“And the rest is rust and stardust”
Nabokov’s “Lolita,” a controversial yet definitive book in the 20th century canon, was released 58 years ago this week.
Its prose crisp, the voice clear, the book has long been the subject of debate. Its main character, Humbert Humbert, a literature professor (and unreliable narrator) becomes infatuated with the 12-year-old Dolores Haze. He marries a woman so that he can get closer to the young girl who becomes his stepdaughter.
The novel has become a classic, though not without its fair share of red flags.
Stanley Kubrick, who directed “The Shining,” among others, adapted the book into a 1962 film. It was adapted once more in 1997 by Adrian Lyne.
Its content, some argue, borders on pornography, and since its release was banned in various countries, France and Australia chiefly among them.
In that spirit, let’s review some of the most controversial books in history.
“The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger
Copies of J.D. Salinger’s classic novel “The Catcher in the Rye” are seen at the Orange Public Library in Orange Village, Ohio.
Salinger alone led a controversial life — avoiding the spotlight, living almost as a recluse and being romantically involved with much younger women. And that’s not to mention what occurred with the explosive “Catcher in the Rye.”
Released in 1951, the novel quickly caught on with adolescent readers who found that the content was resonating. Often, Salinger discusses the loneliness and perceptive mind of a teen.
As for the book itself, it has been translated into different languages across the globe and has sold over 65 million copies.
Holden Caulfield, who most have encountered in a literature class, or will do so shortly, has become synonymous with the uneasiness that comes with teenage years.
The novel follows Caulfield as he navigates boarding school, literature, love interests, existential crises and New York City.
“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe
“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” book cover.
A monumental anti-slavery novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” acted as a bit of a catalyst toward the Civil War.
Stowe, the son of a well-known Presbyterian minister, is responsible for somewhat rattling the saber before the Civil War, fueling abolitionist efforts.
Stowe’s character Uncle Tom has become a household name and was the central figure of the novel. It is essentially — and sometimes indirectly — about his trials and tribulations as a slave. It features Mississippi river boats, slave escapes, religious undertones, etc.
At the time it essentially riled up a whole class of slaveowners.
It sold hundreds of thousands of copies in its first year and even more “across the pond.”
“The Satanic Verses” by Salman Rushdie
First published in 1988, the book features magical realism and is said to have been inspired by Muhammad. The title refers to verses of the Quran.
The book won multiple awards and was nominated for a Booker Prize. It was not, however, received so well by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Supreme Leader of Iran, who issued the Islamic version of a legal opinion which called for Rushdie’s death.
Attempts were made on Rushdie’s life and he was placed in police protection.
The Japanese translator, Hitoshi Igarashi, was killed in 1991.
In this case, “controversial” is an understatement.
The “Harry Potter” series
The cover of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”
(M. SPENCER GREEN/AP)
J.K. Rowling’s book series — comprised of seven novels — has often been considered “pro-witchcraft.”
A commercial and critical success, “Harry Potter” has influenced a whole age of readers and film viewers (there are eight films).
Even still, coordinated book burnings have occurred throughout the world. The books have been featured on a number of most-challenged books lists.
“Ulysses” by James Joyce
This book was published — after being serialized — in 1922 in Paris.
Joyce is said to have influenced a whole age of readers and writers, and a term, “Joycean,” emerged from the author’s prose.
Joycean texts tend to include stream of consciousness and prose that focuses on, even questions, the thought process.
Joyce was considered somewhat avant-garde and his diction was extremely wide-ranging.
His main character, Leopold Bloom of Dublin, often parallels Odysseus and a number of similarities are shared with the Greek epic “Odyssey.”
It was once banned in Ireland, the United States and Britain, labeled too obscene.
“Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut
U.S. writer Kurt Vonnegut visits a former air-raid shelter, where he went during the World War II bomb attack on Dresden as prisoner of war in February 1945 in the east German town Dresden, Wednesday, October 7, 1998. Vonnegut’s novel “Slaughterhouse-Five” dramatizes his experiences as a P.O.W. in Dresden.
(MATTHIAS RIETSCHEL/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Last but not least: Vonnegut’s transcendent work “Slaughterhouse-Five.” A satirical novel, it is Vonnegut’s most notable accomplishment.
It follows Billy Pilgrim as an American soldier/chaplain’s assistant, and his experiences in the postwar landscape.
The novel is semi-autobiographical and utilizes an unreliable narrator. Perhaps the most memorable portion involves the firebombing of Dresden with Pilgrim as a POW.
Its darker themes found it being challenged and banned in some libraries.