Sunday, September 25, 2011

Banned Books Week - an honorary posting

So, Banned Books Week is a week dedicated specifically to books that have been banned.  It's a week set aside each year by the ALA. Banned books are books that have actually been removed from libraries and school curriculums; they aren't books that have simply been challenged.  Banned books won't be found in the particular library that you are in, if they have, in fact, been banned. Books are challenged and/or banned for three main reasons: containing sexually explicit material, containing offensive language or being unsuited for any age group.

Examples of books that have been challenged are: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Ulysses by James Joyce, The Lord of the Flies by William Golding, 1984 by George Orwell, Beloved by Toni Morrison, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, Native Son by Richard Wright, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, The Satanic Verses Salman Rushdie, Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich, The Hunger Games by Susan Collins, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

So, my rant.  Banning and challenging books is absolutely garbage in my mind.  It's nothing more than censorship dressed up as concern and good parenting. No. I respectfully disagree (and sometimes not so respectfully depending on my mood).  In my opinion, good parents don't look to stunt their child's intellectual development or exposure to different ideas simply because they disagree with those ideas.  By doing so, I firmly believe that you hold your child back from reaching their full potential.  Additionally, if the concern is that your child may be exposed to things that you consider to be immoral, perhaps you should be taking a more active role in talking to your child about what they are reading and why you believe that it is immoral.  Having conversations like this and trying to teach your children about your viewpoint and what you consider to be right or wrong is part of your job as a parent.

As a lawyer and blogger and avid reader, I also find the banning of books to be completely offensive to everything that our Constitution and our laws stand for.  The First Amendment is absolutely one of the bedrocks of our society.  Granted, you can't walk into a theater and shout fire, but literature is hardly akin to that situation at all.  It's censorship, pure and simple and I don't see any difference between the burning of books that the Nazis in Hitler's Germany engaged in and the banning of books here.  It absolutely makes me sick that in 2011, we still have to have the discussion about censorship and banning books.

Here are some resources that I thought were good:

Just my two cents!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

"There Are Things I Want You To Know" About Stieg Larsson and Me by Eva Gabrielsson

This is a memoir written by Eva Gabrielsson, Stieg Larsson's life partner, in which she details her life with Mr. Larsson and the complications regarding his legacy and his estate which his untimely death caused. Stieg Larsson is the author of the insanely popular "Millennium Trilogy," which includes The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

The book was initially written in Swedish and translated into English in 2011, and begins with diary entries that Ms. Gabrielsson wrote in order to help her cope with the grief of losing a man that she had been in an extensive relationship with. Gabrielsson apparently took the title for the memoir from a letter that Mr. Larsson had written to her before a trip to Africa that he thought that he might not survive. The memoir details how the couple met and how Stieg tireless fought the right wing fascist movement.  He was also a tireless crusader for the rights of women, having become a feminist after witnessing the brutal rape of a girl during his youth.  As a result, he and Eva were often placed in danger and often received threats. Ms. Gabrielsson states that the major reason that they never married was because their marriage would make him an easy target for his enemies on the right, a valid concern after they received hateful voicemail messages and bullets in the mail.

She further describes the impact of Larsson's death on both her emotional life and her physical life.  Gabrielsson was, essentially, a wreck and became worse when Larsson's brother and father began to fight her over Larsson's estate and work.  Gabrielsson discusses feeling dispossessed and disempowered because she was not recognized as a wife, even though she and Larsson had lived that way for years.

I wasn't particularly thrilled by this book.  I felt like the writing wasn't that great and that it had been written and published with an eye towards getting support for a cause that might not otherwise have a lot behind it. I felt that it was too clean and that gave the impression of being disingenuous and dishonest.  Life isn't that clean.  I was left with a not so good taste in my mouth, as if the book was written to manipulate my feelings to get support for a cause and I didn't really like that.  I found the bits about Stieg Larsson's youth and life to be fascinating though, so if you're looking for information about that, the book does it justice. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Good Wife by Stewart O'Nan

No, this isn't the CBS series (which is also wonderful and a must see!), but a novel by Stewart O'Nan.

This novel follows the life of a seemingly ordinary woman over a tremendously long period of time: we meet her when she is pregnant with her first and only child and we leave her after her son has graduated from college and taken his first job. When we meet Patty Dickerson, her husband, Tommy, has committed a crime at the beginning of the novel while he is drunk and ends up serving a sentence of 28 years for first degree murder.  Patty gives birth to their son while Tommy is incarcerated.

I loved this short novel for quite a few reasons.  The novel is told from Patty's perspective, so you really get a good feel for what it's like to be in her shoes.  You get the sense of the time from the snippets of the outside world that seep into the small portion of Patty's conscience being that isn't preoccupied with Tommy, his case and surviving. For instance, at the beginning, Patty and her family watch Hawai'i: 5-0.  At other points during the novel, she talks about watching documentaries about the hostages in Iran that are freed when Reagan is sworn into office. This is also powerful because it highlights the isolation that Patty must surely feel, even though she is surrounded by a family, albeit a somewhat dysfunctional one, that manages to bond together to support her and her son, Casey, in their years of need. Patty's life is difficult - her physical pleasures are few and far between. She lives from paycheck to paycheck and often works in the most demeaning and menial jobs that one can find - waitressing, roadwork and construction, housekeeping in a hospital - barely making minimum wage and working so hard just to make ends meet.

She struggles to raise her son, Casey, who is an overweight, sensitive, introspective but really f'in' smart kid that applies everywhere from Cal Poly to MIT and Cornell. While raising him, she struggles to impart to him that Tommy as a father is more than a concept, even though Casey has only known Tommy as the guy in the greens that he sees once in a while at the prison and on family reunion weekends, when he and his mom are allowed to spend the weekend with Tommy in a trailer on the prison grounds. Talk about tough...and yet O'Nan is able to convey all of these struggles in such an delicate and wondrous manner. There aren't any histrionics or fireworks and yet, you get the struggles that Patty faces and the marginality that she endures.

It also completely humanizes the families of the people that stand accused of crimes as well as the Accused themselves. This reason, in and of itself, would make this novel worth the read; however it on top of the other wonderful things that O'Nan accomplishes make this a must read for all.

Love it...a must read.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell

Wow.  That's all I can say about this powerful, gritty novel. NPR really picked a winner for this one.

Margaret "Margo" Crane is the protagonist of this novel - she lives in rural Michigan in the 1970's. When we first meet Margo, she is 15 but is no way your ordinary 15 year old teenage girl. Margo lives with her father on the river, after her mother abandoned them, and can shoot, skin and hunt like no one else.  In some ways, she's like her idol: Annie Hall in that she is a trailblazer - no other girls in the area are like her. Margo is often in extremely heartbreaking situations. Her uncle rapes her quite early on in the novel and she is such a good shooter that she manages to shoot off the tip of his penis. She also watches her father die in front of her and that is just the beginning of the heartbreak.

This book doesn't have a strict plot per se. It's more about how Margo learns about herself, learns to become self-sufficient and learns to accept herself for who and what she is. I found myself really liking Margo initially and, as I got to know her character during the novel, admiring her spirit, her gutsiness and her unabashed sense of who she was. She was who she was and she wasn't going to change it for anyone - you could take or leave it.  What you saw was what you got.  I loved that.  Campbell managed to write a novel that was raw and sharp in portraying Margo's life - her life isn't easy by any stretch of the imagination and often, I felt like I was reading about the lives of others that I have met during my life.  And yet, Margo doesn't give up. She keeps going and in the end, she perseveres because she has learned to support herself without the assistance of anyone, let alone a man.

Wonderful, powerful, amazing. a must read for this year.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly

Reading seems to be the only way for me to escape these days.  I picked up this book because the premise was interesting but to be quite frank, it ended up falling flat for me.

In this novel by Gabrielle Donelly, the Little Women that we all know and love aren't the main characters per se: they are the foremothers to the main characters in the novel. Emma, Lulu and Sophie are sisters and their great-great- grandmother is Jo March. Of course, her sisters are Amy, Meg and Beth. Emma, the oldest, is smart (but not brilliant), has a settled career and is soon to be married.  Lulu is brilliant but less settled - she doesn't have a job even though she graduated at the top of her class with a science degree (chemistry I think) and on the romance front she doesn't appear to have many prospects either.  Sophie is the youngest and a flighty actress.  They live in London - their American mother and English father also live in London in a house where Lulu finds old letters to and from Jo March in the attic.

I loved Little Women - it was a fantastic book and I absolutely loved reading it. Of course, Jo was inspirational and Beth and her short life were sad.  So I was really hopeful that this book would pan out. But it fell flat. I didn't find the premise or the characters or anything about the novel original. It was as if Donelly had taken Little Women and tried to adapt it to modern London.  The characters were so obviously modern day versions of the Little Women and the other characters in Alcott's novel. This annoyed me to no end - if you're going to do something like this then come up with something new. And because Donnelly seemed to be a creative and decent writer otherwise, I was even more disappointed in her inability to come up with a novel idea.

Pass on this one.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

If you liked The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, you will want to read this dystopian novel, which has won a number of awards in th...