Month: September 2013

Banned Book Week

The 10 most frequently challenged books in 2012, according to the American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom were:

  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
  3. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
  5. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
  6. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
  7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
  8. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
  9. The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls
  10. Beloved, by Toni Morrison

The American Library Association reminds us that intellectual freedom requires more than freedom of expression.  It also requires unrestricted access to that expression.

“Intellectual freedom can exist only where two essential conditions are met: first, that all individuals have the right to hold any belief on any subject and to convey their ideas in any form they deem appropriate; and second, that society makes an equal commitment to the right of unrestricted access to information and ideas regardless of the communication medium used, the content of the work, and the viewpoints of both the author and receiver of information. Freedom to express oneself through a chosen mode of communication, including the Internet, becomes virtually meaningless if access to that information is not protected. Intellectual freedom implies a circle, and that circle is broken if either freedom of expression or access to ideas is stifled.” (Intellectual Freedom Manual, ALA).

The most common rationale for banning books is the need to protect children, especially to protect children from offensive words or sexually explicit passages.  The American Library Association reminds us that “parents – and only parents – have the right and the responsibility to restrict the access of their children.”  The ALA also reminds us that as parents we only have the right to make that decision for our own children, not to impose our decision on everybody else’s children.

It is an important subject, this need that we have to protect our children from “dangerous” books, but I look at the news accounts and it’s all so very tedious.  If I have one regret about my son growing up and moving away it’s that I no longer have someone to read Captain Underpants with.

I guess it could be worse.  Last year I had to comment on banning My Mom’s Having a Baby.  Do I really need to point out the silliness of banning a book like My Mom’s Having A Baby because of nudity and sexual content?  Because we surely don’t need to be honest about nudity or sex if we want our children to understand Mommy’s pregnancy.

But challenging books based on dirty words, nudity or sexual content is probably the least dangerous of such challenges.  The really dangerous efforts to restrict access to books are the efforts to ban books because of ideas.  I guess I should be grateful that neither To Kill a Mockingbird nor Huck Finn made the top 10 list this year.

It’s wonderful that we dedicate a week to the celebration of Banned Books.  But the sad truth is we need to dedicate every week to the twin principles of freedom of expression and the right to unrestricted access.

To the many librarians that I’ve had the privilege to meet at ALA meetings, at local book talks and on social media, thank you.

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Keeping Up with the Joneses (Parts 2, 3 and 4)

Part 2 – by Shahrazad1973

For a brief moment, Nan thought that perhaps Jocelyn was taking this whole “home inspection” thing to ridiculous new levels, but with only a second glance she realized that the slumped over body of her neighbor was not Jocelyn snooping for particles in her sink, but Jocelyn, dead and gone.  She pushed her husband and the nosy hairdresser back into the master bedroom and quickly shut the bathroom door behind her.

In shock, her first thought was that Jocelyn was not going to ruin another goddamned perfectly planned event. Her mind raced with accusations. Even in death, why did Jocelyn insist on being the center of attention? How could she do this to Alyssa? Why in God’s name would a 35-year old woman wear such tight jeans? I don’t care if they are designe – Before she could spiral any deeper into nonsensical angry thoughts at her dead neighbor, she snapped back to reality and the dead body resting on her bathroom sink. Grabbing her husband by the shirtfront and pulling him into the closet, she whispered “What the H-E-double-L are we going to do, Richard?”

“Are you crazy Nan? We’re going to call the police! That’s what we’re going to do! That’s what we should be doing right now!”

Nan knew he was right, but a part of her wanted to just haul the body to the recycling center and let them argue with the morgue over what could be recycled and what should be burned. And she really, really hated to ruin her daughter’s 11th birthday. A dead body could really scar a girl.

Part 3 – by bastetmax

“Quick, bring me a blanket,” Nan called to Richard. He scurried over and looked inside the bathroom. His eyebrows shot up.

“A what?”

“A blanket, We’re going to move her into the upstairs bedroom.”

“Are you crazy? That’s disturbing a crime scene? Well, we didn’t commit a crime.” Richard looked down at his shoes, examining the cracked leather. Stalling, thinking. “I mean altering the scene of…”

“Oh, shut up, Richard,” Nan snapped. “All we’re going to do is get her out of the way until the party is over.”

Richard slumped off toward the stairs. Nan snapped her fingers and mouthed “hurry up!” He took the hint and dashed up the stairs two at a time.

Nan pulled the bathroom door closed behind her and found herself face to face with her daughter.

“When can we use the bathroom, Mom?”

Nan kept a frozen smile on her face, her cheeks rigid.

“Daddy’s just going to clean up something a little. Then we’ll be in business. So, why don’t you and Tyresha go organize the makeup. You know, put all the peach blushes in one row, the pinks in another…”

The girl erupted in a wolfish howl, indicating extreme displeasure with the pace of the festivities. She loped off to the living room to find her friends.

Nan wiped her forehead and started to wonder. What if Joceyln isn’t really dead? What if she’s in a coma? Will those “sanctity of life” people show up at my door and demand she be put on a feeding tube. She wished she had gone to nursing school.

Part 4 – by Shahrazad1973

Richard returned wearing a panicked expression and carrying a handful of white towels.

“Where do we keep the blankets, Nan? I couldn’t find any of our old blankets!”

Nan sighed. Never send a man to do a woman’s job, she thought.

“Look Richard, this is taking too long and people are going to start getting suspicious. It’s bad enough that we have to move her, but if anyone sees what we’re doing. . .”

“I know, I know!” Richard replied, in his loudest whisper. “I think we should just call the polic-“

“-NO!” Nan waved her hands emphatically, stomping her foot for punctuation. “No police. Not now. Not yet. Think about it Richard! Alyssa would never live down a dead body at her birthday party. Not in a million years. Can you imagine what the other kids would say about her at school? And their parents! Why, she’d never have a friend over again before high school graduation! No, Richard, we have to take care of this ourselves, for now. We’ll call in the authorities after the children have gone to bed. Right now, we need to get her out of there!”

Richard sighed and looked at the bathroom door.

Examining the pile of towels in Richard’s arms, she said, “We don’t have enough time to find the old blankets. These will have to do.”

Hastily, she grabbed the pile of towels from her husband and pushed open the bathroom door, all the while trying to think of a quick way to move a body with such a hard-to-manipulate covering.

Stepping into the bathroom she gasped in horror, as 12 white bath towels fell to the floor. She would no longer need them. Jocelyn’s body was gone.

Keeping Up with the Joneses (Part One)

As Mrs. OBL prepares for her daughter’s birthday party, I am reminded that way back in 2005, my readers and I used to write collaborative stories on my blog.  I am reminded that we wrote one about an eleven year-old girl’s birthday party, called Keeping Up with the Joneses.  And I am reminded that there are worse things at a children’s party than a rainstorm.  The story, at more than 10,000 words is much too long for a single post, but here’s the first part of the story.  Perhaps I will post the entire story, bit by bit over the course of the day.  Perhaps it will take Mrs. OBL’s mind off her impending disaster.  Perhaps  she should uncork another bottle of wine.

Part 1 – by Doahsdeer

“Stop it already.  You’re starting to sound like your mother.”  Richard knew better than to give voice to this thought, but he liked to live dangerously, in a middle-aged suburban, couch dweller, sort of way.

Nan stared daggers at her husband.  “Don’t you even think it.”

Richard forced himself to laugh.  “I’m sorry sweetheart.  It’s just, you know, it’s just a birthday party.”

Just a birthday party.  Just a birthday party!  “Have you lost your mind Richard?  Just a birthday party!  Do you realize how important it is to live up to…”  She paused to consider the enormity of the event.  “When I was her age, a birthday party was just the neighborhood kids, an ice cream cake and… omigod, you’re right, I sound just like Mom.”

It was their daughter’s eleventh birthday and every minute of the party had been planned for (and paid for).  Eleven eleven year-olds.  Enough to make Nan wonder whether it was too late not to have kids.

A make-over party, for Alyssa and ten of her closest girlfriends.    With outfits for the girls to try on.  New hairstyles.  Make-up tips.  My god, Nan thought, they’re only eleven.  What am I doing?

But Nan knew exactly what she was doing.  She was keeping up with the Joneses.  More specifically, she was keeping up with Jocelyn Jones, her across-the-street neighbor and mother of Pearl, Alyssa’s best friend in the whole wide world.

Alyssa and Pearl were inseparable, so Nan did her best to tolerate Jocelyn, who was insufferable.  Nothing was good enough for Jocelyn.  Certainly nothing having anything to do with Nan Walker.

Nan was determined that Alyssa’s birthday would be perfect.  Still, she had no doubt that Jocelyn would find fault.  What had possessed her to agree to a make-over party?  And then, not to hire Jocelyn’s salon?  Nan was asking for trouble.  And so she agonized over every detail.

As each girl arrived, each Mom would spend a few minutes chatting with Nan, her close friends, Connie and Deb, volunteering to stay and help with the party, the others confirming a pick-up time and making their exit.  But when Jocelyn arrived with Pearl, she made no offer to help.  Neither did she make any effort to leave.  Instead, Jocelyn snooped around the house, appearing intermittently with negative comments about everything, the food, the music, the closet space, the air conditioning.

Nan agonized over every detail, and, in truth, every detail was perfect.  Nan had spent hours turning the guest room into a boutique-style changing room.  The pre-teen boutique had shown up right on time with a van load of outfits for the girls to try on.  The make-up artists set up shop in Nan’s sewing room.  The hairstylists arrived late, but they set up quickly in the master bedroom, waiting patiently for the master bath to become available so that they could finish setting up.

The girls were running around the house giggling, modeling their outfits and thumbing through fashion magazines.  The hairstylists grew impatient waiting for access to the master bath to begin cutting.  One of the stylists, a girl barely older than the partiers, sought out Nan sipping coffee in the kitchen.  “Someone must of locked the door by mistake,” the girl offered by way of explanation.

Nan was momentarily put off by this minor imperfection in her party planning, but Richard took the skeleton key from above the door and popped the lock.  Nan laughed with relief.  Even the minor party problems were perfectly resolved.  Everything about Alyssa’s party was perfect.

Everything that is, except for Jocelyn’s dead body slumped over the sink.

Authors on the Greene

I had great good fun on Saturday at Authors on the Greene.  I caught up with some old friends, made some new friends and sold a bunch of books.

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One of the new friends I met, sitting at the table next to mine, was children’s book author and illustrator Jim Romer.  By day, Jim designs toys.  His first picture book, Bobby’s Biggest Bubble looks like a lot of fun.  If you have a child (or grandchild) between the ages of 3 – 8, you might want to check out Jim’s book.

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One of the old friends (well, to be precise, eight of the old friends) are a group of women who write collaboratively.  I met a few of these lovely ladies last year at Authors on the Greene and I was pleased to see them back again this year, with their second mystery about to go the printers.  There are times when I’m writing that I think it would be fun to have a collaborator, but the truth is, I’m too possessive of my characters to share them with even one co-writer, let alone seven.  I suspect I might get ugly when someone decides to move the story in a different direction.  But these ladies seem to have figured out how to enjoy the group process.

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My thanks to Wendy Leaa Birkbeck of Through the Looking Glass for organizing another great day!

Pulp

We usually think of pulp as occupying an unremittingly male corner in the literary world.  A juvenile male corner at that.  Women, in classic pulp novels, are often little more than the damsels in distress, who exist only to give male heroes someone to rescue.  That is the common perception.  The Feminist Press at The City University of New York sees it differently.

“But women did write pulp, in large numbers and in all the classic pulp fiction genres, from hard-boiled noirs to breathless romances to edgy science fiction and taboo lesbian pulps.  And while employing the conventions of each genre, women brought a different, gendered perspective to these forms.  Women writers of pulp often outpaced their male counterparts in challenging received ideas about gender, race, and class, and in exploring those forbidden territories that were hidden from view off the typed page.  They were an important part of a literary phenomenon, grounded in its particular time and place, that had a powerful impact on American popular culture in the middle of the twentieth century, and continues to exert its influence today.”  (Livia Tenzer, Editor and Jean Casella, Publisher, Publisher’s Foreward:Women Write Pulp).

When I was in Brattleboro last week, I picked up a copy of The Blackbirder at the independent bookstore, Mystery on Main Street.  The Blackbirder, by Dorothy B. Hughes, was originally published in 1943.  It was re-published in 2004 by the Feminist Press as part of a series, Femmes Fatales: Women Write Pulp.

“Femmes Fatales: Women Write Pulp restores to print the best of women’s writing in the classic pulp genres, originally published in the 1930s, 1940s, and the 1950s.  From hard-boiled noir to racy romance to taboo lesbian pulp, these rediscovered queens of pulp offer subversive perspectives on the heart of the American century.”

The Blackbirder is a spy novel, set during World War Two, a story born of the paranoia of  refugees who worked with the French Resistance.   It takes Dorothy B. Hughes just a few paragraphs to capture the paranoia of illegal refugees from occupied France, trying unsuccessfully to be invisible in New York City.   This is a well-written bit of espionage fiction, the writing taut, the story compelling.  I’ll leave it to others to decide just what constitutes feminist pulp.  I’ll just say it’s a good read.