“And we’re off…”

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Yesterday marked the beginning of Banned Book Week 2013 and, as promised in my post last month about this topic, I’m going to be looking at some of the books that made the challenge list this year and also include some other articles about this erosion of our right to read.

To start the week off, and courtesy of Open Road Media, some Bestselling Authors will be sharing their favourite banned books and speaking out on behalf of Banned Books Week.

Dame Ruth RendellDame Ruth Rendell has won three Edgar Awards, the highest accolade from Mystery Writers of America, as well as four Gold Daggers and a Diamond Dagger for outstanding contribution to the genre from England’s prestigious Crime Writers’ Association. Her remarkable career has spanned more than forty years, with more than sixty books published. A member of the House of Lords, she lives in London and was surprised to hear any of the books listed on the ALA website had been banned or challenged:

“I had no any idea any of these books were banned anywhere.  My two favourites would be Orwell’s 1984 because it is, in my opinion, the best science fiction ever written, and a wonderful cry for freedom and exposé of what we have to fear in the modern world; Alice in Wonderland because I first read it when I was about five because it is funny, witty and clever, which most children’s books are not, and it stays with you in all its details for the whole of your life”

Stephen-Rebello-Stephen Robello is a Screenwriter, Journalist and the Author of Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho.  Here he speaks out on the topic of banning books as it relates to Hitchcock, Capote and more:

“Banning books? What a pointless, wrong-headed, and flat-world pursuit. I’m with the much-censored Mark Twain who wrote, “The truth is, that when a library expels a book of mine and leaves an unexpurgated Bible lying around where unprotected youth and age can get hold of it, the deep unconscious irony of it delights me and doesn’t anger me.” One of my very favourites on the list of so-called “banned books” is In Cold Blood, Truman Capote’s brilliant, bone-freezing nonfiction novel about the killing of the Clutter family in rural Holcomb, Kansas. The prose is beautifully lean and disciplined. Its documentary-like, you-are-there atmosphere is palpable. Evil has rarely seemed so banal, terrifying, and heartbreaking. I sometimes tend to bracket director Richard Brooks’ very good film version of In Cold Blood with certain aspects of Alfred Hitchcock’s film of Robert Bloch’s Psycho—a dark, nasty, despairing novel so many claim to have read but clearly haven’t. Both Brooks’ and Hitchcock’s films have eloquent, moody black-and-white cinematography, of course, but they also share a tough, bleak, unsparing view of the way the world works. They’re works of great outrage and compassion. Bloch’s novel has apparently never been high-profile enough to land on “banned” lists, but Hitchcock’s notorious and phenomenally successful 1960 movie brought on cries for censorship by a number of church organizations and at least one publicity-happy, barnstorming psychiatrist who, rumour had it, Hitchcock cleverly and quietly bought off. All that said nothing I’ve written to date has been banned. But rest assured, on my new stuff, I’m working very hard to rectify this oversight.”

Jonathan KingJonathon King, an Edgar Award-winning novelist and the creator of the Max Freeman Crime Series, talks about his favourite book on the banned books list:

“My favourite on the list is East of Eden, which I’ve read several times, and if it’s banned for some reason, pity. Louis L’Amour said: “Shakespeare’s work has lived as long as it has because he dealt with normal human emotions; envy, ambition, rivalry, love, hate, greed and so on. These are the basic drives among us humans and are with us forever.”

Put all those things in a story and you’ve got East of Eden. If you want to ban literary depictions of those emotions, put your head in the sand because you’ve got nothing.”

As the week progresses I will be looking at four books that have been challenged during this first part of the 21st century, and were listed on my blog in August.  At the end of the week, and to close everything out on Saturday there will be more Authors sharing their thoughts on this subject.

Now it’s your turn to take over the blog page; what are your thoughts on this form of censorship?  What’s YOUR favourite banned book?  What will you be reading this week, and is your local library having an event?

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‘And now for something completely different’

“Let’s face it, writing is hell.”
~William Styron

writers almanacI thought it was about time to take a break from the book reviews, and my attempts at writing articles I think may interest people, and hand today over to those who actually know what they are about.  Today, Wednesday August 28, 2013, I am turning my blog over to “The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor”.  For those of you reading who may not be familiar with this web site, it contains daily poems, prose, and literary history from Garrison Keillor, and other Authors.  Not only do these great folks keep this website full of wonderful tidbits, they also produce a podcast for us to listen to as we go about our day.  So, without further ado, take it away “The Writer’s Almanac”:

“Song of Smoke
by Kevin Young

To watch you walk
cross the room in your black

corduroys is to see
civilization start—
the wish-
whish-whisk

of your strut is flint
striking rock—the spark

of a length of cord
rubbed till

smoke starts—you stir
me like coal

and for days smolder.
I am no more

a Boy Scout and besides,
could never

put you out—you
keep me on

all day like an iron, out
of habit—

you threaten, brick—
house, to burn

all this down. You leave me
only a chimney.

“Song of Smoke” by Kevin Young, From Jelly Roll © Knopf, 2003. Reprinted with permission.

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It’s the birthday of the father of German literature, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe , born in Frankfurt, Germany (1749), the author of the epic drama Faust.

He moved to Italy in 1786, and when he returned to Germany two years later, he fell in love with a woman from Weimer, Christiane Vulpius, a 23-year-old who was 16 years his junior. That year, he wrote her an epithalamium, a wedding poem, but he didn’t actually marry her; instead, the couple lived together for 18 years unwed. That is, until one night, Christiane saved Goethe’s life by driving off a band of Napoleon’s soldiers who had broken in their home. Goethe went down to a church the very next day and married her, his live-in girlfriend of 18 years.

In 1806, the same year of the home invasion and marriage, Goethe published a preliminary version of Part I of his great work, Faust, the story of a brilliant scholar named Heinrich Faust, who makes a deal with the devil. The great epic has it all: seduction, murder, sleeping potions, an illegitimate love child, a stray poodle that transforms into the devil, contracts signed with blood, imprisonment in dungeons, heavenly voices, and even redemption. Faust is often called a “closet drama” because it’s intended to be read, not performed. Goethe spent 50 years working on this two-volume masterpiece, finishing it in 1832, the year of his death.

Christiane survived for only a decade after her and Goethe’s wedding. In later life, after recovering from a heart disease that nearly killed him, the 73-year-old Goethe fell passionately in love with an 18-year-old woman, Ulrike von Levetzow, and was devastated when she turned down his proposals of marriage.

Goethe, who said, “One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.”

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It’s the birthday of poet Rita Dove , born in Akron, Ohio (1952). Her father had a master’s degree in chemistry but had to work as an elevator operator because he was black. He eventually became the first African-American chemist to work for Goodyear Tires.

He encouraged his daughter to take advantage of education, and she was at the top of her class. She was chosen as one of 100 of the best high school students in the country to visit the president of the United States. Her parents assumed that she would go on to become a doctor or lawyer, so when she announced that she wanted to be a poet, they weren’t sure what to make of it. She said, “[My father] swallowed once and said, ‘Well, I’ve never understood poetry, so don’t be upset if I don’t read it.'” Her teachers at college told her that she was throwing her education away if she didn’t study something more practical.

But with her poetry collection Thomas and Beulah (1986), based loosely on the lives of her grandparents, she became only the second African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and she went on to become the first African-American national poet laureate.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

PRODUCTION CREDITS

Guest Host: Billy Collins
Host: Garrison Keillor
Writers: Betsy Allister, Holly Vanderhaar
Technical Director: Thomas Scheuzger
Engineer: Noah Smith
Producer: Joy Biles
Permissions: Kathy Roach
Web Producer: Ben Miller”

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‘You are NOT allowed to read that!’

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Bebelplatz Book Burning Memorial

 ‘The fact that anybody wants to burn a book shows you how powerful the physical object is, both as itself and as a symbol’ ~ Chuck Wendig.

Until I married my American Husband I was not fully aware of the fact that there are people out there who want to restrict my access to the types of book I read, not just fiction but non-fiction as well.  I was also naive in thinking that book burning was a thing of history; for example the May 10 1933 book burning in Berlin, the monument to which I have visited.  Book burning is also a thing of the 21st century and takes places in America for various reasons; Non-approved Bibles, books and music in Canton, North Carolina in 2009; Tolkien’s works publicly burned in Alamogordo, NM, in 2001 as satanic.  Really?  In the 21st Century, here in America, intelligent people would fail to celebrate Tolkien’s masterful achievement and, instead, find it threatening enough to burn it?

I feel it would be amiss of me as a lover of the printed word not to write about this form of censorship and, how we are slowly creeping towards a more complete ‘Nanny State’ where we are told what is good for us, and how much of it we can consume.  I understand that there needs to be checks and balances in place for some things, but when it comes to art, and to me writing is an art form, personal choice needs to be allowed to run free.  If, after reading the synopsis of a book on a fly-leaf, we feel uncomfortable or it may be against our beliefs, we have the choice to put the book down and find something more to our tastes.

jailed-book1If you are completely confused by this topic, I’m referring to the upcoming Banned Books Week.  Whether you may be blissfully unaware, or choose to pretend it doesn’t exist, it does with challenged and banned books spanning all genres and reading age groups.  But what is Banned Books Week?  It is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read that is typically held during the last week of September and highlighting the value of free and open access to information; it brings together the book community, from reader to publisher, like nothing else can as they share their support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some may consider unorthodox or unpopular.

By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship, and all of the books featured during this week have been targeted with removal or restrictions in libraries and schools, by individuals or groups. While books have been and continue to be banned, the fact is that, in a majority of cases, the books have remained available, unless you happened to be in Alamogordo NM, where not only Tolkien but the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling were committed to the flames.

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Although we are still a month out from Banned Book Week, I strongly feel it is an issue that needs to get publicity not just for one week of every year but all the time.  However, I know how difficult this would be so, in my attempt to stand up for an art form that gives me great pleasure, as well as broadening my mind and horizons, I am going to focus all of my posts for the week of 22-28 September 2013 with books that have been challenged since the beginning of the 21st century.  I will be choosing four books and proudly showcasing them on the blog.

I am giving you all advance warning of this, in case there are some people out there who would rather not see these books blazoned across their computer screen, and they will know to give my reviews a miss for that week.  I will not just be showcasing the books that week, but also listing why these books were challenged and also giving a little background on the Authors.  List of nominees for this week of challenged books are:

2001 – Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
2002 – Harry Potter (series)*, by J.K. Rowling (because I have never read any Harry Potter books)
2003 – The Amulet of Samarkand (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1), by Jonathan Stroud
2004 – The Alice Series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
2005 – Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel
2006 – The Handmaids Tale, by Margaret Atwood
2007 – The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
2008 – His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman
2009 – Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story, by John Berendt
2010 – Running with Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs
2011 – The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, by Alan Moore
2012 – The Glass Castle: A Memoir, by Jeanette Walls
*Please note, where books are part of a series, I will only be featuring the first.

One last thing to bear in mind, and an indication of just how out of hand some of these book challenges are becoming; in 2010 in the Menifee, Calif. Union School District pulled the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary because a parent complained when a child came across the term ‘oral sex’.  Officials for the District said, at the time it was pulled, that they are forming a committee to consider a permanent ban of the dictionary; whether they went ahead with this is not known.

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