Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Forays in Fiction: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson: A Review for Banned Books Week

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Speak
by Laurie Halse Anderson
“Poetry fettered, fetters the human race. Nations are destroyed or flourish in proportion as their poetry, painting, and music are destroyed or flourish.” -- William Blake 


What more ironic book to be censored than one whose central theme is the self-censoring of one's own voice and the delirious consequences engendered.

Melinda Sordino calls the cops from a student end-of-summer party just weeks before she enters high school and thus becomes a pariah, hated by all from those who had been her best friends to those she doesn't even know.  Only a lonely new student unaware of her outcast status is the only one to befriend her.

Melinda, meanwhile has repressed her memories of the incident that motivated her to phone the police that day.  It had something to do with an encounter with a senior boy though and every encounter with this same boy in the halls, in class, at pep rallies or in the lunch room sends her mind into a tizzy. She can't even speak his name in her mind:

I see IT in the hallway. IT goes to Merryweather.  IT is walking with Aubrey Cheerleader.  IT is my nightmare and I can't wake up.  IT sees me. IT smiles and winks.  Good thing my lips are stitched together or I'd throw up.
She finds it more and more difficult to speak aloud for any reason to anyone even to teachers and parents when asked a direct question.  Her grades drop.  She sleeps a lot.  She skips class sometimes holing up in an abandoned janitor's closet she had stumbled into.

One class only is the exception to her near failing marks and that is art and the art teacher is the only one able to even almost connect with her.  His assignment for the year involves taking a theme drawn at random from a bowl he passed out the first day and using it in as many different art pieces utilizing as many different art techniques as possible.  Melinda's theme was 'tree' and she spends hours upon hours drawing, painting, sculpting, etching trees. This exercise has given her a way to express herself that makes an end run around the difficulties she has speaking aloud and at times even thinking certain things.  This may have a certain amount to do with how easily nonverbal communication like drawing, sculpting etc can access more directly the unconscious than can verbal but the fact that the incident at the party that late summer night took place in the trees at the edge of the property plays no small role.

The novel  is narrated in first person by Melinda in short paragraph whose style mimics personal journal entries which makes it intense and immediate.

One of the incredible ironies surrounding the history of this book's challenges is that one of the school districts where it was challenged by one set of parents has a lawsuit filed against them by another parent for having mishandled a case of rape and sexual harassment against their special needs daughter that had gone on for more than a year.  You can find the links to this story in my Friday Forays post in August in which I discuss it in the context of Laurie Halse Anderson's suggestion that we fiction writers should befriend and thus harness our anger.

In that post I also discuss why censoring stories like Speak is so counterproductive and why censorship is so anathema to me:


There are many more subtle ways of taking the voice from those whose words disturb the societal norm than a hand over the mouth or the cutting out of the tongue or burning of books. One is the deliberate and systematic sabotage of an education that gives one the vocabulary, the concepts, the historical frame of reference to be able to think about and thus talk about injustice and other wrong perpetrated by the strong against the weak, the rich against the poor, the insider against the outsider, the majority against the minorities.
Which is exactly why books like Speak get banned. And sex education, evolution, ethnic studies among other subjects are removed from curriculum and students are tested only on memorizable facts not the ability to think about them and talk radio hosts talk about open season on liberals defined as anyone who disagrees with them out loud and governments act in secret to keep us uninformed and corporations spend billions on a politician's campaign prevent regular people from competing for their loyalty and votes are suppressed and unions are broken and activists are assassinated and 'free speech zones' are created for protesters in locations they are least likely to be noticed by their intended audience and terrorists bomb civilians and the people are told a war is about bringing civil rights to oppressed people when its really about profit and in the name of that war civil rights are taken from the very people sending their sons and daughters to fight and corporations sue those who dare to question the quality of their product and oil companies discourage pictures of distressed dolphins and duck in the midst of an oil spill and children are punished for crying or speaking uncomfortable truths to adults and mothers shame daughters for being unladylike when they raise their voice and preachers excoriate parishioners for asking uncomfortable questions and religions and other social constructs prize obedience over all other virtues including integrity.

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 All these people talk so eloquently about getting back to good old-fashioned values… and I say let’s get back to the good old-fashioned First Amendment of the good old-fashioned Constitution of the United States — and to hell with the censors! Give me knowledge or give me death!"  Kurt Vonnegut

“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”—Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989)
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Here are a few bookish events going on for BBW:

Hosted by Bookjourney

Get on the BANNED WAGON!

Giveaways, a scavenger hunt and links to participating blog's BBW reviews are some of what's happening at Sheila's BookJourney this week.  Along with her own reviews of banned or challenged books and of course her daily Morning Meanerings post.

Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop


Banned Books Week Hop

Giveaways galore and lots of participating blog's to visit and comment on.


Banned Book Week Virtual Read Out

Banned Books Week Virtual Read-Out

The annual BBW readout traditionally conducted in public at bookstores and libraries where individuals read aloud form a banned book has now gone digital. Now you can video record yourself reading a banned book and upload to a YouTube channel

Read more...

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Book Review: Nickel and Dimed [Banned Book Week]


Nickel and Dimed:
On (Not) Getting By in America
by Barbara Ehrenreich
The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it.  If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth:  if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.  ~John Stuart Mill, On Liberty,


It was towards the end of the 1990s after the Welfare debates of that decade had resulted in the 'end of Welfare as we know it' and even the Democrats talked about 'the dignity of a job' being better than being on the dole that Barbara Ehrenreich and her editor at Harper's purposed to discover first hand if it was possible to live on minimum wage.  She did time honored investigative journalism by taking minimum wage jobs in three different cities for one month each and attempting to make ends meet at the end of the month in terms of rent, food, laundry and transportation.

 “In the rhetorical buildup to welfare reform, it was uniformly assumed that a job was the ticket out of poverty and that the only thing holding back welfare recipients was their reluctance to get out and get one.”
“When you enter the low-wage workplace—and many of the medium-wage workplaces as well—you check your civil liberties at the door, leave America and all it supposedly stands for behind, and learn to zip your lips for the duration of the shift.”


In Key West she discovered part way through the month that one waitressing job was not going to cover it so took on a second but found that schedule impossible to maintain so dropped the first and added a motel maids job but lasted only one day on that. Walking away without even picking up her checks and tips she called it a failure on both the experimental and moral basis. Experimental because she had not lasted the month. Moral because she had escaped, leaving behind co-workers in dire straights. “I had gone into this venture in the spirit of science, to test a mathematical proportion, but somewhere along the line, in the tunnel vision imposed by long shifts and relentless concentration, it became a test of myself, and clearly I have failed.” Chapter 1

"My job is to move orders from tables to kitchen and then trays from kitchen to tables. Customers are, in fact, the major obstacle to the smooth transformation of information into food and food into money - they are, in short, the enemy. And the painful thing is that I'm beginning to see it this way myself. There are the traditional asshole types - frat boys who down multiple Buds and then make a fuss because the steaks are so emaciated and the fries so sparse - as well as the variously impaired - due to age, diabetes, or literacy issues - who require patient nutritional counseling. The worst, for some reason, are the Visible Christians - like the ten-person table, all jolly and sanctified after Sunday-night service, who run me mercilessly and then leave me $1 on a $92 bill. Or the guy with the crucifixion T-shirt (SOMEONE TO LOOK UP TO) who complains that his baked potato is too hard and his iced tea too icy (I cheerfully fix both) and leaves no tip. As a general rule, people wearing crosses or WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do?) buttons look at us disapprovingly no matter what we do, as if they were confusing waitressing with Mary Magdalene's original profession."

In Maine she worked for a housecleaning service and a nursing home, again simultaneously as one job would not have covered it.  Taking the weekend job as dietician's assistant at the nursing home meant she worked 7 days a week. Though it was a struggle she managed to make it to the end of the month with the money saved to cover the next month's rent but she notes that it was possible only because it was not tourist season when rents would have more than doubled.

In Minnesota she worked at Walmart as an associate.  She was unable to find affordable housing and ended up in a pay by the day motel room with no kitchen.  The most astonishing (for her) thing she learned there was that she could not afford to buy the Walmart merchandise--not even the clothing on the discounted or damaged racks.

What she discovered is that it is possible to survive as a single, childless white woman with decent health and stamina.  But not with dignity.  And with little left over in terms of energy and emotion to invest in relationships outside of the workplace.  And she could not begin to imagine how a single mother of one or more children could have managed at all without some kind of external support what with the extra food, housing, laundry and childcare expenses added on.

She also discovered that the job searching process was rigged to be humiliating, subjecting applicants to personality tests, surveys to ascertain their moral character and peeing in a cup for drug tests.  This assumption by implication of unspecified guilt was shaming and degrading. This assumption was carried into the workplace with the attitude of managers being suspicious, accusing and punishing.

Throughout the book she shares the stories of her co-workers situations and struggles as well.  None of them were thriving, few were living independently in houses or apartments either sharing  expenses with family or friends, living in their vehicles, in pay by the week kitchenettes or pay by the day motel rooms.  One of the issues most often keeping them from suitable housing is the inability to garner the necessary first and last month's rent plus deposits.  Housing which government statistics assume should account for no more than 30% of one's income, for minimum wage workers it consumes 50 to 70%.  Food costs are inflated for them when they have no kitchen to cook or refrigerator to store perishables.

As for health care?  Forget it.  Childcare? Ditto.

Barbara Ehenreich advocates in Nickel and Dimed for a living wage and a minimum standard of dignity in the workplace and for acknowledgement by the middle and upper classes that their own standard of living would not be what it is without these so called 'unskilled laborers'  a term she argues with maintaining there is no such thing as 'unskilled labor' as every job entails the need to master skills in eye and muscle coordination, cooperation with others, following instructions, anticipating needs and so on.

“If you hump away at menial jobs 360 plus days a year, does some kind of repetitive injury of the spirit set in? I don’t know and I don’t intend to find out. I can guess that one of the symptoms is a bad case of tunnel vision. Work fills the landscape, co-workers swell to the size of family members or serious foes. Slights loom large and a reprimand can reverberate into the night…Work is supposed to save you from being an “outcast”,…but what we do is an outcast’s work, invisible and even disgusting. Janitors, cleaning ladies, ditch diggers, changers of adult diapers—these are the untouchables of a supposedly caste free and democratic society. Or maybe it's low-wage work in general that makes you feel like a pariah.” Chapter 2

When someone works for less pay than she can live on ... she has made a great sacrifice for you ... The "working poor" ... are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone. (p. 221)

Ehenreich's narrative style is engaging and her marshaling of the facts and statistics to frame the personal story and what she witnessed of other's was compelling and in the end damming of our American economic system as it operates today.

The fact is that censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion.  ~Henry Steele Commager

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More quotes from the book:


“There’s no intermediate point in the process in which you confront the potential employer as a free agent, entitled to cut your own deal. The intercalation of the drug test between application and hiring tilts the playing field even further, establishing that you, and not the employer, are the one who has something to prove. Even in the tightest labor market…the person who has precious labor to sell can be made to feel one down, way down, like a supplicant with her hand stretched out.”  Chapter 3

  “Any dictatorship takes a psychological toll on its subjects. If you are treated as an untrustworthy person—a potential slacker [No talking directives], drug addict [employment drug testing], or thief [personality tests]—you may begin to feel less trustworthy yourself. If you are constantly reminded of your lowly position in the social hierarchy, whether by individual managers or by a plethora of impersonal rules, you begin to accept that unfortunate status…If you’re made to feel unworthy enough, you may come to think that what you’re paid is what you are actually worth.”

“The problem of rents is easy for a noneconomist, even a sparsely educated low-wage worker, to grasp: it’s the market, stupid. When the rich and the poor compete for housing on the open market, the poor don’t stand a chance.”

 “The reason for the disconnect between the actual housing nightmare of the poor and “poverty,” (the rate of which has remained static for years) as officially defined, is simple: the official poverty level is still calculated by the archaic method of taking the bare-bones cost of food for a family of a given size and multiplying this number by three. Yet food is relatively inflation-proof, at least compared with rent.”

. “It did not escape my attention, as a temporarily low-income person, that the housing subsidy I normally receive in my real life—over $20,000 a year in the form of a mortgage-interest deduction—would have allowed a truly low-income family to live in relative splendor.”

"The thinking behind welfare reform was that even the humblest jobs are morally uplifting and psychologically buoying. In reality they are likely to be fraught with insult and stress. But I did discover one redeeming feature of the most abject low-wage work - the camaraderie of people who are, in almost all cases, far too smart and funny and caring for the work they do and the wages they're paid. The hope, of course, is that someday these people will come to know what they're worth, and take appropriate action."



"So what is the solution to the poverty of so many of America’s working people? Ten years ago, when Nickel and Dimed first came out, I often responded with the standard liberal wish list -- a higher minimum wage, universal health care, affordable housing, good schools, reliable public transportation, and all the other things we, uniquely among the developed nations, have neglected to do.

Today, the answer seems both more modest and more challenging: if we want to reduce poverty, we have to stop doing the things that make people poor and keep them that way. Stop underpaying people for the jobs they do. Stop treating working people as potential criminals and let them have the right to organize for better wages and working conditions.

Stop the institutional harassment of those who turn to the government for help or find themselves destitute in the streets. Maybe, as so many Americans seem to believe today, we can’t afford the kinds of public programs that would genuinely alleviate poverty -- though I would argue otherwise. But at least we should decide, as a bare minimum principle, to stop kicking people when they’re down."  from the new afterward to the 2011 edition


[I'm sorry regarding most of the quotes from the book I presented here that page numbers are not included.  I was a sloppy notetaker when I read this book several years back with a library due date looming.  I always meant to recheck out the book someday and get those page numbers and some of the facts and stats I didn't note so that I could do a quality review.  For me the need to present something on this book for BBW had an urgency that outweighed such niceties.]
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Links of note:

Barbara's Blog
Nickel and Dimed on Wikipedia
Nickel and Dimed Book Summary at Bookjive
Nickel and Dimed on Google Books


We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values.  For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.  ~John F. Kennedy

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Information is the currency of democracy.”—Thomas Jefferson
The challenges:



In 2010 the book was retained in the 11th-grade Advanced Placement English curriculum after a challenge by a man with no children enrolled in the district but claiming standing as a tax-payer and graduate of the school district accused the district of "political activism"  in using a book promoting socialist ideas, economic fallacies, use of illegal drugs and belittlement of Christians.


In 2010 Parents of a Bedford NH teenager attempted to have school officials ban the use of a book in their Personal Finance class that refers to Jesus Christ as a “wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist.”

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My commentary re reading the book and the challenges:


Reading this book and writing this review was difficult for me on a personal level. I found it too hard to detach from the subject matter.  When I first read this in the 2002 I was fresh from the recent experience of homelessness in Santa Clara County California after the dot.com boom had crashed taking my husbands job.  We had recently moved into a single wide trailer with his parents near Phoenix Oregon where we remain to this day.

The decades previous to my husband acquiring his tech job had been one nail biting month after another of sometimes barely but often not making ends meet. Several times we were back with one or the other of our parents.  I confess we made bad choices at times but that does not negate the experience we had of being treated in and out of the workplace as pariahs of the community as we worked as janitor, motel maid, window washer, book store clerk, carpet cleaner, fruit packer, cold storage hyster driver, babysitter, shipping dock, library aide, mechanic, tutor, gas station attendant, freelance word processing and data base maintenance, high tech code writer.  I mixed both of our long string of jobs together and that last one came very close to becoming my husband's American Dream realized but even there, tho it was considered 'skilled' in comparison to most of the others it was drudge work and the bulk of the company's appreciation was given in stock options which were never realized when the company went kaput without going public.

We missed it by that much.

Reading Barbara's book validated that sense that I had picked up in encounters with bosses, landlords, creditors and aid agency bureaucrats of a barely restrained contempt.  Even from other dwellers in the various housing accommodations we found ourselves in.  Shortly after I was diagnosed with RP and began carrying the white cane which qualified us for food stamps, medicaid and social security during the months my husband was out of work or working for minimum wage the rumor spread among the single mothers on welfare and their children in our apartment complex that I was faking it.

All of that is just by way of a confession that I was unable to be objective while reading or thinking about this book.  On the other hand I don't think that completely disqualifies me from commenting on when my personal experience corroborates Ehrenreich's accounts and her facts and statistics explain to me some of what happened to us.

But I don't want to do a play by play of all that right now.  It is not the place for it even if I found myself emotionally able to keep digging at those memories.  I only brought it up as my way of refuting the claim of the challengers that the book promoted economic fallacies.  Not just my own experience but that of my husband's and many dozens of friends and acquaintances over the years match and exceed in nightmarish quality the stories Barbara shared in Nickel and Dimed.

I have lived the underbelly of American capitalism and it is not pretty and anyone who wishes to deny the truth of that or lay the blame entirely on those caught in the poverty trap is heartless and anyone who wishes to suppress the uncomfortable facts in order keep pretending it isn't so is willfully ignorant.

High school students just one to four years from being expected to fend for themselves in our 'free market' should be given a clear view of exactly what to expect and what the consequences of certain choices are sure to be.  They have the right to be prepared to walk into their future with dignity and denying them the right to encounter the stories of American nightmares does not guarantee they will avoid them nor does allowing them to believe the American Dream is their birthright to be handed to them on their 18th birthday going to ensure they realize it.

Parents who wish to keep their own children ignorant have the right to do so but they have no right to impose the ignorance on everyone's children.  I wish I'd been prepared for these realities before I left high school.  I had no clue having been raised in a stable lower middle class family with a Dad who worked the same job from before I was born until the day he retired and a Mom who stayed home to care for the house and three children.  Because I was so sure this scenario was a given for me as well, I did not plan for any other possibility.

Even my high school guidance counselor suggested that stay at home mother was what I was best qualified for the one time I ventured to confess to him that I thought maybe being a child psychiatrist was something I might love to do as a means of supporting my first love which was writing stories.  He bluntly told me that academics did not seem to be my forte thus I should get married have kids and write stories for them.

Mr G I so wish I had a wet dishrag and your address.

I only bring up Mr G and his theory because it was based on my low math and science scores.  My difficulties in math were due to anxiety as I proved with As and Bs in college ten years later.  But my difficulty in science was the direct result of my self censoring on quizzes and exams whenever questions on evolution or origins of the universe were in play, marking the answer I knew the teacher would mark as wrong because it was what I believed.  I felt guilty even reading the sections in the text books, handouts, encyclopedia and library books.  I believed that giving the expected answer was the equivalent of denying God and Jesus.

That was the result of my fundamentalist Christian upbringing so I know the mindset of these parents who challenge books from that perspective. And I also know what a huge wake up call awaits many of these kids when they are thrown into the real world at age 18.

As for the charges of socialism made against the book I can only wonder if advocating for a living wage, the right to unionize and dignity for the workers is the definition of socialism?  And if so, and that is what the challengers wish to eliminate in America then what is the definition of America?

Those are questions high school students should be free to discuss no matter which color their parent's politics is.

As for the charges of being derogatory of Christianity I don't see it.  Sure she presents a few Christians who displayed very unchristian behavior.  She called them the Visible Christians meaning those who displayed their allegiance via jewelry or clothing but not via their behavior which makes them hypocrites and in no way implies the religion in its entirety must be held to account.

As for her depiction of Jesus as a  “wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist.”  Who can deny it?  The Gospels themselves depict him as an itinerant preacher who when he wasn't sleeping at a friend's house was sleeping outdoors or on a boat.  He was frequently drinking wine and even turned water into wine to keep it flowing at a wedding and he provided free food and medical care via his miracles and gave his disciples to know that he expected them to care for the needy and befriend the outcasts and to treat every human being, even those in prison and thus presumed guilty, as if they were himself.  If that's socialism then it must not be the demonized thing the American right has tagged it.  And if that is Christianity then where in America is it being practiced today?

Those are the questions high school students should be discussing whether they are Christians or not.  To deny them that is to make them less qualified to be a contributing citizen and a responsible voter at age 18. It is just common sense that if you want 18 year olds to have access to the American Dream you have to start giving them the cold hard facts more than one year before that and if 16 is too young, as some parents claim, to be exposed to Barbara Erenreich's experiences in the low wage culture then heaven help them as America won't.
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Here are a few bookish events going on for BBW:

Hosted by Bookjourney

Get on the BANNED WAGON!

Giveaways, a scavenger hunt and links to participating blog's BBW reviews are some of what's happening at Sheila's BookJourney this week.  Along with her own reviews of banned or challenged books and of course her daily Morning Meanerings post.

Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop


Banned Books Week Hop

Giveaways galore and lots of participating blog's to visit and comment on.


Banned Book Week Virtual Read Out

Banned Books Week Virtual Read-Out

The annual BBW readout traditionally conducted in public at bookstores and libraries where individuals read aloud form a banned book has now gone digital. Now you can video record yourself reading a banned book and upload to a YouTube channel

We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.  ~John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859

Read more...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Banned Book Week: Review Repost of Impulse

Impulse
by Ellen Hopkins
“We must beware of all censorship in whatever form it comes, because to censor, to tamper with truth, to tamper with our memory, is to commit a historical sin.” —Vartan Gregorian 





Three teens' lives intersect in a psychiatric hospital after their failed suicide attempts. All three of them had been failed catastrophically by the adults in their lives. The story is told by alternating first person POV scenes from Tony, Vanessa and Conner. Tony, whose home life had been so abusive he found living on the streets preferable had resorted to intentional OD. Vanessa, raised by a bi-polar mother and an absent (military) father had long been a cutter to ease her pain had slit her wrists. Conner whose cold, unaffectionate parents obsessed about his performance in school and on the football field, had shot himself in the heart.

In the course of their treatment the three are able to forge connections of emotional intimacy that offer hope of healing and a foundation for a future.

Like Hopkin's other novels, Crack, Glass, Burned, Identical and the recently released Tricks, the story is told in verse.  Read more...



[For these BBW review reposts this week I'm posting only excerpts with a 'read more' link to the original post.  This partly to keep any possible discussion in one place but partly because my reviews tend to ramble long, go on tangents and focus more on my relationship to the book than the book itself.]
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There are some chilling realities dealt with in this story and I can understand how some parents might think their 13-17 year old might be unready to deal with it but that doesn't make it right to deny access to every teen especially as so many have already lived such traumas and their best hope for dealing is encountering a story in which their experience, their pain and their worth are acknowledged and the proof that they are not alone.
 "Libraries are raucous clubhouses for free speech, controversy, and community. Librarians have stood up to the PATRIOT Act, sat down with noisy toddlers, and reached out to illiterate adults. Libraries can never be shushed." Paula Poundstone
________________________________________

Here are a few bookish events going on for BBW:

Hosted by Bookjourney

Get on the BANNED WAGON!

Giveaways, a scavenger hunt and links to participating blog's BBW reviews are some of what's happening at Sheila's BookJourney this week.  Along with her own reviews of banned or challenged books and of course her daily Morning Meanerings post.

Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop


Banned Books Week Hop

Giveaways galore and lots of participating blog's to visit and comment on.


Banned Book Week Virtual Read Out

Banned Books Week Virtual Read-Out

The annual BBW readout traditionally conducted in public at bookstores and libraries where individuals read aloud form a banned book has now gone digital. Now you can video record yourself reading a banned book and upload to a YouTube channel

Read more...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Banned Book Week Review Repost of The Bluest Eye

The Bluest Eye
by Toni Morrison


You can cage the singer but not the song.  ~Harry Belafonte,


(Shame shame shame
Shame on you, you should be ashamed of yourself aren’t you ashamed I hope you’re ashamed hang your head in shame you are a worm and no way worthy you should be shamefaced before yourself your irredeemable self your unacceptable self your fallen born in sin self)

Did I get your attention? Did I open a can of worms? Did the above litany spark a conflagration of feelings you thought had long been put to rest? Did it, if just for an instant, make you feel like the small, helpless, needy child you once were when those shame messages were your daily fare? If so then maybe I’ve given you a taste of my experience of reading The Bluest Eye....
it was the experience of this blue eyed white woman reading Toni Morrison’s story of a small black girl who wished herself blue eyed to identify so completely with that child’s soul that her own soul was able to speak her pain--an infinite pain rooted in shame and nurtured by blame.

Some readers may take the story of a black child desiring a mark of beauty genetically unique to Caucasians at face value and see the indictment of racial prejudice as the theme. But that would not explain the power of this story to move so deeply. Only the universal theme of the shamed self can carry this story into the hearts of readers regardless of age, sex, race, status….

It is easy, even required by this story to notice the pain of young Pecola Breedlove, to empathize with her, to yearn to comfort her, to mourn her dissolution--the dissolving of her soul by the acid of rejection. But to notice and feel the pain of her tormentors and extend the same compassion to them--that is another story. Yet it is the Story for me. It is the whole point. And to get that point provides the only hope for healing the pain and breaking the endless cycle. For shame breeds shame ad infinitum. And it is my experience that most if not all the pain we inflict on self and others is rooted in this swamp of shame which drains the streams of our parent’s unshed tears. Tears pent up for seven times seventy generations.  Read more...


[For these BBW review reposts this week I'm posting only excerpts with a 'read more' link to the original post.  This partly to keep any possible discussion in one place but partly because my reviews tend to ramble long, go on tangents and focus more on my relationship to the book than the book itself.]
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Part of the motivation behind many of the book challenges in school districts is the parent's understandable desire to protect their child from exposure to the trauma of certain of life's realities.  But that sentiment can go too far if the desire to protect ones own child extends to assuming the duty of 'protecting' all children.  


Not every child is at the same stage of readiness to encounter these stories of human brutality.  But parents should also be aware that encountering it is inevitable and stories have long been our psyche's way of preparing for an unknown future and making sense of past and current experience.  


It is, in the long run, better for anyone, child or adult, to encounter a trauma in a story first and under the supervision of adults capable of guiding their contemplation and among peers who provide feedback and friction, the child or young adult, can grow in moral and ethical stature, learning empathy for self and others that inoculates them from the danger of becoming either one of the brutal ones or one of their victims.


It is in this empathy, generated in the imagination by story, that courage is rooted.  For a heart deep comprehension of the equivalency of ones pain with the pain of another can motivate the choice to stand firm against the brutality both physically and emotionally, both on one's own behalf and that of the other.


A trauma encountered in reality after one has encountered its shadow in a story will be much less likely to throw ones psyche into a life shattering tailspin than one encountered by the sheltered and naive who have no defenses.
The fact is that censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion.  ~Henry Steele Commager
______________________________________________

Here are a few bookish events going on for BBW:

Hosted by Bookjourney

Get on the BANNED WAGON!

Giveaways, a scavenger hunt and links to participating blog's BBW reviews are some of what's happening at Sheila's BookJourney this week.  Along with her own reviews of banned or challenged books and of course her daily Morning Meanerings post.

Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop


Banned Books Week Hop

Giveaways galore and lots of participating blog's to visit and comment on.


Banned Book Week Virtual Read Out

Banned Books Week Virtual Read-Out

The annual BBW readout traditionally conducted in public at bookstores and libraries where individuals read aloud form a banned book has now gone digital. Now you can video record yourself reading a banned book and upload to a YouTube channel



Read more...

Monday, September 26, 2011

It's Monday! What are You Reading? #36 [Banned Book Week]

Share what you (are, have been, are about to, hope to be) reading or reviewing this week. Sign Mr Linky at Book Journey and visit other Monday reading roundups.


Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too.  ~Voltaire

This being Banned Book Week I'm hoping to make the majority of my reading choices from a pool of once banned or challenged books which I currently have in my possession.

You'll notice an abundance of classics in the list.  That is because so many of them are included in the Britannica Great Book set I own and others are in my collection of free online reads or downloads.  I have linked the titles to a good online source where I know of one:


John Milton's Areopagitica is a classic that helped establish a free press both by cogent arguments in its favor but also by being published without permission (license) in defiance of the British laws at the time requiring official state sanction for every publication.
--included in my Britannica Great Books Set.  It is not long and I  would like to read it this week in honor of BBW

Lysistrata - by Aristophanes
A Greek Tragedy written circa 400 BC there was a U.S. import ban until 1930
--included in my Britannica Great Books Set.  I would like to read it in honor of BBW


Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
--I used to own a copy, a much loved paperback lost in our last move, but now resort to either library copies or online copies like the one the one linked above.  It is one I've long intended to download so I can read when not online.  Maybe I'll make that a task for this week and while I'm at it read a few poems.

Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
banned for decades in the U.S. under the Comstock
Law of 1873, also known as the Federal Anti-Obscenity Act, which banned the mailing of
“lewd,” “indecent,” “filthy,” or “obscene” materials.
--I had this checked out of the library awhile back and when I had to return it I searched out links for reading online. I might visit it to read another story from it this week. And while I'm at it go ahead and download a copy I can read while off line

Canterbury Tales by Chaucer
frequently banned for objectionable sexual content
--included in my Britannica Great Books set.  I hope to read one tale this week.


The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm,
 1994 - restricted to sixth through eighth graders at Kyrene, Arizona elementary schools for “excessive violence,
negative portrayals of female characters, and anti-semitic references.”
--as part of my current myth/fable obsession I have the Modern Library edition checked out of my public library and have been reading it off and on for several weeks.  I've also linked here to an online version.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
2009 - a parent object to language and portrayal of sexuality resulting the removal from the summer reading list for the Pelham, Massachusetts school district.
--I have a copy being held for me at the library which will be picked up on Monday.  I watched the movie, Simon Birch, based on this novel the other night.  I sent for this when Sheila named it as this month's Wordshakers book club selection and would like to begin it soon.


East of Eden by John Steinbeck
--I just recently watched the movie staring James Dean and then sent for the novel via my public library and currently have it at home.  I've been dying to start it but other books have earlier due dates.  Maybe BBW is a good excuse to move it up in line.


Twilight series by Stephenie H. Meyer
2009 banned in Austrailian primary and junior schools for sexual and religious content
--I have had all four volumes on my shelf for nearly a year loaned to me by my niece.  I read the first couple chapters of the first one almost immediately after she handed them over and would have kept going if I hadn't been in the awkward position I'd put myself in to reach the shelf I meant to keep them on.  I went ahead and shelved them so I could shake out a cramp in my foot and there they have sat.  Maybe BBW can be my excuse to shove aside the three dozen library books?  I bet if I pulled the first one out and restarted it while sitting comfortably I find myself on page 100 before I could blink twice.

Three more in my possession but which I confess to doubting I will get to this week.

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
--I have a copy thanks to my sister who picked one up at a yard sale for me


A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle
frequently banned in schools for objectionable religious content ie references to crystal balls and witches
--I'm in possession of a copy my sister mailed to me several years ago after she had finished reading it to her son. This was one of my favorite novels as a preteen and L'Engle remains one of my favorite authors to this day

Ulysses - James Joyce
--I used to own a physical copy but currently have only an electronic one.

___________________________________________________



_____________________________________________________

Here are a few bookish events going on for BBW:

Hosted by Bookjourney

Get on the BANNED WAGON!

Giveaways, a scavenger hunt and links to participating blog's BBW reviews are some of what's happening at Sheila's BookJourney this week.  Along with her own reviews of banned or challenged books and of course her daily Morning Meanerings post.

Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop


Banned Books Week Hop

Giveaways galore and lots of participating blog's to visit and comment on.


Banned Book Week Virtual Read Out

Banned Books Week Virtual Read-Out

The annual BBW readout traditionally conducted in public at bookstores and libraries where individuals read aloud form a banned book has now gone digital. Now you can video record yourself reading a banned book and upload to a YouTube channel

Read more...

Banned Books Week: Review Repost of The Kite Runner

Wherever they burn books they will also, in the end, burn human beings.  ~Heinrich Heine, Almansor, 1823
The Kite Runner
by Khaled Hosseini  

This is an atypical review and could be classified more as a musing. It is also an examination of the personal experience of reading a powerful story. Not just as a reader but as a writer who aspires to write stories of equal power and artistic excellence.

A bare bones summary of the story: Two Afghanistan boys, Amir and Hassan, have been best friends since infancy although Hassan and his father are servants to Amir's family. As the story opens in the 1970s they are entering puberty as their country faces invasion and are about to face the ultimate test of their love for each other. One of them, Amir who is the narrator and protagonist of this Bildungsroman fails the test in a most egregiously shameful way and by his acts they are torn from each other's lives forever. These events shape Amir's life and the resulting shame and guilt shape his relationships and his psyche over the next two decades. And then out of the blue he is asked to perform a task for Hassan that has the potential power of redeeming his earlier betrayal a task that requires leaving his physically (if not emotionally) comfortable life in America to return to a now Taliban ruled Afghanistan for the first time since his late teens and rescue the one thing more precious to Hassan than their friendship had been.  Read more...


[For these BBW review reposts this week I'm posting only excerpts with a 'read more' link to the original post.  This partly to keep any possible discussion in one place but partly because my reviews tend to ramble long, go on tangents and focus more on my relationship to the book than the book itself.]
_______________________________

The banning or challenging of a book by a native of Afghanistan in America today is the height of bitter irony and shameful hubris as our own sons and daughters fight over there ostensibly to remove their book burners from power.

Just saying.

To limit the press is to insult a nation; to prohibit reading of certain books is to declare the inhabitants to be either fools or slaves.  ~Claude-Adrien Helvétius
___________________________________________


Here are a few bookish events going on for BBW:

Hosted by Bookjourney

Get on the BANNED WAGON!

Giveaways, a scavenger hunt and links to participating blog's BBW reviews are some of what's happening at Sheila's BookJourney this week.  Along with her own reviews of banned or challenged books and of course her daily Morning Meanerings post.

Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop


Banned Books Week Hop

Giveaways galore and lots of participating blog's to visit and comment on.


Banned Book Week Virtual Read Out

Banned Books Week Virtual Read-Out

The annual BBW readout traditionally conducted in public at bookstores and libraries where individuals read aloud form a banned book has now gone digital. Now you can video record yourself reading a banned book and upload to a YouTube channel

_____________________________________________


“Only the suppressed word is dangerous.”—Ludwig Börne


Read more...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Banned Book Week: Review Repost of Leaves of Grass

Leaves of Grassby Walt Whitman

The paper burns, but the words fly away.  ~Akiba ben Joseph

Walt Whitman issued numerous invitations to me over the years of my reading. Quotations from his Leaves of Grass popped up when I was reading about writing, about creativity, about the environment, about democracy. There they were in books about psychology, about spirituality. When I read about the wonders of nature, his voice joined the chorus. On American history and civics, he had many things to say. In books discussing great love poetry his lines did not blush to snuggle up to Elizabeth Barret Browning’s, Lord Byron’s, nor even Shakespeare’s.

I put Whitman on my mental need-to-read-someday list. And there he stayed for years. Until the spring of 97 when he was mentioned or quoted in over a half dozen different sources I encountered in one weeks time, including a TV documentary and someone’s web page I surfed onto. I had recently been reading about synchronicity so this cluster of encounters took me by the shoulders and gave me a shake, saying isn’t it past time you laid your eyes on this horse’s own mouth?   Read more...


[For these BBW review reposts this week I'm posting only excerpts with a 'read more' link to the original post.  This partly to keep any possible discussion in one place but partly because my reviews tend to ramble long, go on tangents and focus more on my relationship to the book than the book it self.]

One of the things this book has been challenged or banned for was obscenity.  A very difficult to define word is obscenity but one knows it when one sees it.  So they say.  But what one man sees as obscenity another might see as epiphany.

Obscenity is not a quality inherent in a book or picture, but is solely and exclusively a contribution of the reading mind, and hence cannot be defined in terms of the qualities of a book or picture.  ~Theodore Schroeder
BTW the caption above is linked to a wonderful HTML copy of Leaves of Grass courtesy of Guttenberg.org.

________________________________________


Here are a few bookish events going on for BBW:

Hosted by Bookjourney

Get on the BANNED WAGON!

Giveaways, a scavenger hunt and links to participating blog's BBW reviews are some of what's happening at Sheila's BookJourney this week.  Along with her own reviews of banned or challenged books and of course her daily Morning Meanerings post.

Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop


Banned Books Week Hop

Giveaways galore and lots of participating blog's to visit and comment on.


Banned Book Week Virtual Read Out

Banned Books Week Virtual Read-Out

The annual BBW readout traditionally conducted in public at bookstores and libraries where individuals read aloud form a banned book has now gone digital. Now you can video record yourself reading a banned book and upload to a YouTube channel
_________________________________________


“Damn all expurgated books; the dirtiest book of all is the expurgated book.”—Walt Whitman

Read more...

Sunday Serenity #247 The Soul of Books

print for sale @ art.com


This could have been me at three.

Books were my obsession even earlier than that.  I can't remember a day when they weren't.  Mom tells me that I began begging to keep the bedtime storybook she had just read to me under my pillow almost as soon as I could roll over and reach through the crib rails to grab it.

Today I'm hoping to devote some time reading one or more of the banned or challenged books I have in honor of Banned Book Week.  Scroll down before the review of The Lovely Bones to see the list in yesterday's post.  Only there are a few more I've discovered qualified since I posted that.  One of them the library book East of Eden by John Stienbeck.  Not that I didn't know I had it but I didn't find it on any list of banned or challenged books until late last evening.  And I had actually been looking for it because I want an excuse to bump it up in queue despite not having as urgent a due date as several others.

Well we'll see.

I'm also hoping to spend time visiting other BBW bloggers to see what's on their mind and maybe enter giveaways.  :)

I will leave you with this awesome quote from a sublime novel:

This is a place of mystery, Daniel, a sanctuary. Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.   --Carlos Ruiz Zafon in The Shadow of the Wind.

Read more...

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Book Banned Week: Review Repost of Lovely Bones


“But it's not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.”—Judy Blume

The Lovely Bones is a coming of age story narrated by a young girl who is watching her family, friends and community cope with the aftermath of her murder. 14 year old Susie Salmon was brutally raped, murdered and then dismembered and stuffed in a safe which was then dropped in a sinkhole. In the weeks, months and years that follow she watches from her personal heaven the devastating impact of her loss upon her parents, siblings, grandmother, close friends, classmates, teachers, neighbors and the detective who headed the investigation. Each of these must internalize the meaning of what happened to Susie for themselves, must learn to move through the grief and find a way to say Yes! to life again.  Read more...

______________________________

For the reviews I'm reposting for BBW this week I'm going to use the excerpt with link to original post so that discussion in comments, if any, can be kept in one place.


  Here are a few bookish events going on for BBW:

Hosted by Bookjourney

Get on the BANNED WAGON!

Giveaways, a scavenger hunt and links to participating blog's BBW reviews are some of what's happening at Sheila's BookJourney this week.  Along with her own reviews of banned or challenged books and of course her daily Morning Meanerings post.

Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop


Banned Books Week Hop

Giveaways galore and lots of participating blog's to visit and comment on.


Banned Book Week Virtual Read Out

Banned Books Week Virtual Read-Out

The annual BBW readout traditionally conducted in public at bookstores and libraries where individuals read aloud form a banned book has now gone digital. Now you can video record yourself reading a banned book and upload to a YouTube channel

Read more...

Banned Books Week Begins

One of my recurring nightmares.



“Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us."
- William O. Douglas

Here are a few bookish events going on for BBW:

Hosted by Bookjourney

Get on the BANNED WAGON!

Giveaways, a scavenger hunt and links to participating blog's BBW reviews are some of what's happening at Sheila's BookJourney this week.  Along with her own reviews of banned or challenged books and of course her daily Morning Meanerings post.

Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop


Banned Books Week Hop

Giveaways galore and lots of participating blog's to visit and comment on.


Banned Book Week Virtual Read Out

Banned Books Week Virtual Read-Out

The annual BBW readout traditionally conducted in public at bookstores and libraries where individuals read aloud form a banned book has now gone digital. Now you can video record yourself reading a banned book and upload to a YouTube channel


Books in my possession this week (including a couple online editions)

When I was gathering together possible reads for the Read Your Own Books read-a-thon last weekend, I already knew I wanted to participate in Banned Book Week this week so I made it a point to make a list of the titles of banned and challenged books that I knew I owned, currently had out of the library or could access online.  So this is the list from which I'll choose books to read from this week:

John Milton's Areopagitica is a classic that helped establish a free press both by cogent arguments in its favor but also by being published without permission (license) in defiance of the British laws at the time requiring official state sanction for every publication.
--included in my Britannica Great Books Set

Lysistrata - by Aristophanes
A Greek Tragedy written circa 400 BC there was a U.S. import ban until 1930
--included in my Britannica Great Books Set

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle
frequently banned in schools for objectionable religious content ie references to crystal balls and witches
--I'm in possession of a copy my sister mailed to me several years ago after she had finished reading it to her son. This was one of my favorite novels as a preteen and L'Engle remains one of my favorite authors to this day

Ulysses - James Joyce
--I used to own a physical copy but currently have only an electronic one.

The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm,
 1994 - restricted to sixth through eighth graders at Kyrene, Arizona elementary schools for “excessive violence,
negative portrayals of female characters, and anti-semitic references.”
--as part of my current myth/fable obsession I have the Modern Library edition checked out of my public library

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
2009 - a parent object to language and portrayal of sexuality resulting the removal from the summer reading list for the Pelham, Massachusetts school district.
--I have a copy being held for me at the library which will be picked up on Monday.  I watched the movie, Simon Birch, based on this novel just last night.

Twilight series by Stephenie H. Meyer
2009 banned in Austrailian primary and junior schools for sexual and religious content
--I have had all four volumes on my shelf for nearly a year loaned to me by my niece.

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
--I have a copy thanks to my sister who picked one up at a yard sale for me

Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
banned for decades in the U.S. under the Comstock
Law of 1873, also known as the Federal Anti-Obscenity Act, which banned the mailing of
“lewd,” “indecent,” “filthy,” or “obscene” materials.
--I had this checked out of the library awhile back and when I had to return it I searched out links for reading online.  This is another one I would like to download in a format I can read while off line.  Maybe this week?

Canterbury Tales by Chaucer
frequently banned for objectionable sexual content
--included in my Britannica Great Books set

East of Eden by John Steinbeck
--I just recently watched the movie staring James Dean and then sent for the novel via my public library and currently have it at home.  I've been dying to start it but other books have earlier due dates.  Maybe BBW is a good excuse to move it up in line.


Books I'm planning to post or re-post reviews for in the next week:

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
--I will repost my review later today.  And by repost here and for the next several, I mean I will post an excerpt from my review, linking to the original so that comments and discussion can be kept in one place.

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
--I used to own a copy, a much loved paperback lost in our last move, but now resort to either library copies or online copies like the one the one linked above.  It is one I've long intended to download so I can read when not online.  Maybe I'll make that a task for this week.

I will be reposting my review Sunday

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
--I will be reposting my review Monday

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
--I will be reposting my review Tuesday

Impulse by Ellen Hopkins
--I read this when my niece loaned me her copy.  I will be reposting my review Wednesday

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
2010 challenged but retained in a Easton, Pennsylvania school district after a parent complained it promoted "economic fallacies" and socialist ideas, advocated use of illegal drugs and belittled Christians
--I read this several years ago and if the economic realities she portrayed in here were 'fallacies' that makes my life since 1978 just a bad dream.  I had a review in progress at the time I had to return this to the library and I'm going to see if I can whip it into shape without having the book in hand bur if not a formal review I ought to have something to say about it on Thursday

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
--I just read this this month and am working on a review to post for Friday


Ooops! I guess not:



The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls
2009 challenged in Saugus, California's William S. Hart Union High School's honor's English required summer reading for profanity, criticism of Christianity and depictions of sexual abuse and prostitution.
--This was on my list to read and hopefully review for this week as I was in queue at the library and thought my turn was coming in time for BBW but alas, I'll have to wait a bit longer.



Many Resources are gathered here at deltecencorship.org sponsored by Half Priced Books


Among them lists of banned and challenged books both modern and classic, a collection of quotes by notable people, articles and author interviews, and the following list of organizations who dedicate all or part of their resources to the cause of freedom of thought and speech.  Many sponsor Banned Books Week:

ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom
American Booksellers Association (ABA)
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE)
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
American Library Association (ALA)
American Society of Journalists and Authors
Amnesty International USA
Association of American Publishers
Freedom to Read Foundation
Freedom to Read Week (Canada)
First Amendment Center
The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions’ Committee on Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression (FAIFE)
National Coalition Against Censorship
National Council of Teachers of English Anti-Censorship Center
People for the American Way

Read more...

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