“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for?”

Franz Kafka

ENGL 280 (Book Club) examines banned and censored books and the politics around censorship. How does a text offend and for what reasons? This course will include classic and contemporary works (including work from CanLit) that have been banned, censored, or challenged, and we will address issues of censorship, freedom of speech, and the societal influence of literary texts. Words (and images) on the page have the power to ignite social consciousness and activism, or, in a hostile context, the suppression of words vis-a-vis the banning and even burning of books. This course will directly engage with the politics of censorship (from political subversion to graphic or “immoral” content) and freedom of speech (especially as it intersects with race and gender). We will examine six texts, ranging from fiction, poetry, and graphic novels, and the last text will be chosen—like a book club—by class consensus. Assignments will include a book review with an oral defense, seminar discussion questions, a group presentation, a creative project, and a research essay.

Trigger Warning: Some of the content and discussion in this course will necessarily engage with representations of violence, sex/sexual abuse, and other mature themes. 

Primary Works:

  • D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928)
  • Allen Ginsberg, Howl (1956) [a digital copy is fine]
  • Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye (1970)
  • Beatrice Culleton Mosionier, In Search of April Raintree (1983)
  • Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis (2000)
  • Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, This One Summer (2014)
  • and one work to be chosen by consensus 


  • Book Review (15%) and Oral Defence (5%) 20%
  • Group Presentation 20%
  • Creative Intervention 20%
  • Final Paper (2000-2500 words) 25%
  • Seminar Questions (10%) and Participation (5%) 15%

Assignment Breakdown:

1. Book Review and Oral Defence (20%): Due January 27

For this assignment you are to write a focused book review (approx. 750-1000 words) on one of the books from the list handed out in class (and sent over email and posted to VIULearn). Your reading must have a focused critical argument, but I also really want to hear your voice and personal reflection (write in first person) about the work. See the handout for full details on the assignment. There will be a signup sheet on January 6 and January 8.

On Jan 27 or Jan 29, you will present on your book in a timed 3-minute presentation with up to one image or prop. In your presentation you should answer the following three questions: What is the text about and what are its major themes? Why has it been banned or censored, and what is your opinion on that? Lastly, what about the text makes it worth reading or defending, or do you think access to the book should be limited and, if so, why?

2. Collaborative Presentation (20%): Due on Selected Dates

In groups of around four to five you will present on a specific primary work along with the media and secondary article(s) assigned for that day (please see the schedule below for presentation dates). The group will not simply summarize the material. The presenters should assume that the class is familiar with the material (primary and secondary) since it is required reading. The purpose of the exercise is to identify key ideas from the secondary material and apply it to the assigned text and chapters for that day. The suggestion is to spark discussion rather than tell the class what they should know. Open ended, thought provoking questions are encouraged. Didactic dissection of the text is discouraged. Creativity through media, performance, or whatever else is encouraged but not necessary. Please ensure that such creative ventures are tasteful and serve as learning aids rather than detracting from the material’s focus. All members of the group will share the presentation mark. Presentations will be graded based on clarity, comprehension, class discussion, analysis and (creative or interactive) approach. 

There will be a signup sheet on our 2nd meeting together. 

3. Creative Intervention (20%): Due March 23

“I sincerely believe that the best criticism is that kind which is amusing and poetic; not the cold mathematical kind… the best article on a painting could be a sonnet or an elegy” (Charles Baudelaire, “What is the use of Criticism?”).  

Taking up the above from Baudelaire, you are challenged to think about the material being discussed beyond the typical classroom setting and hermeneutic approach. Through a combination of analytical and creative pedagogies we can create new hybrid spaces that allow for alternative epistemologies and learning spaces. As Baudelaire states, the best way to critique a work might be a poem, or a painting; or perhaps, given the age we live in: a song, a DJ mix, painting, a comic strip, a creative journal, a short film, a one act play, a photography project, a podcast, or a blog. There are any number of possible approaches to this assignment: your piece could be prose, drama, visual, musical, dance, culinary, photography, etc., although it should connect to core course themes, particularly around censorship. You could riff off of a chapter/episode/concept from one of the books, or you could even examine an aspect of banned or challenged books (from literary trials, literary censorship in Canada, social morals around violence and/or sex in books, and censoring of work by women, queer writers, Indigenous writers, and/ or writers of colour). This assignment asks you to think a little outside the box and go into the world and listen. After that listening you are called to produce a “creative intervention.”

Through critical creative work and soundings—interventions—we can further develop and help to define interdisciplinary approaches among the bordering fields of literature, music, and theories of multiculturalism and citizenship investigated in this course. By “creative intervention” I mean: to intervene through creative means, using the word as the OED defines as “‘stepping in,’ or interfering in any affair, so as to affect its course or issue.” I am also using intervention as in to be “intermediate”: to be between things, as in this case between the creative and the analytical, the scholar and the citizen. The method of the assignment is itself an intervention against simply writing another paper.

For instance, given that one of the lenses through which we are reading the writers is through the politics around censorship as it relates to free speech and in some cases, social justice, it might be appropriate to think of these creative interventions as having a public or community-facing dimension. Broadly, try to imagine how your creative intervention might move beyond the walls of academia and make an intervention in a broader community. Essentially, how might we take many of the tools we learn in academia (particularly in English Studies) to enact social change? You may draw on local resources and social organizations, many of which are right here in Nanaimo, or you might simply relate to a larger web-community through a blog, a podcast, radio, or through some other media. It is not required for you to have a direct community-facing dimension to your project (any of the creative options is more than fine), but I do want you to think and theorize about how the works studied in this classroom challenge us to move beyond a simple reading of them to some sort of enactment, however conceived. 

You will be graded on the level of engagement you put into your creative endeavor—although it should be stressed that I am not asking you produce something overly long or too complex given the other needs of this course. A few pages of material would be adequate. It is for the above reasons that you are required to write a two-page (around 400-500 words) discussion of why the intervention was conceived as it was. You will present your work via a short 3-minute oral presentation (without notes) on the day the assignment is due. You will also be graded on your ability to critically explain or perform your “intervention.” I am also very open to the idea of you collaborating with another student, in which case the grade will be shared. More details as well as examples of past assignments will follow in class. 60% of the mark will be for the creative piece and 40% of the mark will be for the analysis.

4. Research Essay (25%): Due April 8

The Research Essay will be around 7-8 double spaced pages in length, not including a Works Cited list. You are required to actively engage with at least three (peer-reviewed) secondary sources in the body of this research paper—core course material does not count. Please note that although secondary research is a necessary component of this assignment, your own ideas and engagement with these resources, rather than your ability to perform and incorporate research, will be graded. More detailed instructions, as well as topics, will be provided in class. I will be grading this assignment based on well-formulated and focused arguments. You are encouraged to write an essay on a topic of your own choosing, although it must still be on course material. 

5. Seminar Discussion Questions (10%) and Participation (5%): Due on Selected Dates

A big part of book clubs is discussion and so active participation and critical thinking about the assigned reading is fundamental to the course. Careful and engaged reading before each class will allow you to achieve success and will prepare you to pose questions, raise problems, and engage with your peers during class discussions. I will periodically check Twitterfor the hashtag, #ENGL280 (although it is not required for you to tweet about the course or to open a Twitter account). I am an ardent advocate for the dialogical process of pedagogy, and believe that my students should have an equal opportunity to express their opinions with their peers and instructors. This class will also make use of a sharing circle for seminars. Circle Agreements—which we will adapt—can be viewed here: http://peerspirit.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/PeerSpirit-Circle-Guidelines2010.pdf

You are also required to submit eight discussion questions (including a short summative paragraph of around 150 words) for each of the eight seminars. You will post your discussion question, which is due before class, to the appropriate folder on VIULearn.


Please note that this schedule is subject to change as the term progresses.

Jan 6
Attendance and go over syllabus
In-class Reading (and listening): Allen Ginsberg, “Please Master” (1968); Claire Ballentine, “Freshman Skipping Fun Home for Moral Reasons” (online)
Listening: Rage Against the Machine, “Killing in the Name
Signup for Book Review

Jan 8
Reading: Shirley Jackson, “The Lottery” (1948)
Secondary Readings: Edna Bogert, “Censorship and ‘The Lottery’” (D2L) and Bill Brown, “The Censoring of ‘The Lottery’” (D2L)
Clip: The Simpsons, “Dog of Death
Signup for Book Review and Presentations

Jan 13          
Reading: Excerpt from A Clockwork Orange (online) and In Cold Blood (online)
Secondary Readings: Tom Wolfe, “Pornoviolence” (D2L); Burgess, “If A Clockwork Orange Can Corrupt, Why Not Shakespeare and the Bible?” (online)
Clip: Stanley Kubrick, A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Seminar 1 (and discussion question due—see future dates)

I. Literature on Trial

Jan 15          
D.H. LawrenceLady Chatterley’s Lover, Chapters 1-6 

Jan 20          
Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Chapters 7-14
Seminar 2

Jan 22 
Lady Chatterley’s Lover, 15-19 (and A Propos)
Secondary Readings: Adam Stevens, “The `Fleshly School of Poetry’ Quarrel and the Trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover (D2L); Bo article removed (instead read a few poems from Swinburne)

Jan 27           
Book Review Due and Presentations 

Jan 29             
Reading: Allen Ginsberg, Howl
Remainder of the Presentations and vote (4-4:30)
Intro to Howl and Clip from the film Howl (4:30-5:20)

Feb 3
Collective Reading of Howl
Secondary Reading: Bruhn & Gjelsvik, “Ginsberg’s Animating Typewriter: Mixing Senses and Media in Howl” (D2L); excerpt from Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression. 
Home Viewing: Howl (2010, On Criterion on Demand)
Seminar 3

II. Gender and Race

Feb 5
Reading: Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis (pages 1-153)
Secondary Article: Chute, “The Texture of Retracing in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis” (D2L)
Clip: first 15 minutes of the film, Persepolis

Feb 10
Reading: Persepolis (pages 155-275)
Secondary Reading: Typhaine Leservot, “Occidentalism: Rewriting the West in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis” (D2L)
Watch more of the film
Seminar 4

Feb 12
Reading: Persepolis (pages 276-341)
Secondary Readings: Darda, “Graphic Ethics: Theorizing the Face in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis” (D2L); McNicol, “Freedom to Teach: Implications of the removal of Persepolis from Chicago Schools” (D2L)
Presentation: Group One
Finish Film

Feb 17            
Family Day

Feb 19
Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye (pages 1-93)
Short Lecture on Race and Literature
Secondary Readings: Toni Morrison, “On Peril”; Niccolini, “Precocious Knowledge: Using Banned Books to Engage in a Youth Lens”
Seminar 5
Discussion of Research Paper and Creative Projects

Feb 24-28       Reading Week

March 2
Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye (94-206)
Secondary Readings: Peterson, “Introduction: On Incendiary Art, the Moral Imagination, and Toni Morrison” (D2L); Wallowitz, “Resisting the White Gaze” (D2L); see Lalami, On Beauty: On Banning Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye
Presentation: Group Two

III. Future Readers in Canada and Beyond

March 4
Reading: Beatrice Mosionier, In Search of April Raintree (Intro and Ch 1-6, 1-87)
Secondary Readings: Beatrice Culleton Mosionier, “The Special Time” (247-250); CanLitGuides: “Literary Censorship and Controversy in Canada” (online)

March 9        
ReadingIn Search of April Raintree (Ch 7-11, 88-145)
Secondary Readings: “Stolen Sisters:  A Human Rights Response to Discrimination and Violence against Indigenous Women in Canada” (online) and Supplementary Report on Genocide (from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women) 
Seminar 6

March 11
April Raintree (Ch 12-17, 146-207)
Secondary Readings (from the Critical Essays): Hoy, “‘Nothing but the truth’: Discursive Transparency in Beatrice Culleton” (273-293); Cumming, “‘The Only Dirty Book’: The Rape of April Raintree” (307-322); Zwicker, “The Limits of Sisterhood” (323-337)
Presentation: Group Three

*********Schedule Changes due to COVID-19*********

March 18      
Zoom test (4-4:30 pm) and check-in

March 23
Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, This One Summer (1-167)
Seminar 7
Presentation: Group Three (make-up presentation on Zoom)

March 25
This One Summer (167-319)
Secondary Reading: Marni Stanley, “Unbalanced on the Brink: Adolescent Girls and the Discovery of the Self in Skim and This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki”; See Mariko Tamaki’s “Dear Principle” response to the book’s censorship
Presentation: Group Four (presentation on Zoom)
Creative Interventions (due by midnight)

March 30      
Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club (Chapters 1-20)
Seminar 8

April 1             
Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club (Chapters 21-30 and Afterword)
Secondary Article: Boon, “Men and Nostalgia for Violence” (on VIULearn)
Presentation: Group Five (on Zoom)
Watch Fight Club (Fincher, 1999) by this date (see Criterion on Demand)

Film Articles:

April 6 and 8             
No classes
Research Essay Due on April 8th by 4pm