An Ocean of Good Reads

Central Illinois is a wonderful place. It is home to our wonderful Alma Mater, the charming cities of Urbana and Champaign, and enough cornfields to support even the most voracious grilled corn habit. There is, however, a distinct lack of salt air, of booming waves, and of billowing sails. If you find yourself pining for the sea life, take home one of these ocean-themed books from the UGL. You can read them in a hammock and pretend you’re below-decks!

Silver : My Own Tale as Written by Me with a Goodly Amount of Murder
by Edward Chupack

An Ocean + A Boat = Pirates, obviously. You’re probably familiar with Treasure Island, perhaps the most well-known pirate story of Western literature. But have you ever wondered about how the infamous pirate Long John Silver became who he is? This is his life story, recounted by Silver himself, as he sails imprisoned towards his execution in England. Many murders and treasure troves are recounted, in highly stylized pirate lingo, but the biggest and most mysterious treasure is only hinted at…

The Seas: a Novel
By Samantha Hunt

“Long walks on the beach” are often heralded as being the height of romance. What if, however,  you’re a young woman in a desolate seaside town, grieving the loss of your father, convinced you’re a mermaid, and in love with a older, damaged veteran? Time spent on the beach together might have a different feel to it, then. That’s the premise behind this novel, which draws from ethereal fairy tales but is set in cold, hard reality.

8 Men and a Duck : an Improbable Voyage by Reed Boat to Easter Island
by Nick Thorpe

Translating the art of the road trip to the southern Pacific, this is the tale of 8 dudes (mostly non-sailors) who attempt to travel from the coast of Chile to Easter Island in a boat made out of reeds. Their motivation? Living to tell the tale, mostly. There are sharks, storms, and rival sailing teams who attempt to sabotage the mission; there is also, as promised, a duck. The duck’s name is Pedro.

The Sea is My Brother
by Jack Kerouac

Before he became a famous figure in Beat literature, Jack Kerouac was a merchant marine. That means he worked as a sailor on ships carrying passengers and cargo, and that is the setting of this, his first, incomplete novel. Young men at sea grappling with loneliness, identity, and drinking in the modern world – if that sounds like your cup of grog, pick this one up.


The Sea Wolf
by Jack London, adapted by Riff Reb’s

Originally a novel by Jack London, of White Fang and Call of the Wild fame, this graphic novel adaptation adds dramatic, high-contrast illustrations to a classic adventure tale. Instead of furry beasts in snowy Yukon climes, the ‘wolf’ in this story is a hardened sailor in the South Pacific. He and his crew of seal hunters pick up a shipwreck victim, Humphrey, who is initially glad for their help…but Humphrey soon realizes that this ain’t no pleasure cruise, and he will have to fight to survive.


That’s it for our fleet of ocean-centered stories. We hope you got to see more of the ocean this summer that the UGL ever does, from it’s vantage point underground. Do you have a favorite book or movie set on the high seas? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Women in Comics

Marvel Comics recently revealed that one of their superheroes, Ms. Marvel, would be getting a new spin. The newest character to don the name of Ms. Marvel is Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old Muslim teenager from New Jersey. If this news has you curious about other female comic book protagonists, the UGL has compiled a list for your reading pleasure.

Ms. Marvel original comic cover

Ms. Marvel
Various authors and artists

The character of Ms. Marvel has been around quite a while – since the first issue of the Ms. Marvel comic in 1977, in fact. If you want to find out where it all began for her and what kinds of adventures old-timey superheroes had, pick this one up!




Batwoman: Elegy cover

Batwoman: Elegy
Greg Rucka, J.H. Williams III, Dave Stewart, Todd Klein

Batwoman also made her debut as a character quite a long time ago – 1959! – but she disappeared for a while when she was deemed ‘non-essential’ to Batman storylines. This series has her re-envisioned as a central character, battling  a demented version of Alice from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. It also explains her tragic back story.



Batgirl cover image

Gail Simone, Ardian Syaf, Vicente Cifuentes, inker ; Ulises Arreola, Dave Sharpe

You can never have enough bat-themed superheroes. Out of all of them, the UGL might be a little bit biased in favor of Batgirl, aka Barbara Gordon, since her day job is being a librarian. We think librarians are pretty super, Batgirl especially so.



Pride and Prejudice comic cover
Pride and Prejudice
Nancy Butler, Hugo Petrus, Alejandro Torres, and Dave Shapre; adapted from the novel by Jane Austen

There are comic books that aren’t about superheroes, and they have cool female protagonists, too! Jane Austen’s classic novel is now a graphic novel – we have Sense and Sensibility in comic form, too, if you’re up for a double whammy of Regency romance.


Gunnerkrigg Court comic cover
Gunnerkrigg Court
Tom Siddell

Schoolgirl BFFs taking on supernatural phenomenon in a spooky boarding school setting – what’s not to like? Gunnerkrigg Court originally started as a webcomic – this volumes collects the strips that follow Antimony, the main character, through her first year at the school.



Eye of the Majestic Creature cover
Eye of the Majestic Creature
Leslie Stein

For more slice-of-life type stories (but still with a dash of whimsy), you can try this collection of semi-autobiographical comics about a young woman dealing with her family, strangers, anthropomorphic friends, and life in general.



For more comics featuring girls and women as characters, try searching in the library catalog for “Young women – Comic books, strips, etc.” or ” Women – Comic books, strips, etc.” and selecting “Subject” from the drop-down menu. To browse a more general selection of comics, try the UGL’s graphic novel Pinterest board. If you have a favorite female comic book character that we haven’t mentioned, tell us about her in the comments, or on Twitter or Facebook! And if we don’t already have any comics that feature her, please recommend them to us!

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Short and Sweet

Most of our reading recommendations here on the UGL blog have been novels and nonfiction. It can be immensely rewarding to invest your time and energy in a long read, and it can keep you entertained and stimulated for hours and hours. This week, however, we thought we’d recommend a different kind of reading experience: the pleasure of reading short stories.

Much has been said about the literary form of the short story. Noted short story writer and essayist David Sedaris has said that “A good [short story] would take me out of myself and then stuff me back in, outsized, now, and uneasy with the fit.” Rather than the dedicated effort that a novel requires, short stories allow you to quickly quickly immerse yourself in  a new world, and reemerge just as quickly, perhaps with a new idea or new perspective about something. You know that feelings you get after you finish a good book, where you’re still wrapped up in the story and riding the high of the emotions it gave you? Good short stories let you have that feeling over and over again, in a single volume! That’s just a good value.

Here are some short story collections available from the library that can help you get your toes wet in the short story pool:

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell book in library catalogThe Best American Nonrequired Reading 2011 edited by Dave Eggers in library catalogFragile Things by Neil Gaiman in library catalogAn Empty Room by Mu Xin in library catalogThe House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros in library catalogThe Fertile Desert: Modern Writing from the United Arab Emirates edited by Denys Johnson-Davies  in library catalogThree Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic edited by Eduardo Jiménez Mayo and Chris N. Brown in library catalogA Night in the Cemetery and Other Stories of Crime and Suspense by Anton Chekhov in library catalog

If none of the above seem like quite your cup of tea (or if they’re all checked out to voracious short story readers!), you can always find more by doing a search in the Library Catalog for books with ‘Short Story’ as a Subject. Like so:

Enter Short Stories into the catalog search bar, and select 'Subject' from the drop-down menu next to it.

You can also search in I-Share, of course, if you want even more options.

Once you have some results, you can narrow them down to your area of interest by using the Topic limiters that show up on the right-hand side of the results screen.

A list of topics within short stories, including stories from different countries.

And so on, and so forth.

If you have a favorite short story collection, let us know about it in the comments! We wish you happy reading, whatever format it takes.


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Summer Survival

Ah, summer. The time of year when temperatures rise, and nature simultaneously asserts itself as a source of enjoyment (Sunshine! Flowers!) and a force to be reckoned with (Sunburn! Bug bites!).

If battling the heat and summer classes have got you down, take a break and enjoy something from this reading list inspired by the age-old theme of People Versus Nature. Some of them are very suspenseful, and some are not – you can choose according to how adventurous you’re feeling. And all of them, of course, are enjoyable from within the air-conditioned luxury of the library. Stop in and pick one up!
Gilligan's Island Season 2 tv show in library catalog

The characters in Gilligan’s Island may be shipwrecked, but they really don’t have it that bad. It seems there is no problem they can’t solve using bamboo and coconuts. Enjoy all three seasons of their exploits, and if their craftiness inspires you, check out  this book on Eco-Crafts; maybe you, too, can make something useful or fun from the things in your environment.

Robinson Crusoe book in library catalog

 One step up from Gilligan’s Island is the classic adventure story of Robinson Crusoe. The main character still gets clever with his surroundings, but the stakes are higher, since cannibals and wild animals are everywhere. Don’t worry about him too much, though – in the end he gets rescued. For a contemporary spin on the shipwrecked loner theme, try the film Cast Away. It has a sadder ending, but 100% more anthropomorphic volleyballs.

Mud, Sweat and Tears by Bear Grylls

If you’re ready to step away from the confines of fiction, pick up this autobiography of Bear Grylls, TV survival artist extraordinaire. What will this man not do to survive? He has, for instance, ” utilised the corpse of a sheep as a sleeping bag and flotation device.” I expect big things from a person like that. If things go really wrong, however, his support crew is never too far away, so he’ll make it out alright.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed book in library catalogCheryl Strayed might not have ever done anything ingenious with a dead sheep, but she did walk the entirety of the 1,100-mile Pacific Crest Trail, alone, with no previous backpacking experience and no TV crew to help her. The experience helped Strayed cope with the disintegration of her personal life and come out ahead of many personal challenges.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer book in library catalogSometimes those who face the forces of nature don’t come out on top. Into the Wild is the story of an American hitchhiker who disappeared from civilization and attempted to live off the Alaskan wilderness, and who was eventually found dead  in an abandoned bus. His motivations for undertaking such a dangerous expedition, and how basic preparation could have perhaps prevented his demise, have inspired much discussion, and even a movie version.

If reading these tales of humanity versus wilderness leaves you hankering for your own outdoor adventure, make sure you adequately prepare, so you can spend your time enjoying nature instead of struggling to live. Check out a book on outdoor skills, such as Hiking in Illinois or the Wilderness Survival Handbook, and get information about local destinations and regulations via Champaign Park District or the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Your favorite underground library will still be here to offer you shade and comfy chairs when you get back!


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Crowdsource Your Reading

A bulletin board was entirely covered front and back with students' favorite books.

This does not come close to representing how many books you all posted.

Usually when reading recommendations get posted on our blog, it means a librarian sat down and thought about books for a while (as librarians tend to do) before making a list and posting it for your perusal. It’s fun for us and hopefully for you, too! That’s not how this post got made, however – this week, we thought we’d turn it over to you.

if you visited the UGL in person last week, you may have noticed a whiteboard just inside the doors of the upper level. The whiteboard wanted to know what books had influenced you the most, and as you can see the picture above, lots of you responded! The board stayed up for a few more days after this picture was taken, so even more people wrote down and posted their most influential reads as time went on. Book titles filled up both sides and even started creeping around the edges.

Since you were all so eager to share your recommendations with each other (and showed a lot of variety in your choices) we’ve made today’s readers’ advisory based on the books you posted to the board. If you saw an interesting title on the board, maybe you’ll find it linked below and check it out – and if it’s one of the many we missed, you can look it up in the catalog or ask a librarian to help you find it.

What book has influenced you the most, Club UGL?

How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed book in library catalogEveryone Poops book in library catalogThe Things They Carried book in library catalog1984 book in library catalogCrime and Punishment book in library catalogOne Hundred Years of Solitude book in library catalog

November Blues book in library catalogConfessions of a Video Vixen book in library catalog

Where the Wild Things Are book in library catalog

Fast Food nation book in library catalogWitness book in library catalog

Whew! That’s a load of good books right there, and it doesn’t even begin to cover it. If you contributed to the board (and therefore today’s post) thanks for you contributions. If you missed out, feel free to share your recommendations now in the comments, and keep an eye out for future whiteboard questions in the UGL!

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Things We Know For Certain

We live in uncertain times. Not even something as mundane as the weather seems to follow a predictable pattern anymore. Is it still winter? Or is spring in the air? These questions stump us so completely that we turn to groundhogs to answer them, and not even the groundhogs can agree. What seems to be truth changes as frequently as the wind blows.

There’s one thing you can always count on, however–you can always come to the UGL to find great books to read and great movies to watch in your downtime. You may not know how you did on that test, but while you wait to find out, you can always find a good distraction here. We’ve compiled a list of new arrivals from the UGL shelves to help you explore and cope with the indefinite nature of modern life.

book cover: a dog looks curious as to its purpose in the worldWhat’s A Dog For? The Surprising History, Science, Philosophy, and Politics of Man’s Best Friend
by John Homans
There’s no doubt that dogs are wonderful to have around, but what is their true role in our society? The way we treat our canine companions has changed greatly over the last few centuries, and this book explores that ever-evolving relationship. Incorporating personal anecdotes and scientific studies, it may make you view your fuzzy friend in a new light.



DVD cover: people and robots looks hardboiled with some futuristic buildingsBlade Runner
directed by Ridley Scott
Are the people you know really people? Or are they merely beings genetically engineered to look like people? What does it really mean to be a person, anyway? And do androids ever have that dream where you have a test in a class you haven’t been to all semester? Feel Harrison Ford’s confusion as he grapples with these questions.





The Knowledge of Good and Evil book cover: light shines down into a religious buildingThe Knowledge of Good and Evil
by Glenn Kleier
Ian’s parents died in a plane crash when he was young, and, though once a religious man, he is no longer certain if he will see them again in the afterlife. He and his wife, Angela, search for the lost journal of a dead theologian who might have the answers, but their quest is hindered by a mysterious cult. Will anything go right for them, and will they find the peace they desire? You’ll have to read to (maybe) find out.



Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness book cover: a black and white image of a young person and a cityscapeBrain on Fire: My Month of Madness
by Susannah Cahalan
If you’ve ever watched an episode of House, you know that medical mysteries can be some of the most tense and unsettling mysteries of all. This real-life medical drama chronicles the harrowing experiences of a young woman whose sudden bizarre symptoms are misdiagnosed as psychiatric problems, and whose memories disappear from an entire month of her life. The correct diagnosis is made clear in the end, but Susannah is left unsure of how to deal with her missing time and fractured identity.



Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America book cover: two-color 3D glasses represent divsions

Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America
by Morris P. Fiorina
Sometimes it can seem as if there are actually two Americas that disagree with each other deeply, instead of the fabled E Pluribus Unum. But are differences of political opinion among Americans really as great and divisive as they are often portrayed? What on Earth is the political climate really like? Author Morris Fiorina has some polling results and narratives that may help shed some light on the issue.



Will you have time to enjoy all these recommendations with all the other stuff you have to do? We’re not sure, but we’ll do our best to stand at your side while you figure it out.

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IRL @ the UGL

We at the UGL like to think of ourselves as being pretty comfortable with technology. This Web 2.0 thing? We’ve got it down. But we also understand that sometimes, even the most tech-savvy person gets a hankering for the old-fashioned. Sometimes it’s nice to see a pin-board with actual, physical pins in it. The opportunity to take a break from the seemingly endless computer screens in your life and spend time gazing at cheery paper snowmen is one you may be glad to take.

A paper snowman greets you from a glass display case.

“Well hello! Welcome to the UGL!”

To fill this occasional craving for the traditional, and to make the physical space of the library more visually interesting and informative, there are several displays in different parts of the library for you to enjoy. The themes change every month to keep things fresh and appropriate to the season – this month, the staff and student workers/elves have put together some holiday-focused displays to help boost your spirit during finals. We’ll give you a preview here on the blog, but you should really come in and check them out in person!

DVD cases surrounded by beautiful paper snowflakes.

UGL employees bust out their mad snowflake-makin’ skills, just for you.

Right when you enter the UGL from the plaza, this happy little case is ready to suggest some seasonal movies for you. If you’re interested in a title you see inside this mini-winter wonderland, just ask at the circulation desk, and we can fetch it for you! Then you can take it home and get just as cozy as you wanna.

Cookbooks with glorious pictures of baked goods await you.

We completely understand, but do try not to drool on the glass.

There are tons of food-themed ‘holidays’ in December. We’re not really sure how official ‘National Chocolate-Covered-Anything Day’ is, but that’s not going to stop us from celebrating it! To help you get in the culinary groove, we’ve got some cookbooks lined up in the display upstairs near the circulation desk, full of delicious holiday treats for you to make and share (or hoard). Come gaze upon these tasty cakes and be inspired.

Downstairs are where to find the suggestion binders.

We made a concerted effort to find books that are qualified to be suggested, and now we’ve got whole binders full of suggestions.

The food theme continues in the lower level! Just beyond the media collection, we’ve got more cookbooks picked out in our Y-shaped display. These aren’t necessarily holiday-specific; we’ve pulled together a wide range of cuisines and food types for you to choose from. Moroccan food? Totally covered. Any and every kind of soup? Right here. In addition to the cookbooks, you’ll find binders of suggested titles from a variety of different genres on top of the display. Pick ‘em up, leaf through them, carry them around to help you locate the books on the shelf – just please return them when you’re done, so someone else can find a good read after you!

Diversity Bulletin Board with information about lots of different holiday traditions.

Celebrate ALL the traditions!

The bulletin board in the lower lobby of the UGL is sponsored by the Library’s Diversity Committee, and each month it showcases diversity in a different area. For the month of December, we’ve got a festive round-up of winter holiday traditions from around the world. Curious about Wren’s Day, or Tsagaan Sar, the Mongolian Lunar New Year? You can learn all about them, right here!

That’s what’s going on IRL at the UGL – we’re happy that you’re reading our blog, but we’d also be happy to see your faces in the library checking out our displays. Come on down and scope ‘em out!

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Gobble Up Some Fall Break Reads!

Eat TONS and take a nap.

Image from jelene on Flickr.

Fall Break is nearly upon us! For many of us, this means heading home to enjoy massive quantities of food in the company of our family and loved ones. For all of us, hopefully, the break represents a chance to relax and have some personal time before gearing up for the  last stretch of the semester. If you’re looking for ways to spend all that free time you’re going to have next week, why not pick up a book or three at your old pal the UGL? If you’re in charge of the dinner table at your celebration, we’ve got loads of cookbooks for you to choose from—but we’ve also handpicked some other books that we feel are appropriate to the season.


book cover: cornucopia full of knowledge about Thanksgiving

The Thanksgiving Book
by Laurie C. Hillstrom
Are you really really into Thanksgiving? Are you just aching for more knowledge about Turkey Day and its many mysteries? This book will give you an overview of the holiday through history, its celebration in contemporary times, recipes, and even poems. There’s an extensive bibliography, too, if you want even more! Go crazy!



book cover: football team running down field away from viewerMust Win: A Season of Survival for a Town and Its Team
by Drew Jubera
Maybe football is the most exciting part of fall break for you. If that’s the case, why not take a break between games and pick up a book about football to supplement your viewing? A successful high school football team, fallen from glory and struggling through adversity to make a comeback—it’s got everything you expect from an inspiring sports story.




book cover: a family sits in a well-arranged living roomHappy Home
by Rebecca Winward
Many of you will be headed home for the break. Are you excited? No matter where home is for you, it’s important for it to be an environment you enjoy being in. If your space has felt a little lackluster lately, or doesn’t feel like it’s working for you, check out this book to find some ideas for sprucing it up and rearranging it to better suit your needs.



book cover: a young person balances a tray of food on their headTurkey: More Than 100 Recipes With Tales From the Road
by Leanne Kitchen
Okay, so this probably isn’t the turkey you’re expecting to think about at Thanksgiving time. But maybe you should! If you have tired of the taste of turkey, the bird, pick up this book to explore the diverse tastes of Turkey, the country. The recipes are accompanied by photographs and anecdotes exploring the people and culture of the country, too, to whet your appetite for travelogues as well as exciting cuisine.


book cover: cupcakes with lots of frostingSweet & Easy Vegan: Treats Made with Wholegrains and Natural Sweeteners
by Robin Asbell
Let’s be honest: a Thanksgiving meal is not the same without dessert. Pies, tarts, puddings and cookies all contribute to making this holiday the beautiful celebration of gluttony that it is. This book will enable you to enjoy a wide-range of your favorite sweet meal-enders, in versions without animal products or artificial sweeteners. Here’s to your health!



book cover: Art Nouveau inspired image of silhouetted womanBeautiful Lies
by Clare Clark
Sometimes a little escapist fiction is the best way to unwind and spend your free time. Take a break from worrying about your classes and instead contemplate the fate of Maribel Campbell Lowe, wife of a maverick member of Parliament whose double life and secret past may soon be exposed. Victorian suspense should help take your mind off those paper deadlines.




One or two of those should help entertain you through your long stretches of lying prone on the couch after Too Much Pie. If none of these suits your fancy—or if you just want more!—you can always check out our other Pinterest boards for more ideas, or browse through our ‘recommendations’ tag here on the blog for a glimpse of suggestions past.


We’ll be open Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of the break, from 8:30am to 5pm, so come visit us and grab something if you’re still in town (the UGL will close at 7pm on Friday, Nov. 17. All libraries are closed Nov. 18-19 and Nov. 22-24. The UGL will reopen Sunday, Nov. 25 at 1pm).

Have a good holiday, and we’ll see you when we get back!


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Beware of the Book

In honor of Banned Books Week, the UGL graduate assistants  (you may’ve seen them hanging out at the Research desk with an iPad, waiting to answer your questions) came up with a list of their favorite books that have spent time on various “banned” lists. If you’re looking for a “dangerous” read, here are a few suggestions:


book cover: well-groomed young professional hides behind large letteringChris recommends…
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
American Psycho is a psychological thriller and social satire about vanity, materialism, and obsession. Set in 1980s Manhattan, the book follows the lives of young misanthropic investment bankers and their various transgressions. Upon the novel’s publication in Australia, its sale was restricted to adults (18+ years of age) and was banned outright in Australian states, such as Queensland, for its hyper-realistic scenes of sex and violence. Despite its disturbing content, Ellis’s prose is stylistically superior to most writers I’ve read. Imagine Vladimir Nabokov writing a Stephen King novel.


book cover: expressive drawing of young coupleChristina recommends…
Baby Be-Bop by Francesca Lia Block
Baby Be-Bop is the story of a young man coming to terms with his sexuality through a series of spectral visits from his deceased family members. It’s lyrical and beautiful and asserts that “Any love that is love is right.” It’s been challenged because some people apparently find the notion of teens being gay and confronting violence and prejudice to be “mentally and emotionally damaging;” some people even tried to sue their library, but they lost, of course.



book cover: purple silhouetted figure reads letter in rocking chair

Tad recommends…
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The book is about Celie, who is healing from years of abuse from her father and her husband, “Mister.” The story is told through letters Celie writes to her sister, whom she has always tried to protect from a similar fate. Later, Celie finds that Mister has been hiding the letters her sister writes in return. Her rage and the support she finds in her friend Shug help her to question what it means to be a whole and loving person. The book has been banned and challenged repeatedly, primarily for language, sexual content (including descriptions of lesbian desire, as well as rape and incest), violence, and its depiction of race relations. It was banned from curricula in the Souderton, Pennsylvania, Area School District because it was considered “smut.”


book cover: grotesque figure in snowy landscapeRubayya recommends…
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was banned in 1955 in South African Apartheid for being “objectionable and obscene.” Before this, beginning with the 1910 movie version, the story created controversy upon entering the American public imagination due to its God-like creation of life. Though Frankenstein is generally considered within the genre of horror, and the creation of a living being out of corpses is nothing short of horrific, it is also considered a major work of Gothic literature and science fiction.

Reading it as science fiction, my preferred reading, encourages the reader to ask which is worse: the horror of Victor Frankenstein’s creation or the consequences of its subsequent social abandonment? The world only sees the “monster” as a monster, despite his self-education and promise that he will remove himself from the populated world if only his creator will create for him a companion. Is it worse to give life to a human-like being made out of corpses or to deny it a perfectly reasonable and moral pursuit of happiness? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.


book cover: stark image of bare tree branches and elderly faceZoe recommends…
The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Giver was number 11 on most banned or challenged books from 1990-1999—just as I was reading it and falling in love with the incredible characters and gripping story. The Giver tells the story of a young boy who is chosen to be the receiver of memory—all memory—in a utopian society that shows its true colors as the book progresses. It won a Newberry Medal in 1994 and yet still became one of the most banned books of the decade—perhaps because of the mystery ending, or perhaps because of the dystopian suggestions in the storyline. Yet the novel confronts growing up, overarching societal problems, and friendships that grow apart: things kids experience every day. The Giver is a part of a loose quartet of books, the last of which will be published within the year.


book cover: young person in wizard robe making dramatic gestureRachel recommends…
Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
J.K. Rowling’s massively successful 7-part series depicting the wonderful world of wizardry topped the 100 “most challenged” books list for 2000-2009. Harry Potter, his magical friends and their wide array of adventures (everything from battling dark arts wizards to navigating teenage hormones) are widely credited as inspiring massive amounts of people to pick up books—children, teens and adults alike. However, the books were also heavily challenged on charges they encourage occult practices, discourage Christian religious beliefs and in some cases, promote evil. And though the overall story itself is excellent, it’s the small details Rowling embedded throughout that truly make these books a remarkable feat of imagination.


book cover: illustration of three figure emerging from brick wallLily recommends…
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
My banned pick is an all-time favorite of mine: The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende. The book is a classic of magical realism, following four generations of the same Chilean family through love, loss, and revolutionary upheaval. HotS, although a staple in many high school curricula, has been banned in Spanish and English due to sexually explicit language and some scenes of intense violence and cruelty. But Allende’s stunning character portrayals and the rich history she develops for the Trueba family makes any cringing worth your while. Easily one of the most thought-provoking and fruitful reads of my lifetime.


book image: crest composed of bird holding arrow in its beakHolly recommends…
The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
It never fails, if it’s a popular YA series, someone’s not going to like it. The Hunger Games trilogy follows Katniss Everdeen in a futuristic, dystopian world where the rich are surrounded by luxury, the poor are oppressed and starving, and the children are used a pawns to keep the masses subdued. Katniss is chosen to compete in the annual Hunger Games, where 24 children are forced to fight to the death. While battling for her life, she ignites a revolution no one can control. The series has been challenged over the last couple of years because of the books’ violence, sexuality, and language. I’ve read this series at least 3 times, straight through, and love it every time. My favorite things about it are the strong central female character, the sometimes-subtle social critique, and just because Suzanne Collins can tell a dang good story.


book cover: bright green, with image of feet in a pair of shoesAmanda recommends…
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Yes, this book was recently made into a movie. And yes, Emma Watson is in the movie. However, you should read the book anyway. Perks is written in letter form and tells the story of Charlie, an introverted kid who is starting high school and trying to cope with everything that goes along with that period in life. The book has been frequently challenged because it deals with suicide, drug use, homosexuality, and abuse of various sorts. I love Perks because it is a completely honest portrayal of the awkwardness of beginning high school and trying to find your place. And it has great lines like this one: “We accept the love we think we deserve.”


book cover: cartoonish image of skull and crossbonesDan recommends…
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Slaughterhouse Five tells the story of Billy Pilgrim, a WWII veteran and survivor of the firebombing of Dresden, as he becomes unstuck in time, relives his past, and spends time as an exhibit in an alien zoo. Kurt Vonnegut’s dark comedic portrayal of wartime atrocities, along with sexually explicit content and strong language, have made the book the target of many a book banner, but what they miss is the strong underlying humanity that drives the book. Vonnegut’s novels are a perennial addiction for undergraduate book lovers everywhere, and this is a great place to start.


book cover: sepia image of young person from mid-20th centuryJennie recommends…
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird follows 8-year-old Scout Finch; her brother, Jem; and their father, Atticus as the small Southern town of Maycomb, Alabama, where the novel takes place, is shaken by the arrest and eventual trial of a young black man accused of raping a white woman.  When Atticus is called upon to defend the accused, Scout and Jem get caught up in events that are beyond their understanding as they try to make sense of the world they live in.  To Kill a Mockingbird has been banned because it contains profanity and racial slurs and tackles racial themes. In spite of its history as a banned book, I love it because it is a poignant story about growing up, discovering what one believes in, and seeing the humanity in people who are different from us.


book cover: fantastic image of winged creature and disembodied head in bubbleAshley recommends…
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
A Wrinkle in Time was by apparently banned for challenging religious beliefs. This Newberry Award-winning book is strange and incredibly complex. It absolutely blew my mind when I read it as a kid; it’s no less enjoyable and thought-provoking now.

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Banned Books Week: Just Say No to Censorship

FORBIDDEN: theme of banned books week 2012So, this may seem pretty obvious, but here at the UGL, we like books. Like, a lot. In fact, we like them so much, we think you should have access to any book you want—especially for educational and informational purposes. If it’s not at the UGL or one of UIUC’s other libraries, we’ll work to find it for you at another I-Share library or through Interlibrary Loan—or even the public libraries in town. Our Mission Statement (part of the Undergraduate Library Vision, Mission and Core Values) even says ,“The Undergraduate Library will encourage engagement with information and technology in its various forms…”

However, not all people agree that unlimited access to information is a good thing, especially when it comes to children, high schoolers and even some college students. For decades, parents, community groups, school advisory boards and individuals have challenged various books and their places in classrooms and libraries. Claims of exposure to inappropriate material, counter-culture ideas, anti-religious sentiments and explicit language or sexuality have all been raised as reasons to keep students from reading certain books and publications. This isn’t a thing from the past, either… Books are still routinely being challenged and banned today.

While these concerns should be listened to, the more important issue is usually not so much the content, but adults’ inability to discuss the content in an open manner with students and children, so censoring the material becomes easier. Free access to information is an essential mission of libraries, and every year, we celebrate this mission with Banned Books Week, highlighting the books (usually very popular items) that have been challenged, banned or censored throughout the country. The hope is to A) bring awareness to this situation; B) encourage people to read the entire book before they decide it needs to be censored; and C) start conversations between educators/parents and students on the controversial material and issues, rather than sweeping those things under the proverbial rug. (This year, Banned Books Week is Sept. 30-Oct. 6, but we recommend reading any of these titles year round.)

It’s not all doom and gloom, though! Banned Books Week is celebrating its 30th Birthday this year, and according to the American Library Association, it deserves a huge cake:

The books featured during Banned Books Week have all been targeted with removal or restrictions in libraries and schools. While books have been and continue to be banned, part of the Banned Books Week celebration is the fact that, in a majority of cases, the books have remained available. This happens only thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, students, and community members who stand up and speak out for the freedom to read.

Take a minute this week to reflect on some of your favorite books—from childhood, high school, college—it doesn’t matter. Then, check out some of the lists (including challenged classics, lists by decade, and challenged authors) of most commonly banned and challenged books. What you find might surprise you. How many banned books have you read? Tell us in the comments—we’d love to hear from you!

Coming Thursday: A list of the UGL graduate assistant’s favorite banned books.

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