CLOSE

From the Dictionary to a Book Called "Horse": The Surprising Complaints Against 6 Books

This week (September 24 through October 1, 2011) is the American Library Association's Banned Books Week, an "annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment." We've all heard about books like Lolita and The Awakening being banned, especially from schools, for overly sexual content; other books are banned—or at least challenged—for violence, curse words, being "obscene," or otherwise containing content deemed objectionable or dangerous. But some challenged books are more surprising than others...

1. Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary

You'd think a dictionary would be one of the least objectionable books possible, but even the classic Merriam-Webster, the standard for spelling bees across the country, was challenged last year. The Union School District in Menifee, CA, pulled the dictionary off shelves when a parent complained about the explicit definition for "oral sex." A committee of parents, teachers, and administrators was formed to review the Merriam-Webster, ultimately deciding to leave the dictionary available for use by fourth- and fifth-graders at Oak Meadows Elementary School, though parents can choose to have their children use an alternative dictionary.

2. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

by Anne Frank
One of the most widely read—and beloved—books discussing the Holocaust, Anne Frank's diary was actually challenged last year for "sexual material and homosexual content." After "a hailstorm of criticism online and...international attention" following reports that the book would no longer be used in Culpeper County, VA, schools, the superintendent said Frank's diary will remain part of English classes, but may be taught at a different grade level than previously.

3. Eyewitness Books: Horse

by Juliet Clutton-Brock
This book is one of the photo-packed "Eyewitness Books" meant to inform readers about a given subject; it's filled with info about the behavior and history of horses, including zebras and donkeys. It was challenged in 2004 at Smith Elementary School in Helena, MT, by a parent concerned that it "promotes evolution." The school kept the book on the shelves.

4. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything

by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
This economics smash hit was challenged in 2006 in Illinois' Northwest Suburban High School District 214. One board member, having only read excerpts of the Freakonomics online, objected to the book's argument that legalized abortion led to a lower crime rate. At a board meeting to determine the fate of Freakonomics and 8 other books, the original complainant was the only board member to vote for the books' removal from the reading list. To celebrate, Dubner and Levitt gave away 50 free signed copies of the book to District 214 students.

5. The Junie B. Jones Series

by Barbara Park
This kids series has been challenged more than once by parents. In 2006, Junie B. Jones and Some Sneaky, Peeky Spying was challenged in Wake County, NC, for not adhering to family and social values; parents have complained about other books in the series for Junie's spelling and grammar skills, or rather her lack thereof, her troublemaking, and her mouthiness.

6. Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan

by Todd Tucker
In a highly publicized situation in 2008, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) found an employee guilty of racial harassment for reading Tucker's book in a public area. The decision was surprising since the book—an account of a 1924 clash between Notre Dame students and Ku Klux Klan members—isn't favorable toward the Klan, but was still viewed as offensive to the employees black co-workers because it "related to a historically and racially abhorrent subject." (The initial complaint was based solely on the cover.) After first being ordered not to read the book in the presence of his co-workers, the employee later received a letter stating that "no determination could be made as to whether his reading choice was intentionally hostile," and no disciplinary action was taken. Following involvement by the ACLU of Indiana, IUPUI stated its "regret this situation took place" and its commitment to freedom of expression; according to the university, there is no record of the incident in the employee's file.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
gutenberg.org
arrow
literature
10 Things You Might Not Know About Little Women
gutenberg.org
gutenberg.org

Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is one of the world's most beloved novels, and now—nearly 150 years after its original publication—it's capturing yet another generation of readers, thanks in part to Masterpiece's new small-screen adaptation. Whether it's been days or years since you've last read it, here are 10 things you might not know about Alcott's classic tale of family and friendship.

1. LOUISA MAY ALCOTT DIDN'T WANT TO WRITE LITTLE WOMEN.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Louisa May Alcott was writing both literature and pulp fiction (sample title: Pauline's Passion and Punishment) when Thomas Niles, the editor at Roberts Brothers Publishing, approached her about writing a book for girls. Alcott said she would try, but she wasn’t all that interested, later calling such books “moral pap for the young.”

When it became clear Alcott was stalling, Niles offered a publishing contract to her father, Bronson Alcott. Although Bronson was a well-known thinker who was friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, his work never achieved much acclaim. When it became clear that Bronson would have an opportunity to publish a new book if Louisa started her girls' story, she caved in to the pressure.

2. LITTLE WOMEN TOOK JUST 10 WEEKS TO WRITE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott began writing the book in May 1868. She worked on it day and night, becoming so consumed with it that she sometimes forgot to eat or sleep. On July 15, she sent all 402 pages to her editor. In September, a mere four months after starting the book, Little Women was published. It became an instant best seller and turned Alcott into a rich and famous woman.

3. THE BOOK AS WE KNOW IT WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN TWO PARTS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

The first half was published in 1868 as Little Women: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. The Story Of Their Lives. A Girl’s Book. It ended with John Brooke proposing marriage to Meg. In 1869, Alcott published Good Wives, the second half of the book. It, too, only took a few months to write.

4. MEG, BETH, AND AMY WERE BASED ON ALCOTT'S SISTERS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Meg was based on Louisa’s sister Anna, who fell in love with her husband John Bridge Pratt while performing opposite him in a play. The description of Meg’s wedding in the novel is supposedly based on Anna’s actual wedding.

Beth was based on Lizzie, who died from scarlet fever at age 23. Like Beth, Lizzie caught the illness from a poor family her mother was helping.

Amy was based on May (Amy is an anagram of May), an artist who lived in Europe. In fact, May—who died in childbirth at age 39—was the first woman to exhibit paintings in the Paris Salon.

Jo, of course, is based on Alcott herself.

5. LIKE THE MARCH FAMILY, THE ALCOTTS KNEW POVERTY.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Bronson Alcott’s philosophical ideals made it difficult for him to find employment—for example, as a socialist, he wouldn't work for wages—so the family survived on handouts from friends and neighbors. At times during Louisa’s childhood, there was nothing to eat but bread, water, and the occasional apple.

When she got older, Alcott worked as a paid companion and governess, like Jo does in the novel, and sold “sensation” stories to help pay the bills. She also took on menial jobs, working as a seamstress, a laundress, and a servant. Even as a child, Alcott wanted to help her family escape poverty, something Little Women made possible.

6. ALCOTT REFUSED TO HAVE JO MARRY LAURIE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott, who never married herself, wanted Jo to remain unmarried, too. But while she was working on the second half of Little Women, fans were clamoring for Jo to marry the boy next door, Laurie. “Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only aim and end of a woman’s life," Alcott wrote in her journal. "I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone.”

As a compromise—or to spite her fans—Alcott married Jo to the decidedly unromantic Professor Bhaer. Laurie ends up with Amy.

7. THERE ARE LOTS OF THEORIES ABOUT WHO LAURIE WAS BASED ON.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

People have theorized Laurie was inspired by everyone from Thoreau to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s son Julian, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. In 1865, while in Europe, Alcott met a Polish musician named Ladislas Wisniewski, whom Alcott nicknamed Laddie. The flirtation between Laddie and Alcott culminated in them spending two weeks together in Paris, alone. According to biographer Harriet Reisen, Alcott later modeled Laurie after Laddie.

How far did the Alcott/Laddie affair go? It’s hard to say, as Alcott later crossed out the section of her diary referring to the romance. In the margin, she wrote, “couldn’t be.”

8. YOU CAN STILL VISIT ORCHARD HOUSE, WHERE ALCOTT WROTE LITTLE WOMEN.

Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts was the Alcott family home. In 1868, Louisa reluctantly left her Boston apartment to write Little Women there. Today, you can tour this house and see May’s drawings on the walls, as well as the small writing desk that Bronson built for Louisa to use.

9. LITTLE WOMEN HAS BEEN ADAPTED A NUMBER OF TIMES.

In addition to a 1958 TV series, multiple Broadway plays, a musical, a ballet, and an opera, Little Women has been made into more than a half-dozen movies. The most famous are the 1933 version starring Katharine Hepburn, the 1949 version starring June Allyson (with Elizabeth Taylor as Amy), and the 1994 version starring Winona Ryder. Later this year, Clare Niederpruem's modern retelling of the story is scheduled to arrive in movie theaters. It's also been adapted for the small screen a number of times, most recently for PBS's Masterpiece, by Call the Midwife creator Heidi Thomas.

10. IN 1980, A JAPANESE ANIME VERSION OF LITTLE WOMEN WAS RELEASED.

In 1987, Japan made an anime version of Little Women that ran for 48 half-hour episodes. Watch the first two episodes above.

Additional Resources:
Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography; Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women; Louisa May Alcott's Journals; Little Women; Alcott Film; C-Span; LouisaMayAlcott.org.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
travel
LaGuardia Airport Is Serving Up Personalized Short Stories to Passengers
iStock
iStock

In between purchasing a neck pillow and a bag full of snacks, guests flying out of the Marine Air Terminal at New York City's LaGuardia Airport can now order up an impromptu short story. As Hyperallergic reports, Landing Pages is an art project that connects writers to travelers looking for short fiction written in the time it takes to reach their destination.

The kiosk was set up as part of the ArtPort Residency, a new collaboration between the Queens Council on the Arts and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which sponsors different art projects at the Marine Air Terminal for a few months at a time.

Artists Lexie Smith and Gideon Jacobs set up the inaugural project at the terminal earlier this month. To request a story from Landing Pages, travelers can visit the kiosk and leave their flight number and contact information. While the passenger is in the air, Smith and Jacobs churn out a custom story, in the form of poetry, illustration, or prose, from their airport terminal workspace and send it out in time for it to reach the reader's phone before he or she lands.

The word count depends on the duration of the flight, and the subject matter often touches upon themes of travel and adventure. As Smith and Jacobs continue their residency through June 30, the pieces they complete will be made available at Landingpages.nyc and in hard copy form at the airport kiosk.

Landing Pages isn't the first airport service to offer à la carte short stories. In 2011, a French startup debuted its short story-dispensing vending machine at Paris's Charles de Gaulle Airport. Those stories come in three categories—one-minute, three-minute, and five-minute reads—and are printed out immediately so travelers can read them during their flight.

[h/t Hyperallergic]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios