Banned Books

Celebrating Literature: Banned Books Week

banned

“There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.” – Fahrenheit 451

From September 22-28, if you don’t already do so on a regular basis, celebrate the freedom to read with Banned Books Week. To get an idea of what books are being banned, the American Library Association maintains a map of the US of where books have been challenged and/or banned since 2007.

View Book Bans and Challenges, 2007-2011 in a larger map

There is also a category on Acid Free Pulp, which organizes the posts that are concerned with Banned Books (when I remember to tag them). Take a look here.

the South Carolina censorship of Alan Moore’s Neonomicon

  1. Are you ready for some good ole fashion censorship? Apparently, a 14-year-old somewhere in South Carolina checked-out Neonomicoma graphic novel by Alan Moore, from her local library. When her mother took a gander she saw a bad bad word (which hasn’t been divulged to the public) and filed a formal complaint contesting having the book in circulation. Even after the internal advisory committee recommended the book be returned to its shelf, library führer, Beverly James had another opinion,

Library officials tell us an internal committee voted to keep the book, but library Executive Director Beverly James decided to pull it off the shelves. James tells 7 On Your Side, “I can override their recommendation…I’m ultimately responsible.” James adds that she did not feel the book’s content was appropriate for the library system’s collection.

According to the library, the graphic novel was shelved in the adult book section of the library and the 14-year-old had an adult library card. Of course, the mother is allowed to not think the content of a book about “two FBI agents, Brears and Lamper, investigating a series of ritual murders. An exploration of the works of HP Lovecraft, it looks at issues of race and sexuality and contains a brutal rape scene” appropriate for her kid but she should drive over to the library and drop the book off into the depository and be done with it. We all have to deal with things we don’t like on a daily basis, but we just carry on. We should have the choice whether we want to read this book or not. Even the library shelved it in the adult section indicating that its target audience was not for children.

When You Are Silent, You Are Worthless

For the past few months, I have been hearing from a dear, dear writer friend, Carmen Adamucci, about a fantastic author in Greece (she translated some of his stories into Greek for publication). At the risk of sounding cliché, Antonia-Belica Kubareli, is clearly a Renaissance woman–writer, translator, activist, educator, editor, thinker, to name just a few of her accomplishments.

In our discussion, what really struck my attention was the crisis, but it is not the economic crisis that we hear or read about so frequently. It is a crisis for the writers, the open-minded, the people.

As an American-based writer, the concept of censorship is barbaric to me and can only occupy the realm of the brainwashed nitwits that, unfortunately, skip around our country.

Carmen told me about Belica’s most recent headache.

As a prominent translator, Belica has translated many famous writers into Greek: Salman Rushdie, Jumpa Lahiri, Audrey Niffenegger, Zadie Smith, Margaret Atwood, etc. So, naturally, she is very much aware of the book trends in English-speaking countries including a certain trilogy that is EVERYWHERE, whether we want it to be or not (for various reasons, this trilogy’s name and other like books are being withheld from my blog post; please also read the links and available texts I’ve posted–you will get the gist of it).

Antonia-Belica Kubareli

In short, the books are being marketed as women’s literature (or better known as “chick lit,” a term that has always driven me up the wall). So, like the ballsy woman she is, Belica took pen to paper and wrote an article about her experience and her personal opinions of the books,

It is degrading and demeaning for my intelligence to have such texts promoted as women’s literature, not because I am a littérateur but because I am a Woman and a Human! GREEK | ENGLISH

When I first wrote to Belica asking her for an English translation of the original article, she told me that the article was mostly about certain situations in Greece. Phewy! Yes, she does include some facets that are specifically Greece-orientated, but I think her crises–censorship, politics, sexism–can speak to us all. During her initial writing of this article, Belica proffers the idea that she might be “punished” for publishing this. In a follow-up interview, she writes what has happened to her in the Greek publishing industry,

 [T]hey retreated (sic) my books from all the bookstores, they took back the translation I was doing without paying me and they also informed me that “due to the crisis I won’t get my royalties this year”, so you see how the system works in Greece. I am a typical example.

Along with others, Belica has been fighting the good fight. With the promise from her Greek publishers “that [she] will never get another translation in [her] life,” Belica will be leaving Greece for Dublin,Ireland.

Still, art was always Greek. Small groups are trying hard to offer something new. Yet in this huge turmoil that is going to last for decades, I am afraid that art will suffer. In fact, I am relocating in August…

Soon, she will be studying at a university in Ireland and working on translating her own books into English.

All links are available throughout the post, but they are organized below for more convenience.

post script

Yesterday, I received a frantic email from Belica (not only is she a writer/translator but a passionate activist). The Albanian-born journalist, Niko Ago, is being threatened with deportation. He has lived and worked in Greece for over 20 years (as his family) and has jumped through hoops in regards to immigration. Read Belica’s letter to find out more about what’s happening with Niko Ago (“Niko is also a novelist and a member in the leading committee of the Hellenic League for Human Rights”).

**correction: I originally wrote that Belica was also asked to translate these trendy books into Greek but this is not the case.**

[Dis]Regarding Slush, an update

My previous post dealt  with the phenomenon that is 50 Shades of Grey. Regardless of one’s opinion of the actual book(s), you can’t help but have a quick spine tingle when hearing about the book censorship that was going on down in Brevard County, Florida. The yokels down in their public library system thought it would be okay to pull these books off the shelves because their naive opinion was that these are clearly pornographic materials because they heard someone jokingly refer to the books as “mommy porn” and “soft porn.” Give me a break!

I haven’t read these books so I have no opinion on them but I do have the opinion that in this day and age it is obscene to censor books–at a public library, of all places. After all of her nonsense that was quoted in various news sources, Library Services Director Cathy Schweinsberg, had the unironic audacity to make this statement: “We have always stood against censorship. We have a long history of standing against censorship and that continues to be a priority for this library system.”

Well, I will stop picking on the numbnuts library  services director and just be happy that book censorship has been thwarted once again!

[Dis]Regarding Slush

My dear dear friends over at LiteraryMan.com seem to be in two separate camps over their opinions of the most recent literary success of 50 Shades of Grey. Thanks to a recent New York Times article and a friend of a friend explaining the concept and history of the book(s) to me, I have a general idea of what the hullabaloo is about. The Verbal Vixen wrote an interesting post concerning her take on the whole phenomena and she emailed me today saying that they were real page turners. At the end of her post, the Verbal Vixen included,

The Literary Man, of course, officially refuses to read such poorly written nonsense. However, we sheepishly have to admit that some of us on the literary team have crossed over to the dark side and bought the books. We had to see what all the fuss was about. Surprisingly, we read them with alarming speed. We were shocked by the lack of editing and poorly constructed sentences, and yet we couldn’t stop reading. In fact, we’re glad we read them.

The Literary Man can be a bit rigid about what should and should not be read, but I think he is being counterproductive to disregard books that can totally captivate an audience (especially, when it comes from a new and/or off-the-radar writer). A recent discussion with another writerly friend turned to the idea of “shouldn’t we be familiar with it if we are going to make fun of it?” I know that is a reductive way to state it but come on. I couldn’t really fully accept how atrocious in so many ways the Twilight books were until having a glance through them. I can fully disregard the Dragoon Tattoo Books because I read about 40 pages of the first a few years ago and was completely bored by it.

AND….not only has a supposedly poorly written, yet page turning guilty pleasure swept the reading public but it has sparked controversy! Like the hillbillies they are, the libraries in Brevard County, Florida have pulled all copies from their shelves. What?! Regardless of what one might think of these books, the real response should be SERIOUSLY?! More Censorship? What’s haaappppennning?????

“It’s quite simple – it doesn’t meet our selection criteria,” Cathy Schweinsberg, library services director, told Florida Today. “Nobody asked us to take it off the shelves. But we bought some copies before we realised what it was. We looked at it, because it’s been called ‘mommy porn’ and ‘soft porn.’ We don’t collect porn.”

Brevard does stock copies of the Kama Sutra, Fanny Hill, Fear of Flying, Tropic of Cancer and Lolita – “because those other books were written years ago and became classics because of the quality of the writing,” said Schweinsberg. James’s novel, which has sold more than three million copies in the US and racked up over 100,000 sales in its first week on sale in the UK, “is not a classic”, she explained. –The Guardian

Florida resident Linda Tyndall has created a petition trying to urge the library to reconsider. The petition explains, “Because banning books is wrong, no matter what the perceived content.” –mediabistro

Public and private libraries stock books that deal with all sorts of material. For example, incest, racism, abuse, etc. (umm, I think we’ve all heard of the Bible, Mein Kampf, anything by Faulkner etc. all of which are easily accessible; who cares about this one popular book?).

Good grief.

Huck Finn & Robot Jim

After flying and travelling this week, I feel a bit wonky and definitely sleepy. However, I couldn’t help but get a giggle at this. Banned Books Week pointed me in the direction of this silly youtube video.  Apparently, the two producers also have compiled a version of Huck Finn with the “n-word” taken out and replaced with the “r-word.” You can find a sample, download the e-book, or watch the book trailer on their website. But as silly and ironic as their project is, I can’t help but do the proverbial head-slap over the fact that there are people out there who actually want to censor Mark Twain’s classic.

Arizona Must be Bizarro World, Right?

I don’t even understand this AT ALL! What’s going on in Arizona?!? Can anyone make sense of this?!?!? I don’t have enough question mark/exclamation point combinations for this one:

As part of the state-mandated termination of its ethnic studies program, the Tucson Unified School District released an initial list of books to be banned from its schools today. According to district spokeperson Cara Rene, the books “will be cleared from all classrooms, boxed up and sent to the Textbook Depository for storage.”

[...]

Another notable text removed from Tucson’s classrooms is Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest.” In a meeting this week, administrators informed Mexican-American studies teachers to stay away from any units where “race, ethnicity and oppression are central themes,” including the teaching of Shakespeare’s classic in Mexican-American literature courses.

I remember in public high school, there were classes offered like AP European History and a Women’s Studies class. I’m sure no one has thought of removing these offerings.

According to the Huffington Post:

Less than two months away from the 140th anniversary of the opening of the first public school in Tucson, founded by Mexican immigrant and legendary Tucson mayor Estevan Ochoa in 1872, the nationally celebrated Mexican American Studies teachers and their college-bound students will be removed from Mexican American history and literature courses and placed into unofficially approved “American” literature and history courses, including European History.

Okay. Let’s take breather and watch a clip from Seinfeld to cool our jets.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

I read The Giver around the time it was first published (~1995). I remember really enjoying this novel. I recently decided to revisit it because in the past few weeks, I saw a handful of bloggers writing reviews of it. The book is almost 20 years old and some people were now just hearing of it.

Give me a moment to backtrack. Looking back at my education, I feel very lucky that I attended schools where book banning wasn’t even a thought in anyone’s mind (teachers, students, or parents). I had no grasp of that concept. In fact, many of the required readings were books that are frequently on banned book lists : The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, etc. etc. We even read Animal Farm in middle school.

I assume that these aforementioned bloggers were adults and lamented the fact that they were just being exposed to this book now.

Plain and simple, The Giver by Lois Lowry is fantastic. If you haven’t read it yet, you can take a look at the beginning available at  Google books.

As I re-read the book, I was amazed at how much of the entire narrative I remembered. I even remembered that Jonas was described with light eyes while the rest of the community had dark eyes. In one review, the writer asked if anyone knew what happened at the end of the novel….so, if you don’t want any bits spoiled for you, stop reading this and go finish the book immediately. Someone in the comment section said that in the past few years, Lowry made this into a somewhat loose trilogy and Jonas appears in the final book. I have no idea what these two other books are about but this is the way I see the ending of The Giver (okay, for real, last chance to avert eyes). After experiencing all of the past memories from a time that precedes the Sameness, some of these memories are elicited when Jonas is starving and exhausted and wandering through that unknown territory. The sled, the lights, the family in the house–all in his mind, but at least, now Jonas can feel and love.

While writing this, I have decided to add a new category: Banned Books. Hopefully, I’ll be able to identify a book I’ve read as one that is so often challenged and put this nifty little image at the bottom of the post to link back to any banned books I’ve written about.