Dear Reader

Random musings on reading and books from a librarian in training.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Trying to ban words and more

Sadly the drumbeat against books remains steady. Despite seeing this crop up repeatedly, I’m always surprised when I read about people challenging books. The fight over who can read what is usually most intense in schools.

Some recent cases:

I recently read on the blog Jezebel about mother in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin who recently sought to have six books banned from the school library arguing the content was too advanced for middle schoolers. She wanted the following books removed:

"Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants " by Ann Brashares.
"The Second Summer of the Sisterhood" by Ann Brashares.
"Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood" by Ann Brashares.
"Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood" by Ann Brashares.
"Get Well Soon" by Julie Halpern.
"What My Mother Doesn't Know" by Sonya Sones.

The kicker: the school has software that enables parents to list materials they don’t want their children to read. If the child tries to take out restricted materials, the librarian receives an alert.

In a truly bizarre case, one school district in California yanked the dictionary from classrooms. Yes, the dictionary. The Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary was pulled after a parent complained that the definition of oral sex was included and was inappropriate material for younger students. According to reports, the dictionaries were being used by students in the fourth and fifth grade.

It takes an incredible amount of hubris to think we have the right to dictate what books other people and other people’s children should be allowed to read. If you’re concerned about your child reading books you don’t approve, speak with your child’s teacher or school librarian. Don’t assume it’s okay to impose your moral standards on everyone else and infringe on the learning process.

According to the, author Sonya Sones wrote, "If Ms. Wentworth thinks the book is inappropriate for her own child, then by all means she should not allow her child to read it. But it would be unfair and inappropriate for her to try to force her own personal beliefs on every family with children attending Theisen Middle School, or any other school in the district."

Revisiting the dictionary.

It’s extremely na├»ve to think that kids today won’t be able to learn what oral sex is because they don’t have access to a dictionary with the definition. If they are curious enough I’m sure there are plenty of sources they can turn to.

The fight continues to ensure that a few don’t dictate what many, can or can’t read.

Additional Reading
Riverside school goes too far in banning dictionary

Parent adds 6 books to those she wants banned from school library

Traveling Pants Stays Put: A Parent's Failed Book Banning

Parent loses fight to get books banned at Fond du Lac middle school

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Vacation Reading

The bookworm is back from vacation. I read three books while on my annual family vacation and while I didn't dislike any of them, I woudn't say I was blown away either.

I'll start with my favorite: Alva & Irva by Edward Carey is told mostly by Alva. Alva are Irva are twins leaving in the imaginary city of Entralla. While Alva dreams of travel (she has a map of the world tattooed on her body), Irva is more reclusive. When Irva stops leaving the house, she and Alva undertake recreating the entire city in plasticine. Irva promises to leave the house once they've made a model of the entire city. Interspersed between Alva's recollections, the novel is narrated by one of Alva's friends. The novel is structured like a tour guide/ memoir, which the main narrator providing information about Entralla and the twins. It also includes images of the plasticine models of Entralla Alva and Irva created. While a tad bleak, I thought it was a quirky read.

One Word: Plasticine

Florida by Christine Schutt. Florida is told in short bursts by Alice Fivey, who is shuttled between relatives when her mother, Alice, goes into a sanitarium. Uncle Billy and Aunt Frances take Alice to the desert vacation home. Their regular house is full of collections and not very child-friendly. Uncle Billy's driver, Arthur, ferries the family around and is one of Alice's favorites. He creates a tinfoil box for her mother to sunbathe in. Her mother, who dreams of goting to Florida, calls the contraption Florida.The novel is told in mostly short passages that seem more like connected vignettes. I thought it was bittersweet and engaging.

Finally Stephen King's Gunslinger (volume one of the Dark Tower series). I'm not sure what I've gotten myself into here. I somehow managed to miss that this is part of a seven-book series. Yikes! I'm not sure if I'll make it through the whole series. Gunslinger traces Roland's quest across the desert to find the Man in Black. Along the way, he stops at a desolate town and meets Jake, a boy from New York City, which Roland has never heard of. I'll have to see what the other books are like before I decide whether I like the series or whether not enough happens to keep my interest.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Morsels: Library Funding

Rep. Thomas Stanley has a compelling defense of library funding over at the Boston Globe.
Stanley: Protecting libraries from budget cuts

According to Stanley, he and 109 colleagues have signed a letter supporting an override of Governor Patrick's Deval's veto of state aid to regional public libraries, which reduces the amount of funding by 2.25 million.

Unfortunately, many agencies, groups and services in Massachusetts are facing funding cuts. Libraries aren't the only deserving group facing painful choices about budget cuts and service reductions. However, I have a sweet spot for the library and think many people don't realize the breadth of services and and programs libraries run. They do so much more than just check books out.

"Public libraries are important to our communities, especially in these tough fiscal times" Stanley notes.

Library services can include classes, English as a second language and even job training. Job hunters can search online for job postings and print out their resumes.

For more on libraries in tough times, I blogged about this topic months ago - Libraries in tough economic times.

I've tallied how much money the library has saved me this year (based on prices listed on Amazon):
Books I've read:
Elsie's Business - $17.95
Revenge of the Spellmans - $16.50
Curse of the Spellmans - $10.98
Hunting and Gathering - $16.00
The Help - $24.95

Books I'm reading:
The Man Who Ate the World: In Search of the Perfect Dinner - $15.00
Middlesex - $7.95

Total: $108.88

This list doesn't even include a few books that I just could not get through. Many of these books were also shipped to my library as part of library exchange program.

According to Stanley, more than 28,000 Waltham residents have library cards.

Do you?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Elsie's Business - Frances Washburn

On a recent trip with a friend, I happened to glance at some books her daughter had brought home after her freshman year at college. Despite the grim description, I was intrigued by Elsie's Business by Frances Washburn.

The novel begins with the brutal attack of Elsie, who is beaten and raped by a group of white boys. Elsie, is half African American and Native American. The narrator of the book pieces together Elsie's life from various people he talks to including Nancy Marks, who befriends Elise. Elsie, like her mother cleans homes and makes beaded moccasins and other crafts from deer hides.

After leaving the town where she is attacked, Elsie is murdered. The mystery of who killed her is never solved. There are several other questions raised that are never answered.

I have to admit, this was a tough book to read. I think I sniffled/ cried through at least half of the book.

Morsels - A literary look at Massachusetts

Sunday’s Globe rounds up literary references to Boston. Literary Boston Neighborhoods includes Dennis Lehane, Roland Merullo and Nathaniel Hawthorne. There’s a handy map that accompanies the article.

From Revere Beach Boulevard:
“The language of racing felt like my true native tongue. And the track itself - Suffolk Downs, with salty breezes shifting in off the ocean, and the sweet smell of cigar smoke, and crowds of bettors … lining up at the windows - felt like my truest home, a place where the rules were as familiar to me as my own face in the mirror.”

The Times Travel section visits Provincetown – The Land and Words of Mary Oliver, the Bard of Provincetown. The story focuses on poet Mary Oliver and the inspiration she draws from Provincetown.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Dead and Gone - Charlaine Harris

The newest Sookie Stackhouse is out. Just in time for season two of True Blood.

I enjoyed Dead and Gone more than the last Stackhouse novel, which I thought had too much crammed in there. There's still plenty going on but it felt more manageable. I'll keep it vague to avoid spoilers - the shifters including werewolves come out and no shock, not everyone's happy. Sookie is also drawn into a growing conflict involving her grandfather.

There's intrigue, mystery, danger and a little bit of romance. All the things I look for in a Sookie Stackhouse novel.

Speaking of drama -- True Blood season two is on HBO. I've been taping it but am reluctant to watch. I fear I may be disappointed. I thought last season veered too much of the book. I'm understand wanting to add subplots, but I felt the characters that they fleshed out were made too one dimensional. I'll just say it, Tara annoyed me.

We shall see.

Some interesting reading in Fast Company

Did HBO's 'True Blood' Campaign Achieve Immortality or Just Plain Suck?

Q&A with Pop Candy

Fun video with Tom of Top Chef fame.

What are you reading about True Blood?!

Crazy about Isabel Spellman

I'm not usually big into mysteries. I have a bad habit of being impatient and flipping to the back of the book mid-way in. However, I recently picked up the Spellman Files on a whim after reading about how it's being made into a movie.

And with that became totally hooked. I just finished the third book -- Revenge of the Spellmans and don't know if I can wait until March 2010 for next book!

The Spellman books center around Isabel Spellman, a wise cracking private investigator who works for her parents' detective agency. The Spellmans don't understand the concept of boundaries -- in this family blackmailing, eaves dropping and convert surveillance are the norm.

The mysteries are almost secondary to Izzy's jokes and pratfalls. But the mysyteries are also engrossing and the answers have also completely surprised me.

For more information about Lisa Lutz and news, check out her Web site:

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