Books that stirred controversy top summer picks

By Kathleen Maclay, Public Affairs

10 July 2002 | Tom Sawyer, the king of reverse psychology, would love this year’s unofficial summer reading list for incoming fall freshmen at Berkeley.

Students are being invited to read a dozen “challenged” novels, books that someone sought to restrict or ban. The books were chosen by select faculty and staff from the American Library Association’s list of the 100 most challenged books of 1990 to 2000.

“And usually when someone doesn’t want you to read something, it means that there’s something valuable in that book,” advises the introduction to the list, distributed recently to fall freshmen.

Steve Tollefson, a lecturer in the College Writing Programs and faculty development coordinator for the Office of Student Life/Educational Development, helps assemble the annual reading list. While many of this year’s picks are books entering freshmen should already have read, he said many students may have missed a few of them, even such classics as “Tom Sawyer” or “Catcher in the Rye.”

The faculty and staff members — who each offered a synopsis of and reaction to a book on the list — contend that each is a must-read. Charles Stewart, senior photographer in the campus’s Library Photographic Service, strongly recommended “The Lord of the Flies,” an unsettling story of adolescent boys stranded on an island.

“I read this work only once, as a high school student, and many of its scenes are as vivid, compelling and thought-provoking to me today as they were then, so it seems to be a literary experience that is not to be missed,” Stewart said.

Victor Fischer, associate editor of UC Berkeley’s Mark Twain Project, said “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” has come under fire since it first was published in 1885. It was the fifth most challenged book from 1990-2000.

“Huck’s talk is lulling, some hilarious, and some deeply unsettling as the reader recognizes all too familiar issues of class and culture and racism that are still a part of American life,” Fischer said. “But most of all, it is a treat to read this book just for the pleasure of it.”

Robert Berring, professor of law and law librarian in the School of Law, called Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” one of the “most potent combinations of a good read and a disturbing, thought-provoking statement that I know.”

The 1932 tale of humanity subsumed by technology and media is
reflected in contemporary news reports, Berring said. “The questions of government control, media manipulation and status remain unresolved,” he said. “Do we have Alphas and Epsilons in our society? Have we found a drug like soma to help us avoid negative thinking? Have our governments figured out ways to keep us passive?”

The 2002 unofficial UC Berkeley Summer Reading List:
• “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding
New York: Penguin Books, 1954, (c)1982
• “Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger
Boston: Little, Brown, 1991, (c)1951
• “Beloved” by Toni Morrison
New York: Dutton/Plume, 1988
• “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain
New York: Viking/Penguin, 1986
• “The House of the Spirits” by Isabel Allende
New York: Bantam Books, 1986
• “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker
New York: Pocket Books, 1990
• “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
New York, NY : HarperCollins Publishers, 1999
• “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley
New York: Harper, 1998, (c)1932
• “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret
New York: Bantam, 1998
• “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”
by Mark Twain
New York: Bantam Books, 1986
• “SlaughterHouse Five” by Kurt
New York: Dell, 1991, (c) 1969.

The reading list project is co-sponsored by The Teaching Library, the Office of the Assistant Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and the College Writing Programs.

To learn more about the censorship of books, examine “Banned Books Online” from the University of Pennsylvania library, at


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