Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Freedom I Can't Live Without

I have a naughty new obsession. As Madeleine over at The Buried Editor will confirm, banned books are bloody addictive. It's not so much that I'm reading them right now, since I have a stack of ARCs that could kill a man if its center of gravity were disturbed. It's that I'm reading about them. Constantly. I set up a display at work of some of our most popular and intriguing banned and challenged books. The display includes classics like In the Night Kitchen, Huckleberry Finn, Alice in Wonderland, and James and the Giant Peach. It has recent favorites like Walter the Farting Dog, Captain Underpants, Looking for Alaska, and Harry Potter. So many books have been banned or challenged it simply blows your mind.

Naturally I'm a fan of freedom of expression. But what a lot of us don't consider here in the states, or in most western countries, is intellectual freedom. Sure, you may be able to go to the store and buy any of these banned books. So what if a bunch of yahoos want to ban a book from their school library, how does that effect you as long as they are available for purchase? But here's the thing about that: banning books from libraries makes freedom of intellect a privilege saved for those with enough money to buy all the books they want to read. And I think that's wrong.

Sure, maybe we shouldn't put Francesca Lia Block's sexed-up fairystories in the hands of ten-ten-year olds. But I don't think the government should say what I, were I that ten year old (or eight-year-old or twelve-year-old), should read. That's between me and my family. So while elementary and middle school libraries should perhaps be monitored, high school libraries and classrooms should have significant freedom. And, for the love of all things literary, keep your matches out of our public libraries.

The public library system is one of the greatest things about our country. Sure, the Austin Public Library has a price on my head right now ($17.48, I think). But if I return my books on time, it is completely free for me to walk in there and read whatever I want, even if my neighbor's cousin's mom thinks Where's Waldo has a topless chick in it somewhere.

The point is, young minds should be protected by parents. That said, I think parents should keep one thing in mind when they're getting ready to challenge a book: human nature. Your child will read the "bad" book behind your back; subsequently he will not be able to talk to you about it. My uninformed, inexperienced, parenting tip: if you think something in a book your kid wants to read could confuse, frighten, or corrupt him, consider reading it WITH him. Keep the discussion open - that way you can talk to him about the sex, drugs, violence, or moral quandries of the characters. That way when the inevitable happens, you can still be involved.

On that note, here is a list of some of my favorite banned & challeneged books:

Are You There God? It's Me Margaret by Judy Blume - One of the most challenged books of all time due to frank discussions of adolescent sexuality.
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank - Challenged in Wise County, Va. (1982) due to "sexually offensive" passages. Four members of the Alabama State Textbook Committee (1983) called for the rejection of this book because it is a "real downer."
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell - Unsuccessfully challenged in Lodi, CA public libraries. (2007) Reasons: anti-ethnic, sexism, homosexuality, anti-family, religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss - Challenged in the Laytonville, Calif. Unified School District (1989) because it "criminalizes the foresting industry."
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle - Challenged at the Polk City, Fla. Elementary School (1985) by a parent who believed that the story promotes witchcraft, crystal balls, and demons.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou - This book is frequently challenged because of Angelou's descriptions of her rape as a child.

(ps, I got my info on the bannings from and - thay have lots more information about banned books than me, plus tools and ideas for banned book week, too!)

I'm Cheating on You

With another blog.

So I work at this amazing bookstore and help run the kids section and we have this blog all about kids' books. I write in it. It's awesome. Here is my first post for said blog, and, goddammit, you should read BookKids regularly.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11th, Which Won't Go Away

So I was at work today, as I tend to be on weekdays, milling about when a coworker asked me "do you really love New York?"

Of course it took me a good second or two to figure out that a) said coworker was being cheeky and b) she asked me because I'm wearing a nice, touristy I heart NY tshirt. Naturally I guffawed at her, insisting that duh I love New York, I lived there for two goddamned years and I miss Brooklyn every day so help me god etc.

What didn't occur to me until a few hours later is that today is September 11, and, that I was unintentionally showing some sort of patriotic solidarity with my East Coast brethren. It had been a usual roll out of bed and into the shower morning; I just grabbed the quickest t-shirt I could find and ran out the door to try (and fail) to catch the bus.

So it's 9/11. And every year on 9/11 I spend all day suddenly remembering that I'm existing in my own little world on a day that matters so much and yet flies by in a blink. I always want to say "yeah, New Yorkers still feel that moment every day," or "I used to go by Ground Zero on the way home at night, it's so weird, a big, gaping hole," or "I knew a girl whose mom died."

The thing though is that none of that shit matters a whole lot. Not to you, or, really, to me. And I'm trying so hard to make 9/11 matter that I'm worried about the size of my patriotism as if I were an frat boy stuffing his shorts. Truth: America is fucked up, just like everywhere else. But I think it's a great country to live in, every day, where we have the freedom to tell our stories and watch racy shows on cable TV and show our big, meaty legs in short shorts.

I met a cool lady tonight, Randa Jarrar, who wrote my new favorite book, A Map of Home (review to come in my next book post). She's an Arab American, and I told her that I was gonna send her book to my grandmother, who has never met an Arab person before and is terrified of Muslims. I told her that my gran a smart lady who just doesn't have any experience to show her otherwise. The thing is, the story of Nidali, the girl in Randa's book, is the story of every little girl, the story of finding self-identity and the struggle of adolescence. It's a totally cultural book, set in the Middle East, but it's hysterical and heartbreaking and perfect.

If I had my way A Map of Home would be in every high school library, even though the Tipper Gores and the Sarah Palins of our country would be all over it for the sex and the dirty words and the violence. But, that's how life is, and if we could all see through Nidali's eyes, through Randa's words, I think the youth of America would stand a chance at fighting the bullshit cultural war we've gotten ourselves into.

And on that note, I hope I never write about September 11 again. I hope it's all out of my system. Then again, I'm nothing if not repetitive.