Musing from a Punk-Ass Book Jockey: Banned Book Book Club

Welcome to the new year! Some of you may be aware that during my day job I am a punk-ass book jockey. One of the things I do is run a book club. I took it over when a co-worker left and have been in charge of it in the years since. In the past I’ve selected books month-to-month. In order to narrow down each month’s pick from EVERY BOOK EVERY PUBLISHED to something a bit more manageable I have given the book club an annual secret theme. This is a theme that I pick based on how members’ preferences have been leaning. It’s fun to see if anyone picks up on it. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Past choices have been women authors, alternating fiction/non-fiction, and books that should have been but aren’t part of the standard required reading canon.

This year I decided to do something different. I did a survey of possible themes, and from the miasma of responses I created an official 2019 book club theme. I also picked the entire year’s selections out ahead of time. And based on what I’ve selected, I think it’ll be interesting to share it with everyone. You know, in case you want to read along for the year.

So, the theme that I ended up cobbling together from the multiple requests ended up as:

Most Challenged & Banned Books From the Past Ten Years

These are books that landed on the 10 Ten Most Challenged Books lists from 2007-2017. Now, I didn’t blindly pick the top 10, as that would have just given me the 2017 list.  I went through and selected from the 07-17 lists based on the group member’s tastes, themes I thought important to discuss, books that could lead to interesting conversations based on offensiveness/relevance/historical importance, and also cutting out books that I really did not want to look at (cough cough, Catcher in the Rye, cough cough). I also ran through some options, asking what they had some, little, or no interest in reading. Here’s what we came up with:

  • JanuaryBrave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • FebruaryThe Color Purple by Alice Walker
  • MarchFun Home by Alison Bechdel
  • AprilThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  • MayPersepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  • JuneThe Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • JulyThe Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  • AugustThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • SeptemberThe Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  • OctoberThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • NovemberBeyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
  • DecemberThe Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

Funny enough, shortly after compiling the 2019 book club syllabus, February’s author came back into the news. In a New York Times interview (Alice Walker: By the Book) she gave a recommendation for a book by David Icke. For those that do not know, Icke believes that lizard people control the world government, that the Jews funded both World War 1 and 2, and that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are real. It’s a bit strange that this is what caused a wave of awareness for Alice Walker’s beliefs, as she’s been mentioning him on her personal blog since 2014, as well as publishing her own problematic works, and estranging herself from her Jewish daughter.

But because of all this I was faced with the question on whether or not to revisit the book selections and either move things around, or simply replace The Color Purple. But that’s the whole point of the theme, isn’t it? This month we’ll talk about whether Huxley was drawing attention to racism in his satire with the way he discusses Native Americans and black people, or whether he’s actually writing from a racist perspective. So what’s the difference if the controversy is contemporary rather than historical? Sherman Alexie is included, so it’s responsible to discuss the allegations of sexual misconduct. So bring on the context. Let’s go over Alice Walker’s statements. And if The Color Purple stands up without the author, then that just goes to show how important and powerful a piece of work it really is.

About Adam

Adam is a Jewish American who's sick of the white Christian male being America's "default" setting. For money he works in a public library because free books and information access are wonderful things. For love he writes here for his pet project, The Chaotic Neutral, which is always looking for more writers. You can follow him on Instagram, Goodreads, and at his oft neglected Twitter where he will try to post more, and probably live-tweet the Eurovision Song Contest.

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