Amanda Gates

Quick thoughts on Huck Finn, Stieg Larsson & Best books of 2010

There have been several bits of book news lately that I’ve wanted to comment on. I had dreams of separate posts for them all, but that’s not going to happen, so I’m smashing them all into one post instead.

1. Huckleberry Finn Censoring.
This came as quite a shock to me when I heard it on the news the other day. It seems very strange and misguided to change the text of a historic book in order to protect innocent readers, increase use in schools or just be more politically correct. Like Dr. Sarah Churchill says in a Guardian article,

“The fault lies with the teaching, not the book. You can't say 'I'll change Dickens so it is compatible with my teaching method'. Twain's books are not just literary documents but historical documents, and that word is totemic because it encodes all of the violence of slavery. The point of the book is that Huckleberry Finn starts out racist in a racist society, and stops being racist and leaves that society. These changes mean the book ceases to show the moral development of his character.”

However, an EW blogger points on that this censorship would only happen in certain copies of the book – most likely those meant for school-aged children. So, is this any different than censoring R-rated movies on TV so an immature audience doesn’t see/read something its not ready for? I thought that was an interesting point, at least. [Edited to add: This post by Flavorwire, changing other challenged books to be more "appropriate" is great. Also, Susan Orlean's take in the New Yorker.]

In the end, I think I fall on the side not changing the book. It just seems wrong. If I wrote a book one day, I would hate for the powers that be to decide to change it after I’m gone. (Yes, this is a short and simple thought on an very complex issue. But, I don't have the energy to really get into it right now.)

2. New Yorker’s Millennium Trilogy column.
Critic Joan Acocella asks Why Do People Love Stieg Larsson’s novels? She points out many reasons not to like them. Bad dialogue. Loose ends. Unnecessary detail. Not enough detail. A poor choice in male protagonist. I read other bloggers commenting on Acocella’s column saying they agreed with her – they hate the books, too. However, I don’t think Acocella hates these books. She does defend Larsson and the books a bit as well. She thinks the claims he’s a women-hater because of the scenes of violence against women are unwarranted. She likes Lisbeth as the heroine. And, she praises the books use of technology.

I agreed with her on all accounts. Sure, the books have too much detail – I barely kept reading Dragon Tattoo because the first 100 pages were so hard to get through – and there were huge loose ends (Lisbeth's sister??) and bad dialogue. I chalk the loose ends up to the author’s early death. And bad dialogue? Well, see Star Wars and Twilight, and I still love those. I too loved Lisbeth as a heroine, and I was very impressed by Larsson’s knowledge of computers and hacking. He was very up-to-date - if not ahead of our time considering when he wrote these - on security measures and hacking abilities when it comes to technology.

Something I found interesting was Acocella's analysis of Larsson’s view of Sweden. Perhaps it isn’t the Utopia of everything that we Americans think it is?

3. With the New Year came several Best Of lists. Here are just a few:
Goodreads Choice Awards
New York Times
Time Magazine Fiction & Nonfiction

I was pleased to see The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on several lists. I’ve had this book for several months and am reading it right now, so I feel proud to have picked this one out on my own before seeing it make all these lists.

The third book in the Hunger Games series, Mockingjay, also made many lists. I’m late to the game on this series – much like Twilight – but I’ve heard good things, so I plan to start it soon.

Room is also all over these lists. I’ve read about this book and heard from trusted sources that it’s pretty amazing, yet quite sad and disturbing. I’m not quite sure it’s up my alley, at least for the moment.

The Emperor of All Maladies also made several lists. This has been on my Amazon Wish List for awhile. I’m waiting for this book to either drop its Kindle price or come out on paperback, but I’m definitely interested.

I didn’t read The Corrections, so Freedom, even though it made ALL lists, isn’t high on my own reading list.

I couldn’t believe Time picked Faithful Place as a top book of the year. While I liked it, it wasn’t as good as her others, and with only picking 10 books out of all from 2010, I couldn’t believe this was one of its choices.

What are your thoughts? Censorship opinions? Millennium lovers or haters? Your top books published in 2010?


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