The Coldest Winter Ever

It’s always difficult to select a favoritSS. Coldest Winter Evere book, especially when each book you read has impacted you in some way. Each time I read a book more often than not, I am able to identify with scenes, characters and situations. So, if I had to select a favorite book at this time, it would be one in which I felt I could connect with the character on a very personal level. It would be a book that I could not go to bed without reading. In which I actually stayed up till the wee hours of the night turning pages. A book that I was able to pass along to others, so that they too could relate, identify and perhaps apply a life lesson. Up to this very day the book that has been one I’ve handed off to plenty is, The Coldest Winter Ever by Sistah Souljah.

The story is about a young teen, Winter Santiago, daughter ofa key drug dealer of Brooklyn. Her father ruled Brooklyn and kept his family up to date with high fashion, fancy jewelry, and all top of the line items. Winter quickly became accustom to the life her father provided. She partied with her friends rather than attending class and simply just enjoyed the fast life. Sooner than later her father was soon caught by authorities and facesjail time causing Winter to basically lose it all. However, she doesn’t take this as a lessons learned, or as an opportunity to change her way of life. If anything, this gave her extra push and adrenaline to get back to Brooklyn and continue living the lifestyle her father had provided. Winter then finds herself struggling to find money to keep that lifestyle she once had all the while making the wrong choices.

The greatest strength of this read is that the book was written to make us, the reader, feel as though we personally know all of the characters in the book. There were many times that I found myself reading and perhaps identifying others as my version of Winter.

It was interesting to see how important we make clothes, hair, and jewelry. We so often forget that these are materialistic dust and there’s so much more to take from life than materialistic items. As individuals we like to say that materials have no true value to us but it’s funny to see once in a situation what our actions will be.

Photo was taken from:


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson

An avid reader can only imagine the challenge I went through when deciding a favorite book, a challenge a readershould never be asked of to do. But after a couple of hours of flipping through pages, I chose “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson. At first glance, you see this wildly colored book cover and a titled bolder enough to reel you in. Turn it over and you will find a summary so alluring, you might end up buying the entire series (which I also strongly recommend). “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is set in Sweden where you first meet Mikael Blomkvist who’s reputation as a journalist has been stained from being convicted of publishing libelous material about financier Hans-Erik  Wennerstrom. Then a haunted older gentleman, Henrik Vanger, presents Blomkvist with a opportunity to save his reputation along with a catch. Vanger has been haunted by his niece, Harriet Vanger, who has been missing for 36 years. He’s haunted by these pressed flowers she used to make for him; they’re still being sent to him after all these years. The catch is that Blomkvist must find out what happened to Harriet and whether he succeeds or not, Henrik will provide Blomkvist with some ammunition ready to fire back at the financier. Determined, Blomkvist accepts, but after some struggle with the research, Blomkvist asks for the help of the woman who did her own research on him, Lisbeth Salander, an extremely troubled, extremely intelligent, and just a down right interesting character. Throughout the book, you the reader are thrown through a whirilwind of dark family secrets and situations you would never imagine a person could go through with their sanity still intact.

There wasn’t one particular thing I loved about the book. As I read the first book, something inside of me clicked and as I continued I know I felt so unbelievably amazed by what was going on in this 841 paperback book. I will say that once you get to know the character of Lisbeth Salander, you will fall I love with her. I have never loved a character so much in my life and I would gladly read them all over again.

Watership Down


Watership Down Cover, 1st edition, 1972

With so many choices it is hard to distinguish one particular book as being the favorite of them all so, I started at the beginning of the author alphabet and for the ‘A’s chose Watership Down by Richard Adams.  On the surface it is a story of a warren of male rabbits who move on to seek females rabbits to keep their line alive, a pleasant, if sometimes harrowing story based in the animal kingdom.  But, the story is much more than that as it examines the social pressures applicable to all times and peoples in one sense or another.  The story is told in such an engaging way that the animals gain a believable human persona and you find yourself rooting for the hero and his followers and hoping for the villains demise.  It is in some ways reminiscent of the “David and Goliath” scenario where you breathlessly hope for the underdog to come out on top.

Watership Down is a timeless story that can appeal to many generations from young to old.  As I many times as I have read it over the years, I find myself fully engaged in the trials and quest of the characters during each reading.  Whether you are looking to be entertained, learned, both, or somewhere in-between, Watership Down will satisfy your desires.

Banned vs. Popular Books

There appears to be many contradictions when investigating popular, best-selling books in comparison with banned, scrutinized literary works. To exemplify this inconsistency, while exploring the trendy books in the Marymount bookstore, as well as researching the ten most challenged books of 2012, I was not surprised to find a novel located in both categories—Fifty Shades of Grey.

Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy–both widely popular and controversial.

Certainly the novel has received a lot of attention, interest and curiosity since its release—causing an enormous circulation of the series by (mostly female) readers of all ages. I myself attempted to read the opening title of the trilogy but could only stand to get through the first three chapters. Needless to say, I never touched the book again.

So why is it that a novel can be both widely popularized and challenged? Primarily, the reading habits of America is significantly influenced and driven by what the media and pop-culture categorize as stylish, fashionable, current or “hip.” Namely, stories of sex, scandal, romance, adventure, excitement, as well as the erotic and peculiar are often found appealing. However, all the same, these themes and genres are regularly the very reasons for the dispute or opposition toward a particular work.

Titles spanning from award winners, to classic literary staples, to children’s books have been banned over the years and throughout history. There seems to be two distinctly recognizable and related motivations for the disapproval of a book—its content and its intended audience. Many of the works itemized on the banned books list for 2012 are overwhelmingly aimed toward young readers. Consequently, this demonstrates that our society continues to concern itself with censoring, monitoring and regulating the subjects, language and ideas presented to the young readership. In turn, the public deems certain literature as offensive, inappropriate, unsuitable, provocative and controversial for children and teens for numerous reasons (e.g. sexual content, explicit language, violence, homosexuality, and sensitive material related to religion, racism, etc.).

With this, there is absolutely a blurred and indistinct attitude/approach in determining what’s considered admissible and what’s unfitting for specific age groups to be exposed to. Pop-culture is noticeably more tolerant and lenient with “pushing the envelope” and encouraging free thinking/expression for any age. Nevertheless, there still remains a prominent desire for the mature reading audience to create boundaries. However, how effective these boundaries are is unclear, as young readers continue to access popular literature that may be improper so that they too may participate in the latest literary trends and movements. As such, what is popular and what is inappropriate is ever-changing and entirely subjective. Our society is riddled with pop-culture of questionable subject matter—content which is compelling for some and distasteful for others.

Best Sellers /Banned Books


Some of the most basic and fundamental reasons why people read are:

a)      To keep up with what’s happening currently

b)      Researching interesting and definitive topics

c)      Reading for pleasure

d)     And reading for school or perhaps even work. In general, those Americans that are educated or are a bit affluent read more often than those that are poor; as well as parents with younger children read more often than those that are not parents. Additionally, women are more likely to read than men. It seems as if quite a bit of adults are reading more e-books nowadays. Writers have a right to write and their stories do belong to them, but they cannot make these stories acceptable to everyone. Somehow, the readers do have to make their own decision on this issue and not all stories have to end happily ever after. However, there is a difference between banned and challenged books. Challenged is an attempt to eliminate or do away with materials that are based on the objectives of a person or group. Whereas, banned is the exclusion or deletion of those materials. It would seem that books are challenged to protect children from difficult and complicated ideas. What seems to bother various individuals or groups about books and the role they play in society are the offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, not suited for some age groups, violent expressions, unorthodox religious view point, drugs, smoking, alcohol drinking, and suicide.  

 Here are some examples of Best seller books:

1) Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

2)      To Kill a Mocking Bird- by Harper Lee

3)      Pride and Prejudice- by Jane Austin

gone with the wind to kill a mocking bird pride and prejudice

These three best seller books are from Google images.

Some examples of Banned books:

1)       Beloved by Toni Morrison

2)      The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

3)      Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.         

         their eyes were watching God adventures of huckleberry finnBELOVEDThe images of these banned books were taken from Google.

From my observation, the popular books are those that write about women’s fiction- “Three Little Words,” by Susan Mallery, Art – “The Shock of the New,” by Robert Hughes, Biography- “The Life of Samuel Johnson,” by James Boswell, environment- “Silent Spring,” by Ronald Carson, literature- “The Lives of Poets,” by Samuel Johnson, memoir-“Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” by Frederick Douglass, and so on. I also noticed that books that are banned are those that carry sexual connotations, violence, age-inappropriateness, language, religious beliefs, and a myriad of other reasons.

I certainly believe that to an extent there is a connection between these books and the times we live in. It would seem as if editors look for key elements that make for compelling reading in those books that are popular, and when a book does not use the right language or exhibits violence; then challenges would crop up. From looking at both the popular books and the banned books list I realized that most often, some books that were lauded as books that shaped America, were banned after being put on best sellers list. Not only that, but, authors that were given accolades for their writing would be chastised for inappropriate language as well. But even with all the different opinions about the books people read, reading is definitely fundamental so as to be able to function in today’s society despite whatever a person choose to read.

Works Cited: Mitchell, Margaret. Gone With the Wind. Ed.1936, Harper, Lee. To Kill a Mocking Bird, Ed.1960, Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Ed 1813.

Morrison, Toni. Beloved. Ed. 1987, Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Ed. 1884/1885, Neale Hurston, Zora. Their Eyes were Watching God. Ed 1937.


Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

-Invisible Man Book Cover-

-Invisible Man Book Cover-

Once upon a time I was 20 years old, and taking an American Literature II elective at Nova Alexandria. At this point in my life, I was living with my parents and confused with life in general.  I had no idea what I wanted to do as a career but knew I had a repressed passion for writing that was slowly starting to come out. I also  thought myself off as odd for various reasons.  Externally because I have a visible birthmark on my right eye. and As a  college student I thought was atypical due to the fact I struggled academically in high-school and at the time listened to large amounts of rap music.

I used to observe the other students in this class and think that I was somewhat of an anomaly. Looking back Ive realized I was a bit naive.  In this class we read All the Kings Men and two other books that I don’t seem to remember very well.  The third book of the semester however was  Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.  I read this book ten years ago and consider it the best book I’ve ever read.

This book is very heavy in subject matter and can be hard to read. Ellison’s descriptions are at times poetic and at others gut wrenching to the point they are almost hard to believe their taking place.  This book is about a narrator who is living underground and feels invisible to the world. He is an African American male from the South living in 1930’s America and ends up in Harlem at one point. Though this book has very much to do with racism and black and white relations. It also is very much about a man searching for Identity and trying to find a place in this world. Not trying to give to much a way but the Narrator feels betrayed many times throughout the book and struggles with race and his own ideals.

This book stands out through it’s painful but beautifully written descriptions and symbolism found throughout out the book.  Identity is a universal theme and although not everyone suffers through intense racial prejudice, people do change and struggle to find who they are. This fact alone makes it a book everyone should read.


Double Dutch

My mother always wanted for her children to read because she saw it as fundamental but also a way to better ourselves and not become a statistic. So I would find myself going to the library at school but also our public library in our city. I have read a variety of books overtime and must say that I  do not have a favorite book. So deciding which book to deem my favorite is pretty hard so instead I decided on a book that was life changing.

Double Dutch by Sharon M. Draper tells the story of Delia who has progressed to the 8th grade without knowing how to read. Some main factors that contribute to her not knowing how to read is her being in public school where it is easier to slip through the cracks and also her parents going through an ugly divorce. Double DutchThen you have her friend Randy who is living on his own because his single father, who happens to be a trucker, who has not come home for a couple days and Randy starts to worry but is afraid to tell.

This story touches me because I understand how a child could be left behind especially in a public school setting. I am very fortunate to have a mother that made sure that I was learning everything I needed and to also have both parents in the home. This book has opened my eyes and makes me want to help. Maybe not by becoming a regular teacher but just being open to the ideal of finding a way to get through to the youth and being a resourceful person for anyone wanting to learn.

I’m with the banned.

Cover for Looking For Alaska

Published in 2005, Looking for Alaska is now on the Banned Book list nine years later.

My first semester in college I took a class called “Banned Books”. During this class, we discussed the many reasons why people decide to protest a book.These reasons span from religion to the name of a character. We interviewed parents, teachers, librarians, and teens, all of whom had different ideas as to why books are challenged.  Most of who we interviewed were concerned over appropriateness of subject for the age group the book is targeted.  When I looked up the list of the most challenged books of 2012, I saw that this was one of the most common reasons for books to be protested.

Looking at the list of New York Times bestsellers, I saw that many books that were ones that are now television shows, like Game of Thrones and Orange is the New Black. Not many were in the Young Adult genre, which is what the banned list consisted of mostly. I think that this shows how Americans often want to be in with what is current in pop culture, and not so much their age group.

That being said, it is interesting to see what is on the 2012 Banned list. Many of the books have been out in stores for years. One novel published in 2005,  is entitled Looking for Alaska, was the first book written by  YA author John Green, whose most recent novel is A Fault in Our Stars. The latter of the novels has received high praise, and is Green’s most popular novel. Looking for Alaska may have received more attention and a rise in sales because of the popularity of his newest novel. Alaskal deals with high schooler who use drugs, have sex, and drink alcohol, all of which are often seen as hip activities by high school students. This could lead to why it is on the banned list.

Cover of the Glass Castle

One of the books being challenged in 2012

I find it interesting how books can be banned and yet still be wildly popular. Fifty Shades of Grey, Thirteen Reasons Why, and The Kite Runner have all been on the New York Times bestseller list. Maybe that is how they became banned, from the popularity they received and now are being challenged because of the variety of age groups that are reading it.  Preteens and teens are not in the marketed target range for or The Glass Castle. They read them anyway because these books are seen as cool. I think it all leads to the fact that everyone wants to be included and seen as part of the in-crowd.

Gone With the Wind

For my fifteenth birthday, all I wanted was a copy of Gone with the Wind. And I knew I was

Vivian Leigh portrayed Scarlett in the 1939 film version.

Looking for something that can compare to GWTW.

going to get it too, because I was with my mother when she bought it. There was a big open space on the shelf that held the copy I admired. I am not entirely sure why I wanted it so badly, because when I opened it on my big day, I did not start reading immediately. Instead, I placed it in the center of my bedroom bookshelf that was especially designated for classics. I stood back and admired it. Not opening the front cover until Christmas three years later.

I am not entirely sure why I waited so long to read it. I knew it was going to be amazing, and I knew I would love it. Perhaps I was intimidated by the largeness of it, or maybe I was unknowingly acting like Scarlett, and just asking for the book just so I could have it. Knowing all who saw it would be impressed by it and its owner. That is definitely something Scarlett would do.

When I did begin to read it, I was immediately entranced by how real everything was. What ( Or should I say who?) was the most real however, surprised me. I did not expect Scarlett to be so real. I honestly expected to find  Vivian Leigh instead of Scarlett. I felt deeply connected to her. It was as if I was with her throughout her entire story, and that I was her closest confidant. It scared me how much I wanted to be her as well how much I didn’t.

Throughout the novel, Katie Scarlett O’Hara faces many challenges from many different aspects of the world. War, death, and poverty, as well as more superficial things like social climbing, are all things that are she faces with the determination that she and her family will get out alive and back to Tara, even if others get in her way. I admired her determination and the gumption she had to ensure survival.

The cover of Gone with the Wind

The cover of Gone with the Wind allows for readers to see Scarlett’s pre-war life.


Gone with the Wind for me, is a book I go to again and again for inspiration and wisdom. It haunts me and makes me count my blessings, as well as opens my eyes on what truly makes me happy and who I truly love.

Banned and Popular Books

Fifty Shades of Grey Book Cover

Fifty Shades of Grey Book Cover

A glance at the ten most challenged titles of 2012 reveals two very important facts. First of all, most of these titles are written for kids or young adults. Secondly, most of the books are challenged because they are too offensive, sexually explicit, or “unsuited for age group”. Books challenged include The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Fifty Shades of Grey and Looking for Alaska. Of this subset, only one of these is categorized as adult fiction (Fifty Shades). The other two are Young Adult novels that have been extremely popular on reading lists and book recommendation sites. Both of these novels are tagged as “unsuited for age group”. All three novels are tagged as offensive and sexually explicit.

I think the banned books and their tags say something about the reading habits of Americans. The majority of these books (six out of ten) are for kids or young adults. This shows that the public is still concerned with the themes and ideas presented to younger readers. This concern perhaps leads to the generalization that the public is still convinced that books have the power to influence others. Certainly, this is probably true of the reading public. Overall, the ideas conveyed through children and young adult literature still have the power to provoke a collective response from the masses.

Marymount’s bookstore only stocks one of these banned books – Fifty Shades of Grey. Although mentioned earlier, it is interesting to note that the popularity of this bestseller has not necessarily subsided. Although the book technically appears in the adult fiction sections of most libraries, it seems to be popular among young adult readers. In a Goodreads thread, a sixteen-year-old user asked whether she should read it. The majority of responses indicated that Shades was a 18+ book, but many of the teens on the thread had read it. Many indicated that the user either needed to be a mature teen or just wait (more than one response stated that they wished they hadn’t read it). Personally, a number of my friends have read the book as well. Most were disgusted by it. Perhaps the popularity of (and reaction to) Shades is indicative of the level of erotica that is considered “acceptable” in popular culture. The music industry has, overall, had more tolerance of sexually explicit themes, but as shown by Miley Cyrus’ CMA performance, there is a grey line between the acceptable and the inappropriate. Fifty Shades of Grey demonstrates the reading public’s tipping point when it comes to erotic fiction.

quiet book cover

Quiet: The Book Cover

Some of the other books on Marymount’s bestseller shelf are somewhat familiar. I’d seen Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking on a list published by Noodle Education of notable books on college’s summer reading lists. Many of the other bestsellers are also nonfiction. This is in stark contrast to the Banned Books list, which is populated by mostly fictional novels or stories. (The Glass Castle is a memoir, and Beloved is based on a true story.) It seems then, that the reading public objects to authors dealing with sensitive subjects like sex, homosexuality and offensive language in fictional works, especially when these works are directed at a younger audience.