Monday, January 2, 2012

In The Zone

This is the time of list making. Resolutions, changes, best films, restaurants, underrated athletes, politicians, top tens of all sorts. In that mix comes some fascinating information about books and the American psyche.
Recently the New York Times included the top bestseller in non-fiction over the last 35 years.
Seems as if 35 years ago the list was topped by Alex Haley's Roots. This year it was Steve Jobs. But what falls in between really says something. A year ago G.W. Bush held the spot with his version of events called Decision Points. The previous year was Sarah Palin's Going Rogue. 5 years ago saw Obama's Audacity of Hope #1. In 2002, 10 years ago, it was Bill O'Reilly's No Spin Zone. You see where this is going. If we look at 15 years back we find A Reporter's Life by Walter Cronkite. 20 years ago Me: Stories of My Life by Kathryn Hepburn held the spot. 25 years ago it was Bill Cosby's Fatherhood and 30 years down the road it was Shel Silverstein's A light in the Attic. That will bring us back to Roots. My question: Is there a statement about our culture here? Please fill in the blank________________________.
Another list of books has caught my eye this time of year too. It comes from the American Library Association. Using some data collected over the last couple of years, the ALA has released what it calls the most frequently challenged books. Not banned books, mind you, but books that some folks would love to see banned. So they challenge.
The list, which appears below, also makes an intriguing cultural commentary.

The ALA's top 10 most frequently challenged books of 2010-11

1. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson

Reasons: Homosexuality, religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group

2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Reasons: Offensive language, racism, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence

3. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Reasons: Insensitivity, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit

4. Crank by Ellen Hopkins

Reasons: Drugs, offensive language, sexually explicit

5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence

6. Lush by Natasha Friend

Reasons: Drugs, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

7. What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones

Reasons: Sexism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

8. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America by Barbara Ehrenreich

Reasons: Drugs, inaccurate, offensive language, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint

9. Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology edited by Amy Sonnie

Reasons: Homosexuality, sexually explicit

10. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Reasons: Religious viewpoint, violence

I would expect to see some of these titles, but what I find even more fascinating is the inclusion of Huxley's Brave New World. Perhaps the reason is that it is still read in schools. That could threaten some but one has only to look at some of the current TV programming in prime time to see things far more explicit. Must be something else. I love the work "insensitivity" here. I'm going to think about that a little more.
A final note: In the past few days I caught a bit of the "Twilight Zone" marathon presented by the Sy Fy Channel on holidays. To watch these original episodes again and again is equal parts nostalgia, entertainment, and curiosity about how they stand the test of time. Of course, some do not. Advancements in make-up and special effects put them to shame. But when you consider the thematic content, they do quite well. People are often trapped in an existential dilemma with no escape. No Exit, as Sartre called it. They are often Waiting for Godot, as Beckett said. There are many episodes of braver, newer worlds as they were conceived in the early 1960s. And you know what? The same issues of personal identity, personal appearance, the same ethical dilemmas with technology, with intolerance, with materialism shine through in black and white. Wonder if any of those shows will be challenged?

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