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Tue, March 19

Get A Grip: Hitting the books with a controversial reading list

I tuned in late to a radio news program the other day and heard the announcer reading a list of book titles: "Lord of the Flies," "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," "Beloved."

I reached over to turn up the volume as I recognized the names of some of my favorite books.

I figured the story was about good books.

I was half right.

As the story continued I realized the list of titles was taken from a challenged book list.

The University of California at Berkeley had compiled a 2002 summer reading list of titles culled from the American Library Association's list of the 100 books that were challenged the most often between 1990 and 2000.

These were books that some people sought to keep other people from reading.

Quite likely, these books had been dismissed as indecent or inappropriate for human consumption.

I imagine some parents sought to keep some of the books out of the schools.

A funny side note, for me, is the fact that these are among the books that I've been collecting for the past two and a half years as I compile a library of "must-reads" for my daughter.

Now Sophie is not yet three and only mildly interested in such literary tomes as "Goodnight Moon" and "Hop on Pop" but it is important to me that she have the best of the world's literature available to her.

When she was born I started shopping thrift stores and library book sales.

I've picked up such treasures as "Slaughterhouse Five," "Catcher in the Rye," "Letters to a Young Poet" and "Le Petit Prince."

I set the books aside for Sophie's eventual education but find myself picking them up to read over again.

The U.C.

Berkeley list is for incoming freshmen and the books are ones I remember mostly reading in high school.

These are eye-opening, mind-opening books.

The 12 books on the list are:


"Lord of the Flies" by William Golding


"Song of Solomon" by Toni Morrison


"Catcher in the Rye" by J.D.



"Beloved" by Toni Morrison


"Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain


"The House of the Spirits" by Isabel Allende


"The Color Purple" by Alice Walker


"To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee


"Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley


"The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood


"The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" by Mark Twain


"Slaughterhouse Five" by Kurt Vonnegut

The students' introduction to the list includes this advice: "…usually when someone doesn't want you to read something, it means that there's something valuable in that book."

These are important books.

They are books that give us invaluable insight into the issues that face humanity.

They all contain value greater than any gemstone.

I wonder about the people who take issue with these books, who take issue with the free flow of information in a supposedly free society.

This brings to mind the recent brouhaha over teaching California students about Islam.

I went to school in California and I learned about Islam in the 7th grade.

Our religious studies lessons included role playing and acting out religious scenes.

The lessons were the same whether we were learning about Islam or Buddhism or Christianity.

It was a fantastic education that taught me about the beliefs and customs of many of my fellow Americans as well as people around the world.

I fail to see how this is a harmful exercise just as I fail to see how reading good books is dangerous to children.

We try to protect our children from so many evils in this world.

But restricting them from information puts them in danger of living in a world they can't understand or function within.

I think we need to give our kids a little credit and open the world to them.

Kids who have been given these opportunities rarely disappoint.


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