direction (eg, ”Hi“), or weird double marks (eg, “Hello, is anyone proofreading this thing?”“).

But worse than that is the occasionally questionable dialogue. Yes, it’s set in the future so there’s some odd slang (transport = “trannies”, every swear word = “shiv”), but teenagers will also apparently become a lot more selfish in the next 150 years. Case in point: at one stage, Nina thinks her pre-teen sister has been kidnapped by a man who will keep her as a sex slave, and Nina was making out with her boy interest when it occurred. So Nina cries:

“I don’t want this body. I don’t want it to feel so good when you kiss me, when you touch me. It’s not fair.”

That would totally be my first comment if my sister was stolen by a rapist, too.

Overall, though, I did enjoy XVI. This future world may be creepy – and I sure as hell wouldn’t want any of my future family members to live in it – but it’s pretty damn imaginative, and the teen love scenes are a bit swoony. AND I like the idea of driving a hover car, dammit.

Read it when you want to consider the future of sexual politics, or to remember what it felt like (or learn what it would have been like!) to fall in lurve at 15.

Super Sad True Love Story

5 Apr

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart, 2010

When you walk into work, a board flashes your mental state to all your peers: “meek but cooperative”. You wear an apparat, a smartphone-like device on social media-overload that broadcasts your ‘HOTNESS’ and ‘F*CKABILITY’ ratings to everyone who owns an apparat (ie, everyone in the country). When shopping, credit poles scan your apparat to broadcast your credit rating to shop owners. Girls wear Onionskin jeans, which, given their name, are pretty much exactly what you’d imagine them to be.

This is the world Gary Shteyngart has created in Super Sad True Love Story – and if you haven’t got my point yet, it’s one crazy dystopian place. Set in the sometime-near-future in the US, when the dollar is pegged to the yuan as the government struggles to repay its international debt, it’s actually not so weird that you can’t imagine any of it happening. Which is really pretty alarming.

But, as the title implies, there’s more to this book than just a social media/possession-loving country in political crisis. It’s also about love. LOVE!

The plot follows Lenny Abramov and the object of his affection, Eunice Park. Lenny is a balding, overweight, somewhat-clueless guy; Eunice is a Korean-American 15 years his junior who scores 780/800 on the HOTNESS scale. Lenny’s hotness is 120/800. Ouch.

The chapters alternate between Lenny’s old-fashioned diary entries (he’s one of the few who still uses a pen and paper) and Eunice’s slang- and profanity-ridden apparat exchanges with her immigrant family and friends. Through their eyes, we learn how they got into this relationship in the first place, and what’s keeping them together as New York crumbles into a police state around them.

As a romance, Super Sad True Love Story is a solid story about lonely people making a connection. As a sci-fi depiction of what may lie ahead in our tech-obsessed world, it’s a damn good tale. In fact, I really love this book – I finished it months ago and still think about it at least twice a week (well, for one, the mental image of Onionskin jeans is pretty hard to get out of your head). I haven’t done it justice here – it’s hard to describe such an amazing story without messing it all up for you. Just read the damn thing, will you?

Read it when you want to read about love in this crazy world… or about a crazy world that still happens to have love in it.

[BONUS: For a ‘trailer’ about this book, featuring James Franco and some actual authors – and a dachshund! – check this out. Hint: it’s satirical.]