Tag Archives: Salman Rushdie

Controversial Books

The Macmillan Dictionary describes the word “controversy” as: a disagreement, especially about a public policy or a moral issue that a lot of people have strong feelings about.
Now to think that a book can cause a disagreement about social or moral issues is not all that astounding. Don’t get me wrong, but the multitude of such books has only risen with time. I know we say we don’t need reassurance from anyone regarding our selection of reading/writing books and our interpretation, but some books seem to have unknowingly fueled such flurry among society based on their content, the language used, or if there is too much of (graphic) violence and/or sexual descriptions, traces of racism, religious degradation or extreme political views and opinions.

Some books that I happened to come across include:

The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail
A non-fictional read, by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln, the book states that Jesus was not divine, married and had sex with Mary Magdalene, had children by her, and that these children or their descendants emigrated to Gaul (France), and founded the Merovingian Dynasty, which has two of the most famous Frankish kings, Charles the Hammer, and Charlemagne.

Now, this is sure to upset a lot of Christians, obviously. It wouldn’t have been so bad had the authors backed their information with hard facts. But sadly, all information gathered by them was dubious and notorious.

 

 

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

 

Surprised? Well, I was too.

Written by Mark Twain, the book has seen the usage of the word “nigger” quite frequently. No wonder this one ranks high amongst the list of book banned by schools. Due consideration should be given to the fact that at the time Mark Twain wrote the book, the word was the most common vernacular used for black people.
Also, the story shows Huck faking his own death, befriending a slave, and they both set out to seek liberation. Issues of equality, justice, human rights surface this children’s book, contrasting childhood dreams and harsh realities of life, mixed with some coarse language makes this one quite controversial.

 

 

The Catcher in the Rye

Written by J.D. Salinger, the book was intended for adults, but many teenagers ended up enjoying the classic because of its central character Holden Caulfield. He represented everything “anti-right” –he became an icon for defiance and rebellion.

Alcohol abuse, prostitution, sexuality, defiance, alienation, blasphemy, undermining of family values and moral codes, offensive language, premarital sex. Aren’t those sufficient reasons for banning this classic novel?

 

If I Did It: Confessions of a Killer

 

 

So O. J. Simpson swears that he did not commit the crime he was accused of, but the description of Simpson’s “hypothetical” scenario is so perfect and pristine that it’s as good as the actual confession. He puts forth the case that had he done it, this is how he’d do it. How weird is that?!

 

 

The Satanic Verses

By far, one of the most controversial of all books –for its controversial topic of course. The mighty unrest this one caused goes beyond measure.
Salman Rushdie tells the story of making an alternate Prophet Mohammad –a dispute between fact and fiction. The book was considered blasphemous since Rushdie referred to the Prophet Muhammad as Mahound, which is the medieval name for the devil.
In Pakistan, there were riots in 1989 over the book where a few people were killed, and many were injured in India. In spite of Rushdie issuing an apology, the Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini condemned the author publicly, and went to the extent of putting a $1 million bounty for killing the author, increasing that to $3 million if the assassin was Iranian. Even Venezuelan officials threatened 15 months of prison for anyone who owned or even read the book. Japan imposed a fine on anyone selling the English edition and a Japanese translator was said to be stabbed to death for getting involved with the book. Major U.S. booksellers removed this book from the shelves because they received death threats. Rushdie himself lived in hiding for almost a decade. Such was the animosity towards the book, and in a way it makes it all the more appealing. Despite all this the book was still listed for the Booker Prize in 1988!

 

American Psycho

 

This satirical novel, by Bret Easton Ellis, highlighted the farce nature of the yuppies in America through the story of Patrick Bateman, an insane yuppie and a serial killer. Upon its release, the book garnered huge controversy due to its extreme levels of graphic violence and sexual torture.

 

 

The Da Vinci Code

Dan Brown’s book gives a fictional account of characters revealing a hidden truth concealed by the Catholic Church for centuries, including the divinity of Christ, his celibacy, and the possibility of a genetic heritage. So why wouldn’t it be controversial?!
Many complained that the book has misinterpreted the history of Roman Catholic Church and the basic questioning of the tenets of Christianity. The book was also criticized for inaccurate description of history, geography, European art, and architecture. The book and the movie ended up topping the charts.

 

 

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou’s autobiographical work gives an account of her childhood and youth filled with trauma, tragedy, frustration, disappointment and eventually independence. She describes the racism she and her grandmother encountered, in spite of her grandmother being richer than her white counterparts. She describes how she was raped when she was just eight years old by her mother’s boyfriend and how her grandmother’s influence helped her overcome the hardships in her life.

So what caused the controversy? The graphic nature of the book, depicting details of abuse and rape.
This book was also nominated for the National Book Award.

 

Lolita

Published in 1955 in France, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita caused a storm of controversy that still shadow the book.

This novel explores the mind of a pedophile (Humbert Humbert), who narrates his life and obsession for nymphets like the 12-year-old Dolores Haze.
The book was banned in France, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, South Africa, and Argentina. But in America, it was a huge success and is said to be the first book since Gone With The Wind to have sold 100,000 copies in the first three weeks.

 

Brave New World


Aldous Huxley’s most popular novel published in 1932 showcases Huxley’s vision of a future based on science and technology. The novel depicts drugs, sexuality, and suicide and reveals Huxley’s disdain for the culture of the United States. People challenged and tried banning the book on grounds of highlighting and accentuating negativity.

 

Then there are books around religion and divinity that have been the subject of discussions all around, like The Book of MormonThe God Delusion, The Quran and The Holy Bible.
If you know of any, please let us know. You may add them here in the comment box below.

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The Long And Short Of It

Walk into a book store and you are sure to find a heap of novels lined up meticulously. But how many are anthologies compared to the full length novels? Hardly a few!

I really can’t say what I like reading more – short stories or a full length novel. Though both have equal, if not less, rewards, they suffer their downfalls too.


My love for short stories began (and somewhat ended) during the school days, where in our “Gul Mohar Reader” had simple short stories that, at least I, used to end up reading even before school started for the particular term.  Stories by O.HenryRoald DahlErnest HemingwayGraham Greene, R. K. NarayanMark TwainLeo Tolstoy,Issac AsimovRuskin Bond, and so many other authors always interested me.
 But that affair lasted a short while. Once out of school, it got somewhat difficult to  track a good collection of short stories. Well, I must confess, I really did not try as hard, due to increasing academic pressures. But whenever I could, I would ask around for anthologies rather than novels.
It’s just that short stories are much easier to interpret, digest, and ponder upon. And the beauty lies in the fact that they could be read easily in one sitting. The restless soul that I am, I tend to get a little impatient reading a really long novel. I jump to a lot of conclusions before reaching the climax. Which in a way is good if the novel is exciting. But it just breaks my heart to see shoddy endings that leave me disappointed.

Also, short stories can be read (and re-read) anytime – while traveling to work, (sometimes at work), while enjoying a relaxed afternoon at home in a comfortable bean-bag, or any week night when sweet slumber deserts you.
Another thing about short stories is that you can pick up any story that you wish to read, without having to worry about the sequence. (Oh, but my OCD to follow a sequence is something I can’t help.)

There is a certain connectivity that is established in the very first paragrah usually, (if it is a well written short story) that takes you through the entire life of the character within those few pages. It’s just that the conectivity has to be established. If it clicks, you know you’re going to like it.

Let me not be completely biased. We cannot rule out the fact that in some anthologies not all stories capture your heart. Some do leave you disappointed. But the pain is bearable, as against spending time and getting involved with a lengthy novel only to be disappointed towards the climax. The effort is futile.

Coming to the writing styles, I must say, both are equally hard.
A well defined beginning, a progressive plot and a convincing climax make up for a well structured story. Be it a short one or a mighty novel.

Where a novel gives you the freedom to elaborate and dive in to the depths of a scene and describe even the sharpness of a harmless pin, a short story needs to deliver the same feeling in a few crisp sentences (or words). Come to think of it, short story writing is more of a challenge. It has the constraints of time and space and words and characters. In those few pages, you have to engage the reader so much that (s)he understands the plot, relates and connects with the characters, and doesn’t lose interest till the last word. That’s when a short story is truly acknowledged.
A novel gives the writer the levy of spinning a beautiful and lavish yarn that the reader is comfortable reading for a few pages before proceeding to the next scene.

Loosely structured sentences, clumsy dialogues, weak descriptions not only repulse the reader but also the publisher. Which brings me to one of the very important points – finding a publisher.
No doubt you can self-publish your work. But it would not gain as much visibility in the market. Social networking sites might help you to a certain extent. But that’s all. Promotions on a few blogging sites, sharing it with friends, family and acquaintances and maybe a few random stumblers is all you’d be able to gather. If you do look at the commercial aspect, finding a good publisher would become one of the priorities.

No doubt, India still has a long way to go when it comes to publishing a short story collection or an anthology. For some reason, publishers prefer full length novels over short stories.
It is only recently that new publishers like Grey Oaks Publications are coming out with continuous series of anthologies, giving budding writers a fair chance. Bigger and renowned players likePenguin, Rupa, Cedar, etc. have opened up more with bigger brands organizing short story competitions that publish deserving stories. Recent offerings that I’ve really appreciated include Urban ShotsDown The RoadSome Of The Whole, etc.

Reading the works of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harper Lee, and other seasoned authors raise your expectations, no doubt, with the kind of presentation, plot and ideation they offered. Their style is what set them apart. And looking for such gratification today, I confess, is a bit difficult. It is a task. A tough one. Budding authors most give it an honest try, and we readers must appreciate the efforts.

Now, talking about full length novels, they aren’t all that easy either. Definitely more time consuming and involving. The plot needs to be reasonable enough to keep the reader hooked till the last page. A couple of main characters with a few minor characters; a main plot with sub-plots around it; ample amount of research; immense effort and patience; all sum up the process of a decent full length novel writing.
Also, length and quality are not synonyms. Quite a few times, an author, in the zeal to increase the word count ends up sacrificing the structure and quality of the plot.

Though getting a publisher is comparatively easy; and signing off as an author of a novel is more appealing than a short story writer, it is the quality that makes a novel a best seller.

Given a choice, I’d pick up a collection of short stories over a novel. To read as well as to write.

What about you- a short story collection or a full length novel?

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