Be a Reading Rebel during Banned Books Week

If you’ve read my blog for very long you know every year I write about Banned Books Week. (And I owe you a big THANK YOU for sticking around here with me all these years!)

Why write about this annual event that celebrates the freedom we have to read in the United States? Because I feel strongly that reading is essential to learning and learning is essential to improving so many of the things that ail our world.

It certainly can’t cure everything. And reading some things could actually perpetuate wrong ideas.

The key here I think is reading outside of your comfort zone. Something I worry about as more and more of the content we read online becomes filtered to show us only things related to other things we’ve shown interest in before. Something Eli Pariser termed living in “filter bubbles” in his TED talk.

Facebook doesn’t mean to make us narrow-minded, they just want to offer us a product that we’ll like and continue to consume. But I think we expect more from our public and school libraries, and in their world even today there remain attempts by well-meaning individuals to filter the content we can read.

Just look to recent headlines for proof, as a county board of education in North Carolina recently voted to ban the 1952 book Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison because a parent felt it was “too much for teenagers.”

Apparently, they can’t handle the topics it addresses which according to Wikipedia are “the social and intellectual issues facing African-Americans early in the twentieth century, including black nationalism, the relationship between black identity and Marxism, and the reformist racial policies of Booker T. Washington, as well as issues of individuality and personal identity.”

I must admit I was not familiar with this novel that spent 16 weeks on the bestseller list and won the National Book Award for fiction before I was born. But, thanks to the freedom I have to read (and the ease of “1-Click” downloads from Amazon to my Kindle), I’m about to fix that.

Just getting started with the author’s introduction to the 30th anniversary edition yesterday, I’ve already begun to highlight sections that made me pause and think:

I’m looking forward to being a reading rebel and highlighting more interesting points of view that can expand my own.

Why don’t you join me this week in reading something someone has protested? To help you get started, the American Library Association has compiled a list of the most-challenged titles of 2012.

The Captain Underpants series was #1 last year!


UPDATE 9/26/13: (Reuters) – A North Carolina school board lifted on Wednesday its ban of Ralph Ellison’s classic novel “Invisible Man” from school libraries after being ridiculed by residents and undercut by a giveaway of the book at a local bookstore.

Let’s hear it for the prevailing of good sense!


Thank You Authors

A wooden chair sits atop a stack of booksJust got an unexpected free hour & a half to myself and I haven’t had time to write here in a while; so now, what to write about?

I’m too far out in the back yard for my wireless connection to pull up all those myriad articles I’ve been saving to Evernote for just this moment of inspirational need.

So, I’ll go with something off the usual topic of social media. Nothing about the latest platform or new updates to the old ones. No content marketing, just commentary on content – the content of books to be precise.

You see this past week I had the chance to fly to San Francisco for a work event. (The results of which you can read here and here.) Even though many flights now come equipped with wi-fi and plenty of opportunity to keep working through the business day, when I fly I prefer to pretend I’m completely disconnected and use that time to read.

Occasionally, I’ll read something that might be career related, but most often I enjoy the opportunity to escape into a bit of fiction. This time, I’d forgotten my Kindle, so I went really old school. I picked up a paperback copy of “The Kite Runner” in the airport bookstore. I think everyone else probably read it 10 years ago, so you don’t really need my review, but I will say that it left a deep impression.

I’ve found myself referencing it several times since I’ve been back home. I’ve censored it a bit, especially when talking with my daughter, but I didn’t spare all the details of the tough times depicted in it. I’d like her to also benefit from the insight it gave to life in a country very different from ours.

But, I know my description of it to her will never take her there as vividly as reading the book would. And that is the amazing power of a well-written story. I admire those who can write such realistic pictures into my mind and bring out so much emotion through written words. (I was at a very sad point of the story when my plane was landing in SFO and I’m sure those around me wondered why I was so verklempt.)

I use the same basic words to communicate here, but my copy is more informational, less inspirational. Next week at the dinner table, no one is likely going to say “Oh, that reminds me of this blog post Laura Thomas wrote.” And I don’t say that to be self-depreciating. I just know that this short-form expository style of writing doesn’t have the same lasting impact long-form stories do.

I’m so happy that my daughter enjoys reading. I’ve learned so much from reading – and not just textbook type stuff. I know I’ve learned just as much, if not maybe even more, from fiction. Judy Blume taught me more about adolescence than my parents ever did. That high school phase of historical romance novels did include the historical element. Anne Rice’s vampires traveled through time and across continents that I’ve never stepped foot on, but I feel like I have.

And, this last book gave me new insight into a country I’ve heard about for years on the evening news. I now know a different side of Afghanistan. I learned more about the history and customs that shaped its people, and more importantly, I have a better understanding of them as fellow human beings trying to grow up and raise families of their own.

Sure it was fiction, but all good fiction has a basis in reality.

So, I guess this post is just a great big wet kiss to all the authors out there who work so hard to bring characters and locations to life for us. I know writing isn’t easy. It’s hard enough just to do the little bit I do here simply for the sake of exercising.

Thanks to a good book, I not only went to California last week, I also went to Afghanistan and made a side trip to Pakistan. Without great authors, I wouldn’t have been to nearly as many places as I’ve traveled through words and I do indeed thank them all for that.

Image via Creative Commons by cogdogblog.

Tale of a Banned Books Week Hypocrite

Forbidden - Banned Books WeekEvery other year since I started this blog, I’ve managed to write about Banned Books Week, climbing on a bit of a high horse to say it’s futile and wrong to try to protect kids from subjects we don’t want to discuss with them by challenging books in their libraries. See, the American Library Association (ALA) reports that “sex, profanity, and racism remain the primary categories of objections, and most occur in schools and school libraries.” And these challenges are motivated by the desire to protect children.

My own desire to protect my daughter led me to ban her from reading, or seeing the movie, The Hunger Games this year. I’m not the only one who had hesitations about its violence, as it was the 3rd most-challenged book of 2011.

But, let me back up to give a little context. You see, my daughter who just turned 10 years old has been having a difficult time sleeping in her own bed at night for a while now. Which means, I’ve had a difficult time sleeping, too, because you know where kids head when they’re scared at night. And while I myself had many fears of monsters, ghosts and vampires that led me to sleep with a wooden cross on my own nightstand as a child, my daughter’s fears have always been much more of the 10 o’clock news variety – robbers, murderers, natural disasters.

With that in mind, I didn’t think The Hunger Games would be any help to me in my quest to get her to sleep by herself. So, I read it first to make a balanced decision, and then told her I thought she needed to be a bit older. Thus, turning myself into the hypocrite of this post’s title, I thought.

True to what I knew all along, though, parents really can’t prevent their children from reading or seeing things they don’t want them to be exposed to short of keeping them locked down on house arrest. At a friend’s house where “everyone else wanted to watch it,” she recently saw the movie. Her conscience got the best of her and she fessed up, or I’d never even have known.

Banned Books WeekSo, as I thought about all this leading into Banned Books Week, I decided I should lift my ban and open it up for her to read the trilogy that she now has access to on her birthday present – a new Kindle Fire. Since it’s connected to my account and I’d previously downloaded them, she can easily enough call them up.

But, guess what? She said she doesn’t want to read them yet! After having seen the movie, she agrees that she wants to wait a while to read the books. Instead, she’s opted to read another one I’d downloaded a while back – The Help.

I went searching to see if it had been challenged, as well, since it is rather similar in theme to some other great books that people have tried to ban like The Secret Life of Bees, The Color Purple and To Kill a Mockingbird (which in 2011, still made the The Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books list). But, no, it does not appear to have received the same attention. 

So I haven’t been able to redeem myself from banning a book by getting her to read a challenged or banned book. Although ALA says research suggests that for each challenge reported there are as many as four or five that go unreported.

But… I am feeling at least a little redeemed after reading this in ALA’s listing of books challenged or banned in 2010-2011 (PDF)

“The rights and protections of the First Amendment extend to children and teens as well as adults. While parents have the right — and the responsibility — to guide their own children’s reading, that right does not extend to other people’s children. Similarly, each adult has the right to choose their own reading materials, along with the responsibility to acknowledge and respect the right of others to do the same.”

At least I wasn’t trying to keep anyone else’s kids from reading something, and I do respect the right of others to make choices for themselves and their families – just don’t try to force them on me or mine.

30 Years of Liberating Literature - Banned Books WeekBanned Books Week marks its 30th anniversary this year. There’s a cool online timeline to mark the occasion that you should check out. I’d also suggest you take the time to read a challenged or banned book this week. It’s a good excuse to read a classic you might have missed like The Great Gatsby, or a children’s book that came out after your own childhood, or a young adult novel that explores tricky topics you need to be prepared to discuss with your own kids.

That’s why I should probably be reading ttyl this year, but instead I think I’ll pick something will less teen-girl drama – I’ll have enough of that in real life soon enough…

Hobos Didn’t Eat My Pet Duck, but The Bloggess’ Book Did Bring Back Memories

Let me start right off by saying there is no way I ever want to enter into a pissing match with Jenny Lawson aka The Bloggess about who had the harder childhood.

Mine could never compete with the therapy-inducing “Stanley the Magical, Talking Squirrel.” And for that, I’m thankful.

But, as I started reading her book Let’s Pretend This Never Happened last week, the chapter titled “My Childhood: David Copperfield Meets Guns & Ammo Magazine” did bring on my own set of flashbacks that I felt compelled to share, since, you know, it worked out for a book deal for The Bloggess and you just never know…

Early in my childhood we did get our water from a well. Not the kind Jack & Jill went to, but also not one with radon like Jenny’s family. And also, we moved up to “city water” not too many years later, so that doesn’t really count, other than just to say, I understand what “beige” water is like.

I, too, grew up with furniture dedicated to the storage of guns aka the gun cabinet. Ours was not just a free-standing cabinet, though, ours was built into the custom home my parents designed and we moved into when I was four. Not only did we have a built-in gun cabinent in the house, it was given a place of prominence in our living room – right behind the television. It did also include a bow and arrows, although my father did not use his as often as Jenny’s dad did.
Senior Banquet

I do know what it means to clean a deer, although standing in one is not something I had the misfortune to do. (read her book to find out more about that one) Luckily, the only wildlife I remember my father cleaning in our backyard was fish that were hung from the frame of an old swing set.

While my father was not a taxidermist like Jenny’s, he did do his part to keep them in business. In that same living room/main family room of the house with the gun cabinet, the walls were adorned with (from left to right in the picture here taken before my Senior Banquet) deer, javelina, antelope and bass. (not pictured – a turkey, too) I never really thought it unusual until friends visited from college. Didn’t everyone have stuffed animal heads on their wall? Oh, and did you catch that I called it Senior Banquet, not Prom? That’s because proms have dancing and we couldn’t have dancing. Seriously. I lived Footloose.

I, too, went to gather the chicken eggs once and found a snake. Well, no. That’s not really true. It turned out just to be an old biddy that wasn’t too happy I was sticking my hand up over my head into a box I couldn’t see in and into her business. Because I’d been warned enough that snakes could possibly be in the coop at my grandmother’s house in Arkansas, my childhood mind equated the squawk of the hen to the hiss of a snake and eggs went flying as I ran screaming into the house. My brothers must not have been around or I’m sure I’d still be hearing about it from them (along with the periodic torment I still receive over a Scooby Doo-induced nightmare).

And finally, hobos didn’t eat my pet duck, but I did eat the cow that I bottle-fed as a calf. I know that sounds harsh (and The Bloggess’ PETA friends will probably now come find me), but he had it coming. Oh sure, they start out all cute and sweet and you feel sorry for the poor little orphaned baby. Then, before you know it, the yearling is nearly as tall as you, weighs much more and thinks that butting you upside the barn wall is fun play. When you try to run away, the game becomes chase and when you look back to see how close he is on your heels you turn around just in time to see nothing but green as your face slams into the side of a John Deere combine. As you roll under the barbed wire fence to safety and notice the blood dripping from your nose, a steak dinner starts sounding pretty good.

I’m still reading the book, and laughing out loud, so there’s no telling what else might pop up that I feel compelled to share. Since the book I finished just prior to this one was “Fat is the New 30,” you’re forewarned that my Deep South roots may just start showing more than they have on this blog before.

What about you? Have any down-home stories to top these?

Go Read a Banned Book

Since reading is what I usually list when asked for a hobby, and I’m the daughter of a librarian, and I live in Texas (the Round Rock school district even), it’s no wonder that Banned Books Week jumped out at me as something to mention here. It’s held every year in the last week of September – that’s this week!

So, I started digging around online for more information.

A challenge is defined as a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school, requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness. So why would someone challenge a book about penguins? Reasons given were: Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group.

Now, I’m not necessarily ready for my six-year-old daughter to go check out Forever or even Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret (both frequently challenged books many times over the years); but, I’m certainly glad both titles by Judy Blume were available in my junior high school library growing up. And when she does get to an age where she’s learning about her sexuality, I expect book authors will fill in some of the holes I miss or she’s too uncomfortable to ask about even after we talk about the subject. That’s the way it worked for me growing up.

Speaking of Judy Blume and my youth, it turns out that my very favorite book of hers, Tiger Eyes, was actually self-censored by the author, and yet still turns up on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000.

Some of the other books I’ve read that have faced challenges over the years include A Wrinkle in Time, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Outsiders, Brave New World, Sleeping Beauty Trilogy (ok, so that one I probably wouldn’t want in the school library), Cujo, James and the Giant Peach, Carrie, Where’s Waldo (really? That was challenged?) and the classic, How to Eat Fried Worms.

And there are many more that I should have read that have been challenged, such as: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Of Mice and Men, Bridge to Terabithia, The Catcher in the Rye, Ordinary People, Slaughterhouse-Five, Lord of the Flies and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, just to name a few.

So, in honor of Banned Books Week, I’m going to go out and read one of them. Check the list for one that you’ve been missing in your personal library and join me!
Well, my Barnes & Noble didn’t have the penguin book, but I was able to find out it is a picture book. Somehow I doubt the illustrations put the two male penguins in any particularly compromising positions, but will keep my eye out for a copy to make sure. <wink>

Instead, I went with Bridge to Terabithia, a book that made the “10 Most Challenged” list in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2002 and 2003. I’m guessing it has been on that list even more since it was first published in 1977 (and won a Newbery Medal in 1978), but that’s as far back as I could find records. It has apparently been challenged for using offensive language and promoting Satanism.

Were the people who said that reading the same book I read?!

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