Banned Books Week

“Censorship ends in logical completeness when nobody is allowed to read any books except the books that nobody reads.”     George Bernard Shaw

The police tape surrounding a book display in my local library was effective; it drew me right to those banned books.  The American Library Association is sponsoring Banned Books Week from September 25th through October 1st, and encouraging everyone to read a book that has been challenged or banned somewhere.  Not hard to do – you’ve probably already read a few – Shakespeare has been banned, along with Mark Twain’s books.

The librarian had a list of some of the challenged books in my library system. (According to the ALA, a challenge is an attempt to remove materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.  A banning is the removal of those materials.  Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others – most challenges are unsuccessful and most materials are retained in the school curriculum or library collection.)

All these challenged books are still on my library’s shelves:

  • The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • Forever in Blue, the Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares
  • Go Ask Alice
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • Gossip Girl series by Cecily VonZiegesar
  • Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
  • His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies by Sonya Sones
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
  • And many more…

I picked out a young adult book that has been banned elsewhere and challenged here – The Earth, My Butt, and Other Round Things – the title appealed to me.

“There is no such thing as a moral book or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all.”              Oscar Wilde

The ALA has a list of the top ten books by year at  ALA List of Banned Books.    How many have you read?

What’s In A Name? “Nom de Plume” Reveals All

Hiding a real identity sounds seductive and a little criminal, but writers have been using pseudonyms to mask their real names for a while.  Carmela Ciuraru focuses on a small group of famous writers and the reasons behind their deceit – some we already know about, but in each case, Ciuraru gives us more information than we may know, and feeds our hunger to know the person behind the name.

Why do writers use another name? In the case of the  Brontë sisters, it may have been the hope of better reviews, in a time when women were relegated to nonliterary pursuits. For Charlotte, aka Currer Bell, it worked – not so much for her sisters, Emily and Anne.

Trapped in an arranged marriage, George Sand (whose real name was Aurore) escaped to Paris.  With mentors like Balzac, Zola, Dumas, and Flaubert, she found the courage to write and publish – but under a man’s name. Her real life was bohemian for the times, living with her lover for six months and then returning to her country home to care for her child the other half of the year.  She flaunted her rebelliousness – smoking cigars, wearing sturdy boots; her disguise went beyond using another name.

Through sixteen chapters, Ciuraru explores the lives and writings of those we knew by another name, sometimes another life – from George Eliot, Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, and O’Henry to Pauline Réage – and more.  Her style can be academic at times, but through her careful research, the information becomes biographical.  You may not want to read about all the authors, but it is possible to pick and choose, since each chapter is a story itself and each author is clearly identified in the chapter title.

As one who has used a pseudonym, I found myself immersed in the stories of the writers.  For most, their reasons for hiding behind another name were understandable; eventually, readers discovered the real name anyway.  But, for a time, they were able to stay secluded in their own worlds – without criticism or exposure – and keeping a piece of themselves to themselves – hard to do when you write.

“Never to be yourself and yet always – that is the problem.”                        Virginia Woolf

Carmela Ciuraru wrote an essay for the New York Times Book Review about pseudonyms that could be an introduction to her book – and she used her own name.

Read Ciuraru’s New York Times Article:  The Rise and Fall of Pseudonyms

Famous First Lines

If it’s important to draw in readers – and publishers – with the first 500 words, just think how important that first line is.  Do you remember these first lines?

  • “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” 1984
  • “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”  Pride and Prejudice
  • “You don’t know about me without you have read you have read a book named The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” but that ain’t no matter.” The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
How about these lines – do you know the source?
  • I am invisible.
  • It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…
  • 124 was spiteful…

Interested in more?  Check out 100 Best First Lines from Novels

Marginalia – Does Your Librarian Know About You?

I have a bad habit of dog-earing pages in a book – pages with a line that I want to remember later.  The librarians have started to give me suspicious looks, but at least I am not writing in the margins – maybe I should.  A recent article in the New York Times – Book Lovers Fear Dim Future for Notes in Margins – discusses the added value of books read by Mark Twain, Darwin, Coleridge, even Nelson Mandela in recent times – just because they wrote their thoughts in the book they were reading – hard to do with an e-book.

Noted, I am not Mark Twain – or ever will rise to his status – but the article includes “a few greasy smears” from a girl who’s left her mark on a copy of  “The Catcher in the Rye”…

“Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.”

Reading someone else’s reaction to the printed word sometimes feels like illicitly peeking into their thoughts.  But, what if those greasy words resonate and carry the meaning of the page to another level of understanding?  A mysterious conversation with the last reader of the book – one that will remain secret.

I can still see Sister Eugene Marie ready to admonish me for “destroying property” but maybe next time I’m tempted to dog-ear, I’ll just write a note (in pencil, of course).

Zora Neale Hurston – Their Eyes Were Watching God

Zora Neale Hurston

Queen Latifah

When I found a picture of Zora Neale Hurston, it struck me how much she looks like Queen Latifah.  Today, Hurston would be 120 years old.  In her honor, I decided to reread her classic Their Eyes Were Watching God – first published in 1937 – Janie telling her life story to Pheoby – finally finding her voice, after a life of suppression.

Hurston has Janie’s dreams turn into real-life nightmares; she suffers through two loveless marriages, until finally she finds herself on trial for murdering her third husband and true love, Tea Cake, who could

“…never be dead until she herself had finished feeling and thinking.”

If you haven’t read it, the language may take some getting used to.   Made me wonder; if they are rewriting Mark Twain, who’s next?