Bites

There is absolutely no denying that the political climates of Connecticut and Arizona are about as opposite as Mitt and Obama in nearly every aspect of what could be construed as politics.  I have my political opinions and while I sit firmly on my fence of independence I can’t help but laugh at some of the immense crazy coming out of my new home state.  There was a lot of crazy in my old home state but the Brewertopia I’m living in now is a whole different level of crazy.

See, Arizona has a hyperactive legislature and while that can pump out some shit that does make sense, like the Stupid Motorist Law, that a place like Connecticut is too much of a goddamn hippie to hold people responsible for their own idiocy to enact, we also get mind-numbing laws that make women perpetually pregnant and white-washes school curriculums.

Arizona is a border state.  There is nothing short of a cataclysmic tectonic event that’ll change that.  That means there is a lot of ethnic diversity in this state, much to the chagrin of many people, especially the people in power.  Wherever you stand on the immigrant debate, this is a nation built by a melting pot of nationalities and while there is an illegal immigrant issue, especially here, that doesn’t mean that ALL minorities are illegal and it doesn’t mean that we should put the kibosh on ethnic diversity.  If you take a look at this list you’ll be able to pick up a theme rather quickly.

Why?  Why is the state of Arizona going so far as to completely snuff out ethnic reading?  Arizona is squatting on a rather large plot of Indian and Mexican land.  I could get into how they were here first and the American settlers pushed them out and whatnot but that’s not the argument (because, let’s face it, imposing empires don’t have a history of asking for things nicely).  White people are not native out here regardless of who took what from whom.  While I don’t agree with encouraging illegal immigration I don’t believe in discouraging ethnic education.

Arizona has this odd fear of a minority uprising and a usurpation of power found, obviously, in them reading books with words about non-whites in them.  HB 2281 expressly forbids “courses or classes that . . . are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.” THIS IS FOR REAL.  Read the bill and marvel at how far your eyes will cross.  The way this bill is being enforced is shutting down culturally diverse programs in schools and removing ethnic reading material from school classrooms and libraries for the sake of . . . what?  To promote equality in our schools?  By removing all culturally diverse texts from the rooms?  We learn about pilgrims in history until our damn eyes bleed.  As someone coming from New England that’s a pretty poignant part of my area history (and of course the country’s).  The settling of the American southwest would be a bit different.  Imagine living in New York City and not reading about the Harlem Renaissance because it was too far leaning towards one ethnicity.  No Langston Hughes for you.

No, I don’t believe the overthrow of the US government should be taught in classrooms.  That’s only slightly treasonous.  If this is to be believed that was one of the catalysts to the bill itself, the WAY some of these books were being taught.  Okay, so REFORM THE TEACHING.  Don’t crush the entire program and remove the books because the teachers are supposedly sending bad messages.  And guys, if a book is removed from a classroom and thus removing students’ access to it, it’s banned.  If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck it’s probably not a hippopotamus.

Sherman Alexie is no stranger to being banned in the fine state of Arizona and a channel has popped up on YouTube reading out books on Arizona’s banned list.  No, I don’t believe tax payer money should go to fund the upbringing of a generation of anarchists but at the same time if people are driving like shitbags you’re not about to ban cars, are you?  No.  Have people learned nothing from banning books?  Have they not learned that banning them will only make them more desirable?  By removing them from schools those with enough want will just seek them out on their own?  History should not be removed from the classrooms and alternate views of history should be taught to get a more well-rounded view of the event in question.

This is rightly the second wave of the Civil Rights Movement (that Hannity article made that abundantly clear to me).  Voices are trying to be silenced.  Why?  How will that benefit anyone?  They’ll find a way to speak one way or another.  Let history be taught.  Allow students access to all types of books suitable to their ages.  If the way these books are being taught is such a problem, how about keeping a closer eye on the teachers themselves instead of punishing the students?  All this looks like now is a sanitizing of the history of Arizona and of cultural diversity in general.  You’re not oppressed or at a disadvantage.  Who’s teaching you these things?  Seriously . . .  We’re not all white WASPs bred from Europe.  To try and crush anything else is a bit of a disservice to, you know, a good chunk of the population.

August 25, 2012

Holy crap.  Year four of Ban This!  (2009, 2010, 2011)  Out of the four years I’ve done this I’ve been able to actively participate in my own event twice.  In 2010 I was away on vacation for half the month and this year I’m making a meager 2,500 mile move across the country so needless to say I will be a bit pre-occupied.  Just not pre-occupied enough to forget Ban This!  No way.

Ban This! is me taking it upon myself to extend ALA’s Banned Books Week for the entire month of September to bring awareness to all that is ridiculous about banning books.  That’s not to say it can’t be done throughout the year because banners never sleep but September seems like a good month to use as a focus what with the event at the end of the month and schools just starting up and all.  To me it just wouldn’t feel like September without some mention of book bannings and challenges.

Nothing extensive is required of anyone that wants to participate in Ban This!  By attaching the badge to your site you’re promising to promote banned and challenged books in some fashion throughout the month of September however you see fit.  In the past I’ve reviewed banned and challenged books, had authors guest post about banned books in general and, in some cases, their own banned books, waxed poetic about the wankery of book banning, among other things.  The point is to not be silenced, to not let the cranky, petulant few that insist on parenting EVERYONE rip books out of the hands of children (and adults!) for their own selfish reasons.

I’m a little upset that I need to step back from my own event this year but I know, as book bloggers, this is something we won’t stay silent about, whether it’s as part of Ban This! or just Banned Books Weeks in general.  Make posts, chat it up for #banthis, submit a read-out video, whatever.  Just be sure to be vocal.  Grab the button on the right and tell everyone to Ban This!  And leave me a note below just letting me know you’re going to rock out with your banned books out in September.  (What’d you think I was going to say?  Perve.)

This wraps it up for this year’s Ban This!, along with Banned Books Week. Thank you to everyone who participated by posting about something banned and book-related this month and to all of the authors that stopped by and said a few words. The purpose of Ban This! is to just stick it to those that feel the need to parent the world and keep literature away from young, impressionable eyes. People need to be reminded that we’re all different, we all function at different levels and we can all handle different things differently. Blanket statements are killer and I certainly don’t want myself or my supposed future loinfruit wrapped up in them. Let me handle me and mine. You stick to yours. Thank you all for helping me prove that point.

So this year I’ll leave you with a couple more articles that popped up in my PW scanning that I thought could add a little to the asshattery that is censorship. Enjoy!
Apparently a Russian priest feels that novels by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
and Vladimir Nabokov should be banned for justifying sexual perversions. I’ve never read ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE or LOLITA and while they sound a bit out there, they haven’t persevered for this long because of their perverted nature. I wouldn’t think someone so illicit would win a Nobel Peace Prize either. So I’m thinking someone’s got something a little mixed up here. Granted this same church that spawned this guy claims that Russian women need to be wearing longer skirts and non-revealing clothing as well. Good luck with that, buddy.
While this article is more tongue in cheek, I’m wondering just how much of it is serious. Granted, some heinous reading choices forced upon children too early on could hinder reading but where are the parents teaching their children that there are better books in the world that they will probably like more? LORD OF THE FLIES should be stricken from reading lists? Some kids like that book. It’s demented and sadistic and I’m sure a breath of fresh air compared to the likes of WUTHERING HEIGHTS for some. I guess it just goes to show how a difference of opinion can manifest itself. I had some terrible times with some books in school but others loved them. It doesn’t mean I think they should be killed dead. While BEOWULF might be above the rang of some high school sophomores, others might get it. Unfortunately not every child can be catered to in school. That’s where that extra reading comes in and allowing the kid to read something they actually WANT to. Funny concept, that balance.

Janet talks about the craziness of books (just not in the way you might think) below and has offered up a signed copy of her own crazy book, THE BABYSITTER MURDERS, to give away as part of her Ban This! post! Just fill out the form at the end of her talk for your chance to win! Thanks so much, Janet, for the giveaway and for your awesome post!

When a Book Drives You Crazy

I write books about mental illness. My first, The Opposite of Music, is about a family dealing with the father’s life-threatening depression. The second, The Babysitter Murders, is about a babysitter who is tortured by thoughts of harming the child she cares for.
Lots of people (including some of my family members) choose not to read these books because they are too disturbing. I can understand this, and I accept it, as long as those close to me are supportive of my career overall. I would probably find my books disturbing too except that, as the writer, I know that most of the events in these stories are imaginary.
What I didn’t expect as I embarked on this career was that people would say my books had, essentially, driven them crazy. These readers fall into two categories. First are the readers who’ve had illnesses akin to those of the main characters, and who felt that the stories triggered symptoms. Some of these readers regretted having read the book or decided to stop reading halfway. I support that decision. Controlling their mental environment and filtering out messages they believe are harmful are important parts of these readers’ self-care.
Second were the readers with no history of mental illness who found themselves going a little crazy while living in the world of the book. Some readers with no history reported that they became depressed while reading The Opposite of Music. I felt a twinge of guilt at this, but I also felt thrilled. It meant that the book had achieved its goals: depicting how it feels day by day to have a seriously depressed relative, creating a story that grows more desperate with each page, and describing a family whose boundaries are so porous that when one member gets sick, they all get sick.
Maybe you’ve had this experience too, of feeling crazy when reading a book about mental illness. When I asked my friend John Hicks (who trained as a therapist) and my sister Diane Young (who trained as a librarian), they cited Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values as one that had made them feel mentally unstable. The main character is schizophrenic and has had shock treatments that altered his personality. John described the character as “slipping and spinning” in and out of reality.
This summer, I was driven crazy by a book: Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. It was recommended to me by my friend Joe, whose sweet, smiling demeanor often makes me forget that his book and play suggestions are unremittingly dark. Kevin is about a fifteen-year-old boy who commits a Columbine-like mass murder at his school. The story is told by his mother, who racks her conscience and memory to determine how responsible she is for the murders. You know from the start that Kevin will go on a killing spree. But the way he kills is so hideous, and the author’s descriptions so thorough, that I felt almost as traumatized as if I’d been present. At night I worried that Kevin had found me and gotten into my house, and that the sound of my hammock stand creaking was bodies propped up in the yard, and if I turned on the lights in my backyard at night I would find his victims.
So powerful was my horror that I sent this email to Diane, who was listening to the audiobook version at the same time.
To: Diane
From: Janet
Subject: Possibly stop reading Kevin?
If you’re still fairly early in the book, you may want to just put it aside. I’m finishing it tonight, and it’s definitely the most violent, gruesome, and sadistic book I’ve every read. A masterpiece, too, of course, but still. Some of the people on Goodreads (don’t look there–possibly spoilers) say that Kevin gets into your head and never leaves, and I can see what they mean!
Diane wrote back:
Omigosh! I’m not afraid.
Later, I asked Diane what she had thought about our exchange. She said that she knew she wasn’t the kind of person who would have a problem with a book’s violence. In fact, she said, she had found the ending to Kevin to be full of hope. As some commenters on this blog have said, kids read to their emotional level and drop books that aren’t a good fit. This can be said of adult readers as well.
Would you call my e-mail a form of censorship? I would. Even despite the cute tone and the question mark in the subject heading, which makes “stop reading” a suggestion rather than a command. A couple of days later, when the creaking in the yard became my hammock again, I felt embarrassed about trying to step between my sister and what I consider one of the most important books I’ve ever read.
But my Kevin experience helps me better understand the parents, school systems, and libraries who censor. The book had aroused an instinct. I was upset and horrified, and I wanted to protect someone I loved from the same horror and upset. I meant well, just as most parents mean well. I wonder if any time we talk other readers out of book for reasons other than quality, we are banning that book one copy at a time. Can you, blog readers, think of times you’ve tried to take a book out of someone’s hands?
If books have the power to make readers crazy, then books are powerful indeed. And it can be delicious and edifying to live for a while in a character’s unstable mind. But readers have the right to say no to that experience and the right to say yes to an experience that another reader finds overwhelming. As authors, teachers, parents, and booklovers, let’s let readers choose how far and in what directions they will go.

Sometimes it’s all about the need for a book. Below, Josie waxes on that need. Thanks for contributing, Josie!

I have to be honest – I don’t have many coherent thoughts about book banning beyond “It’s so clearly stupid” and “OMG, I hope that one of my books get banned someday!”

Why would I want a clearly stupid thing to happen to one of my books? The truth is, I believe when a book gets banned it’s proof that it did something right. That book reflected us back upon ourselves so precisely or poignantly or offensively that it caused some close-minded person somewhere to be so completely overwhelmed and afraid of the reality of human experience that they tried to keep it away from everyone else. For the common good, of course. I believe being banned means a writer did something spectacular.

As Oscar Wilde wrote in The Picture of Dorian Gray, “The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame.”
Rabid anti-book-banner/hopeful-future-banned-author that I am, I can see where this is debatable where children are concerned. Though I don’t have any kids of my own, I understand the desire to keep children sheltered and safe, even if it’s played out in seemingly irrational ways.

And I can, at least, speak to my own experience. My parents wouldn’t have been able to keep me away from any book even if they tried (which they didn’t). As a result, my reading habits were basically feral. And yes, this meant I read The Prince of Tides when I was 12 and certainly too young to process such a mature story (though it became and remains one of my favorite books). It also meant I spent a whole summer devouring the entire V.C. Andrews oeuvre, and another summer swapping romance novels with my stepsister, and another summer hiding under the covers with some very dark horror stories that still creep me out to this day.

I was (and still am) drawn to those sorts of books – the stories that highlight the best and worst of humanity, the more extreme the better. Back then, I was trying to grow up, trying to get a grasp on the world and my place in it. I had emotions and moods in excess, as most teenagers do. And what I needed were books that reflected what I was feeling – anger and elation and depression and first love, the heights of joy and the depths of isolation and everything in between. I needed to know that I wasn’t alone, and that’s what books gave me.
I feel like I’m still growing up, in fact, and I still sometimes need that sort of mirror to know that I’m not alone.

So that’s why I react so badly when people try to tell teenagers, on the cusp of adulthood, what they can and can’t read. Again, I suppose I can understand individual parents making entertainment decisions for their own children based on their family culture (though if those parents think they can protect their kids from every scary thing in the world, they’re sadly mistaken), but I will never understand trying to take a book away from every teenager. I can’t fathom the hubris of setting yourself up as a judge and jury for what is appropriate for everyone at any age.

Personally, I doubt anyone was made into a well-rounded and empathetic adult while covered in bubble-wrap and rainbows. I believe that being an adult, being a human, means recognizing the world is often a horribly dark and unfair place, filled with lots of people who think and do things differently than you. Trying to keep those facts out of the hands of teenagers, who need the truth in order to grow up, is one of the most counter-productive things I can imagine a society doing to its young people.

My next book, Faking Faith, is about a girl who becomes fascinated with a fundamentalist culture that has eliminated virtually all choices. After screwing up and going through some terrible experiences, Dylan wonders if this sheltered world where everyone follows a defined, protected and rigid path might have the answers. However, nothing is as it seems and Dylan is forced to confront some hard truths about life, and to grow up a lot as a result. If Faking Faith helps one reader feel less alone in the world, then I’ve done my job as a writer.

But if it gets banned somewhere, I’m throwing a party.