Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

The Handmaid’s Tale

Five Great Novels About Truly Terrible Worlds


As the recent blockbuster success of The Hunger Games proved the only thing people may like more than envisioning the perfect society is envisioning an imperfect one. In fact hellish landscapes and cityscapes have been a staple of speculative fiction for over a century.  Consider the following classic works.

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (1895) One of the earliest entries in the genre by one of the founding fathers of sci-fi. Wells anonymous protagonist known only as the Time Traveler is a scientist and a gentleman inventor who travels hundreds of thousands of years into the future. Once there he finds that humanity has evolved into two separate species according to class divisions. The leisure classes have become the attractive but child like and helpless Eloi, while the working classes have become an underground ape like race known as the Morlocks. The Time Machine has spawned three film adaptions, two television versions, comic book adaptions and has been one of the most influential novels in its genre, inspiring countless other works.

It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis (1935)  This semi-satirical novel was published during the rise of fascism in Europe, and Lewis speculated how similar movements could gain power in America. Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip is elected president on a campaign espousing patriotism and traditional values with the endorsement of a major religious leader. Once in office he consolidates power and establishes totalitarian rule along the same lines as Hitler and the SS. The novel’s protagonist Doremus Jessup tries to warn people every step of the way, only to constantly have his fears dismissed with the statement, “It Can’t Happen Here!” The novel inspired a hit play and is currently enjoying a massive resurgence in popularity.

1984 by George Orwell (1948) Set in Airstrip One (formerly Great Britain) in the super state of Oceania a society racked by never ending war, constant surveillance and public manipulation.  The main protagonist Winston Smith works for the Ministry of Truth actually the government’s propaganda unit only to begin an illicit affair with Julia who introduces him to the Underground Resistance.  Considered THE novel on totalitarianism and living in a police state, being the one that coined the classic phrases “Big Brother,” “Thought Police” and “We Have Always Been at War With Eurasia.”

A Canticle for Leibowitz By Walter M. Miller (1960) Set in a Catholic monastery located in what once part of the American Southwest and now a nuclear wasteland, the novels spans thousands of years.  The monks of the fictional Albertian Order of Leibowitz have the sacred trust of preserving the few remaining shreds of mankind’s scientific knowledge until man is ready once more to receive it.  But will mankind ever truly be ready?  It won the Hugo award in 1961 for Best Science Fiction Novel, and has never been out of print with over 25 reprints and new editions having been published.  It is thought to be the best novel ever written about nuclear apocalypse and is considered not only a masterpiece of science fiction but of literature period alongside the works of Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene.

The Handmaid’s Tale By Margaret Atwood (1985)  Set in the Republic of Gilead (formerly known as New England) where a massive drop in the white fertility rate has led to the rise of a totalitarian theocracy and the thorough subjugation of women.  The narrator Offred alternates between her current life as a ‘handmaid’ used to reproduce children for a Commander and his infertile wife Serena Joy, and her past which included a husband and daughter.  Along the way we learn of several classes of women under the new regime-none of whom have a very good deal.  This one’s become a staple of women’s studies classes and a new highly anticipated tv series will be airing on Hulu in April starring Elizabeth Moss, Alexis Bledel, Joseph Fiennes, Max Minghella, and Yvonne Strahovski.

Top photo: Bigstock

Five Banned Books That Are Must Reads


September 25 through October 1st is Banned Books Week according to the American Library Association. One of the things I’ve often found most ridiculous about those people who try to ban or challenge books is that they never realize that this only makes the material in question more enticing. After all, who doesn’t wanna taste the forbidden fruit? Furthermore, would-be censors have a knack for attacking the books that are often those most worth reading.

Consider the following.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) By Mark Twain
Why It’s Been Banned: Coarse language, racial stereotypes and frequent use of the n-word.
Why It’s A Must Read:  It’s universally considered one of the Great American Novels and one of the first works in American literature to use “colloquial style.” Aka written in vernacular English, with regional color thrown in. It is lso a scathing satire of certain entrenched attitudes, particularly racism. Is essentially the first, original, American “buddy-buddy” road trip story.

Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) By Zora Neale Hurston
Why It’s Been Banned: For coarse language and explicit sexuality.
Why It’s a Must Read: This gorgeously written novel is now widely recognized as being a seminal moment for African American literature AND Women’s Literature.  Zora began what Toni Morrison would continue.

The Grapes of Wrath (1939) By John Steinbeck
Why It’s Been Banned: Contains profanity and sexual references.  Moreover, people were shocked by its depiction of the poor.  Steinbeck later admitted his descriptions were sanitized versions of what really went on within such communities.
Why It’s a Must Read: Besides winning the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and being a key reason Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize, its widely considered one of the best English Language novels of all time.  It has incredible historical context and one of the most discussed books in college classrooms and critical essays ever.

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) By Margaret Atwood
Why It’s Been Banned: It has occasional profanity, a lot of sexuality, and for purportedly being offensive to Christians.
Why It’s a Must Read: Atwood’s vision of a United States being taken over by a totalitarian, theocracy remains as terrifying and vital as ever.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone  (1997) by J.K. Rowling
Why It’s Been Banned: For promoting witchcraft
Why It’s a Must Read: The entire Harry Potter series has become a worldwide cultural phenomenon and anyone who can read this book and not fall in love with Hogwarts is a hopeless Muggle.

Top photo from Bigstock