Banned for themes insensitive to the foresting industry. No, really. You know the guy - shortish, oldish, brownish, mossy, spoke with a voice that was sharpish and bossy. Champion of the environment. Speaks for the trees. Made me ball my eyes out as a five year old when he lifted himself by the seat of his pants and left through a hole in the smog without leaving a trace. Left nothing behind but a pile of rocks carved with one word - UNLESS. "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." Cares a whole awful lot about truffula trees, brown bar-ba-loots, and swomee-swans, the rippulous pond, the humming-fish... and maybe censorship.
In the fall of 2004, Jon Stewart and the other writers of the Daily Show, "the most trusted name in fake news," witnessed their satirical treatment of a school textbook about the American political machine race up the bestseller chart. Some people, however, were not stocking or selling. Shocker. Walmart led the pack by refusing to carry the book in their stores (while quietly continuing to sell it online) naming the principal reason as the hilarious (my comment, not Walmart's) p. 99 where all the Supreme Court justices are featured in the buff - that's right, in their full-frontal, sagging glory. The book comes with cut-out robes so that the reader might "restore their dignity by matching each justice with his or her respective robe." Other can't miss features include discussion questions ("Why do you think the Framers made the Constitution so soul-crushingly boring?"), classroom activities ("Using felt and yarn, make a hand puppet of Clarence Thomas. Ta-da! You're Antonin Scalia!"), and an "inspirational" story of how the media "transformed itself from a mere public necessity into an entertaining profit center for ever-expanding corporate empires." Try not to miss the C-SPAN drinking games also. Fun here for everyone! Oh, unless you could never lay your hands on it at your local public library or Walmart store. The writers never took the censorship to heart though. When asked for comment on Walmart's actions, the executive producer of the Daily Show, Ben Karlin, said they might mention the Walmart thing in an upcoming story "about an exciting new store Wal-Mart is planning in the shadow of Mexico's oldest and most revered ruins."
"It was as if God had decided to put to the test every capacity for surprise and was keeping the inhabitants of Macondo in a permanent alternation between excitement and disappointment, doubt and revelation, to such an extreme that no one knew for certain where the limits of reality lay. It was an intricate stew of truths and mirages that convulsed the ghost of José Arcadio Buendía with impatience and made him wander all through the house even in broad daylight."
Obscene. Profane language. Sexually explicit. Violent. Sacrilegious. Trash being passed off as literature. These are a few of the reasons cited for challenges and bans of one of the most well-regarded books ever written. One Hundred Years of Solitude illustrates how time and history are cyclical or circular rather than linear through the story of a family's generational struggles in the town of Macondo. Marquez's use of the magical realism genre allows the reader a window through which to question how we all reconcile the reality of our natural or corporeal existence with the more extraordinary or supernatural elements that surround us. What will govern our existence, our contribution to history? The most mundane elements of our lives or our ability to break free of those worldly restrictions and embrace something larger than ourselves, something unknown? As we traverse time, how do we achieve immortality or eternity? As we see in the final fate of the town of Macondo, what will happen if we fail in our quests? Or are our lives preordained, outside our abilities to re-write our existence outside of the script of the universe?
This book poses so many questions that it can be read and re-read and yield a different experience each time. One of my top 5 of all time.
Banned Books Week, sponsored by the American Library Association, runs from September 27 - October 4 this year. Have such strong feelings about this that I have decided to feature a gem of a banned book on my blog each day of the week. My favorite author of children's books is Roald Dahl who holds the distinction of having almost all of his books featured on a banned or challenged books list at some point or another. Revolting Rhymes is a favorite target though. Features way fractured fairy tales and Dahl's trademark wicked sense of humor in a poetic re-tell of six classic tales. My eight-year-old son thinks that this is the best book ever written though we skip over a few choice words here and there such as "slut" in the Cinderella excerpt below. I just told him that we don't say that word, and he took it to mean that it must be "England English and not the stuff we speak here." Works for me.
I guess you think you know this story. You don't. The real one's much more gory. The phony one, the one you know, Was cooked up years and years ago, And made to sound all soft and sappy just to keep the children happy. Mind you, they got the first bit right, The bit where, in the dead of night, The Ugly Sisters, jewels and all, Departed for the Palace Ball, While darling little Cinderella Was locked up in the slimy cellar, Where rats who wanted things to eat Began to nibble at her feet. She bellowed, "Help!" and "Let me out!" The Magic Fairy heard her shout. Appearing in a blaze of light, She said, "My dear, are you all right?" ' All right?" cried Cindy. "Can't you see I feel as rotten as can be!"
She beat her fist against the wall, And shouted, "Get me to the Ball! There is a Disco at the Palace! The rest have gone and I am jalous! I want a dress! I want a coach! And earrings and a diamond brooch! And silver slippers, two of those! And lovely nylon pantyhose! Thereafter it will be a cinch To hook the handsome Royal Prince!" The Fairy said, "Hang on a tick." She gave her Wand a mighty flick And quickly, in no time at all, Cindy was at the Palace Ball! It made the Ugly Sisters wince
To see her dancing with the Prince. She held him very tight and pressed Herself against his manly chest. The Prince himself was turned to pulp, All he could do was gasp and gulp. Then midnight struck. She shouted, "Heck!” I've got to run to save my neck!" ThePrince cried, "No! Alas! Alack!" He grabbed her dress to hold her back. As Cindy shouted, "Let me go!" The dress was ripped from head to toe. She ran out in her underwear, But lost one slipper on the stair. The Prince was on it like a dart, He pressed it to his pounding heart. "The girl this slipper fits," he cried, "Tomorrow morn shall be my bride! I'll visit every house in town Until I've tracked the maiden down!" Then rather carelessly, I fear, He placed it on a crate of beer.
At once, one of the Ugly Sisters (The one whose face was blotched with blisters) Sneaked up and grabbed the dainty shoe, And quickly flushed it down the loo. Then in its place she calmly put The slipper from her own left foot. Ah-ha, you see, the plot grows thicker, And Cindys luck starts looking sicker. Next day, the Prince went charging down To knock on all the doors in town. In every house, the tension grew. Who was the owner of the shoe? The shoe was huge and frightfully wide. (A normal foot got lost inside.) Also it smelled a wee bit icky. (The owner's feet were hot and sticky.) Thousands of eager people came To try it on, but all in vain. Now came the Ugly Sisters' go. One tried it on. The Prince screamed, "No!" But she screamed, "Yes! It fits! Whoopee! So now you've got to marry me!" The Prince went white from ear to ear.
He muttered, "Let's get out of here." "Oh no you don't! You've made a vow! There's no way you can back out now! "Off with her head!" the Prince roared back. They chopped it off with one big whack. This pleased the Prince. He smiled and said, "She's prettier without her head." Then up came Sister Number Two, Who yelled, "Now I will try the shoe!" "Try this instead!" the Prince yelled back. He swung his trusty sword and smack Her head went crashing to the ground. It bounced a bit and rolled around. In the kitchen, peeling spuds, Cinderella heard the thuds Of bouncing heads upon the floor, And poked her own head round the door. "What's all the racket?" Cindy cried. "Mind your own bizz," the Prince replied. Poor Cindys heart was torn to shreds. My Prince! she thought. He chops off heads! How could I marry anyone Who does that sort of thing for fun?
The Prince cried, "Who's this dirty slut? Off with her nut! Off with her nut!" just then, all in a blaze of light, The Magic Fairy hove in sight, Her Magic Wand went swoosh and swish! "Cindy!" she cried. "Come make a wish! Wish anything and have no doubt That I will make it come about!" Cindy answered, "Oh kind Fairy, This time I shall be more wary. No more Princes, no more money I have had my taste of honey I'm wishing for a decent man. They're hard to find. D'you think you can?" Within a minute, Cinderella Was married to a lovely feller, A simple jam-maker by trade, Who sold good homemade marmalade. Their house was filled with smiles and laughter And they were happy ever after.
Excerpted from Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes
Published by Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers
"Well, all speaking is difficult, whether peril attends it or not. Sometimes peril to the body, sometimes a more intimate, miniature, invisible peril to the soul. When to speak at all is a betrayal of something, perhaps a something not even identified, hiding inside the chambers of the body like a sacred refugee in a site of war."
Writing can also be difficult when you are left to capture words for something so astoundingly beautiful it takes your breath away. What began as one of my strange and compulsive needs to make my way through some arbitrary list or standard (the Booker short list in this instance) led me to a far different place than expected. I now have a strange and compulsive need to track down everything Sebastian Barry has published. The lilting loveliness and the cadence of the Irish accent has always enchanted me but I credited that to a simple attraction to that indescribable mellifluous quality - ear candy. It is apparent in the The Secret Scripture that the Irish gift for storytelling (and more specifically Barry's gift) goes far beyond simply what you hear because these stark words on paper sing also.
The story is about a 100-year-old mental patient who begins to write her personal history that covers The Irish revolution of the 1920s and the resulting political and religious turmoil that defines so much of modern Irish history. As Roseanne is busy with the pages she keeps hidden under the floorboards in her room, her attending physician, Dr. Grene, is also at work re-constructing Roseanne's somewhat mysterious background as he prepares patients for a move to a new hospital. The two contradictory narratives present the reader with a puzzle that takes in Irish history and Catholicism, and the sometimes skewed, self-serving exercises of power in both.
It bothers me when people tell me that boys just don't read the way girls do. Perhaps if we gave boys materials to read that were more appealing to their sensibilities, they too could be seen buried in books around school and home. Boys tend to be more visual learners than girls. High impact photos, illustrations, and other graphic components really lure them in. Boys tend to favor factual material devoid of the emotional components of much of children's fiction that attracts girls. Boys also tend to comprehend text when it is organized into smaller doses - short chapters, lots of divisions with headings and sub-headings, books where the text is an accessory to the graphic components rather than the other way around, and shorter lines of text (as in the width of the text block for this blog post is too wide for most young male readers).
Example: I had about a dozen second, third, and fourth grade boys in the library this morning before school. As I unpacked this very cool robot book you see here, they surrounded me and the book. They all wanted to get their hands on it. They all wanted to touch the eyepiece on the front cover that serves as a magnetic closure device. They all wanted to examine the red bead that serves for a robot eye. Then they wanted to look over every square in of the contents. As you can see from the second photo, this book is divided into small servings of text where each topic is well-labeled and receives an easily digested quick treatment. This organizational tool allowed the boys to navigate the text quickly and with a measure of confidence. Some were looking for a means to build their own robot. Some wanted to read about spybots. Other were fascinated by the cyborg section. What became very clear to me very quickly was that I was going to need more than one of these or at least some similar books...fast.
If you have a young man that you buy books for in the hopes that he will actually read them, I highly recommend Robots by Clive Gifford. Take some extra time and build from the detailed instructions. They look like a blast of good, visually oriented fun!
BOOKS FOR BARACK is the brainchild of novelist Ayelet Waldman, whose impassioned — and expletive-laden — e-mail to politically like-minded writers went, as she put it, "viral." Ayelet's solicitation for signed copies of their books for a fundraiser for Barack Obama's campaign has touched a literary nerve, yielding an outpouring of over 500750 1,000 books (as of Monday, September 22) from across the country.
Read this story today on a Publisher's Weekly mass email, and immediately checked out the Books4Barack site to get a more detailed account of what was going on. This woman has raised over $40,000, and today, had to suspend the book bag for $250 donation deal for a few days while she catches up and waits (and hopes) for more books. How does this work? It's really quite simple. If you donate $250 or more to Barack Obama's campaign through Ayelet's MyBarackObama website, you will receive a mystery bag of 10 books, all in a canvas tote printed with the BOOKS FOR BARACK logo. The bags will be assembled randomly and tied closed so that no one — not even Ayelet — will know the contents of any specific bag. Check out the site to see some of the donated books. Drool-worthy. Keep checking to see if donations catch up to demand and the opportunity re-opens.
This idea could work for any cause. I love the idea that books can unite the hopes and goals of so many. I really love the idea that an author's words can propel a cause important to them. Everything about this story is personal and lovely. Please don't think of this post as a politicized message or a call to raise funds for an effort in line with my own political beliefs. Think of it as a call to action for all of us with a passion, as a model for one of my favorite expressions - "walking the walk."
Half-way through Sebastian Barry's The Sacred Scripture, and it is a powerful and intriguing book. After coming in from a couple of hours of gardening chores, I was all prepared to return to it. However, it is Sunday, and both my body and my mind felt they needed a rest so I turned to a movie I have seen more than a few times based upon a book that I have read at least three times that I can recall. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons is a most-hilarious satirical treatment of the dense delights of doom penned by D.H. Lawrence and Thomas Hardy. Recently orphaned socialite Flora Poste must find a way to stretch her meager finances so she decides to live with a relative until her great novel comes together. She descends to the deepest Sussex to her distant relations at Cold Comfort Farm and immediately sets about re-ordering (or re-writing) their miserable lives. Have you seen something nasty in the woodshed? Read it. See it. Most satisfying. Just like the Sunday comfort food I am about to prepare. Bless you, day of rest.
I had a chance encounter with some old friends this week - the children of Green Knowe. These were among my favorite books as a child, and I was delighted to be reminded of them especially as my daughter is about the same age now as I was when I enjoyed them. Lucy Boston created these extraordinary children's stories about the magical and ghostly house known as Green Knowe, many of whose inhabitants never leave even after their mortal lives have concluded. She based the series of six books upon her own house, a run-down 12th century Norman manor at Hemingford Grey that she carefully restored for herself and her son who eventually became an architect and illustrator of these books. If I recall correctly, the series traverses eight or nine centuries of history as it chronicles the mishaps and adventures of this splendid, moody, menacing residence.
A word of caution. These books are not for all children. You will find that the publisher recommendation is ages 9-12, but keep in mind that these books were written in the sixties and seventies when we all flourished with a certain amount of benign neglect from our parents. I adore this about the books, but some of you may balk at the notion of quite so much freedom for the wee ones. Also, much like the work of J.K. Rowling, this is not a sugar-coated series of work that assumes a certain delicacy amongst the sensibilities of children. Some children may find the supernatural themes frightening. Additionally, the language is precise and evocative but not necessarily scaled down for the comprehension levels of 9-12 year olds. I would recommend these either for sophisticated young readers or as a family read-aloud or for adults like me. I swear to you these are as compelling a read for adults as they are for children.
As a fun aside, look through these books for similarities to the Potter books. As I leafed through the first one, I was initially struck by arrival of the young boy to his grandmother's house for the first time. There has been a flood and he must approach by boat much like the first-years do at Hogwarts. Kept looking and found quite a few more things but HUSH as I do not want to spoil the fun of the hunt for you.
Someone whose literary taste you implicitly trust offers you a "must-read" novel, and you scoop it up unreservedly. The open front gates featured on the cover beckon you in to the famous Italian garden upon which the dual plot lines of the book revolve. The front, back and interior covers are wallpapered with the praise of respected critics. The book reads quickly. Ultimately though, the book leaves you flat. How do you tell the one who recommended it? Why are you unimpressed with something widely praised? A classical education might lead you to comment "In matters of taste, let there be no dispute," but this will go but a very short distance in trying to please the friend and reader who handed the book off to you so enthusiastically. To what extent do we share books with others to legitimize our own standards of taste, often expecting praise for our choice rather than a dissenting opinion? To what extent do so many of us biblioblog to lend weight to the literary selections we deem worthy thus indirectly confirming our own status as arbiters of taste?
Now it has been a very long week for me, and I look at what I just wrote and believe I might be over-thinking this one just a bit. I believe these to be legitimate questions but the particular novel in question is The Savage Garden by Mark Mills, a simple literary mystery, not a core component of the Western literary canon. In this book, a lazy but promising young academic arrives in Tuscany to research the history of the famous garden at the Villa Docci. As he begins to unravel the murderous mystery of the garden, the more recent mysteries held in the house begin to reveal themselves as well. Is Adam a gifted academic or a pawn in the power struggles of a storied Italian family? Who cares. Many readers will see this ending coming a mile away. The only thing that will keep you reading is Mills' engaging use of language. As you might expect from someone who previously wrote screenplays, Mills paints gorgeous settings for our minds to explore. However,the characters are not fully fleshed out, and Adam, the protagonist, is not a person so much as a vehicle to move the plot. The pacing is odd as well. The protagonist makes grand realizations about himself, those close to him, and the mysteries around him that suggest the weight of extended experience, and then the reader finds out that he has been in Italy all of three days. Odd and convenient leaps of logic also abound. Don't even ask about the startling revelation arrived at by a cursory examination of earlobes. Eeek.
Should I honestly share my opinion of this work with the one who suggested it? I'll decide after a much-needed good night's sleep.