my year of reading dangerously

Recently at work we were discussing whether we were ‘explorer’ type kids or the ‘sit back and watch’ type of kid. I figure I took a bit of a fusion approach – my parents were very sure we/I wasn’t going to get up to no good by damaging someone else’s property, however that didn’t stop me looking, wondering, and exploring. ‘Oh’, said one of my colleagues, of a less adventurous peer, ‘You would never have discovered Narnia then, would you?’

And I smiled to myself and thought, ‘No, I wouldn’t have discovered Narnia. But I did discover the Screwtape Letters at age 12.’

I never had much time for censorship as a kid. I wanted to see the movies that had a glistening R(restricted)16 rating. They were the cool ones, the interesting ones. I was self censoring – I wouldn’t have gone to see the horror or violent movies, but there were plenty I did want to see, and wangled my way in to see. R16, by the way, meant you had to be 16 (or older) in order to get in. Any younger you would become a perverted drug addict ax murderer satanist. Or something. Woodstock – a documentary about a hippie rock festival. R16. Snuck in. Even the posters promoting the movie were censored – I can remember there was a photo of verdant farmland, the caption was blackened out. The caption? ‘Grass’. Wow. Dangerous stuff. Easy Rider. R16. Spare me days. Again, it was the drug scenes that led to the restricted rating. The night I chose to go – a midweek as it happened – the deputy principal of my high school was there. An interesting conversation took place next day… Straw Dogs – R18 – violence. I was a bit older by then, but I was drawn into the story – Dustin Hoffman from memory. And after I’d read the book, I loved the movie version of Clockwork Orange – again, R18. Note, unlike today, you weren’t seen to be an adult until you were 21.

I made a decision at high school, based on my learning, experience, and the lack of teaching guidance to the contrary, that I would read, I would get any book I wanted from the library, and I wouldn’t feel bad or put down for wanting to read it. So I got out little kids books, and adult books and scary books and boring books and books I simply judged by the cover. Some were good, some were shite – but the key thing was, I would not back away from getting those books up to the issue desk, getting the book stamped, and getting out of there to see what secrets they held.

According to if:book – from the Institute for the Future of the Book, 2008 is the National Year of Reading in the UK. I was interested that Chris Meade observed the internet was taking a bit of a back seat in the process.

I’ve spent the last few months working on reducing my book collection. There are still more than a few books I want to read. I decided I would spend this year reading a dozen or so books. I asked my colleagues what they thought I should read. I’ve taken their suggestions and applied a few of other filters. Here then, are the rules of the game:

First, in order to acknowledge the future of the book, it must be available online – as a download, whatever.
Second, the book must be one I haven’t read.
Third, in order to be dangerous, the book must have been banned at some stage, somewhere.
Fourth, I’ll write a review of the book with the url so you can go mad with your year of reading dangerously too.

Warning – if you become a perverted drug addict ax murderer creative intelligence kind of person – well, that’s what happens when you stay home reading ‘those’ kinds of books.

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