Banned Books Week- go read a classic!

It’s banned books week, in lower case letters, because it’s my blog. Here’s a link:

http://www.ala.org/bbooks/bannedbooksweek

th

This is one of the issues where I think libraries do a huge disservice to society. The main premise of Banned Books Week is to celebrate those books that have been challenged or banned in various theaters of reading, usually schools. The week also supports a more general freedom of reading, writing, expression, etc. Unfortunately, they make little to no discrimination between books that are worthwhile and books that are not. It often seems as if the assumption is that all books are of equal value within the library. Now, books of various kinds have had equal opportunity to touch lives, I’ll say that. But some books really shouldn’t have been made at all, and shouldn’t have such a huge proportion of our civilized readership wasting their time on them. BUT. The more important issue is that people must have the choice, they must be able to choose or they are simply programmable automatons. I fully believe in choice, even when it results in bad choice. It saddens me to see movies and books that have no value in them attracting people like flies. It scares me how certain kinds of media develop the need for them while at the same time providing the product. It’s an addictive culture and business, which is philosophical yuck.

There is no well drawn line where a book crosses into such filth that it is a blight on society not only to those who read it, but all those who come into contact with said reader who has such ideas and perspectives sloshing around in their brain. It can be argued that staying away from the boundary of quicksand is better than toeing the line asking to be sucked into the morass. There is some truth to the idea that what will affect one person badly may not affect another in the same way. I guess if I am using the same imagery, then some wouldn’t survive the quicksand while others would. But at some point we pass beyond experience and maturity issues and into processed addictive dehumanizing sludge. You know, spiritual quicksand.

Here is my main point why I resist the whole celebration of Banned Books Week: nutrition. I’ll get back to this soon. I have other paths yet to ramble.

Recently I watched a neat video of Neil Gaiman discussing stories, storying, and other cool stuff. He also discussed the idea of stopping books from being read- whether by banning or by parents censoring what their children read. He made it sound so bad. He called it ‘snobbery’. He did admit that when a child enjoyed R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books he felt the need to introduce the child to Stephen King. The result was the child switched to reading prairie settler books and other safer stuff because the King book had been too much for them. Gaiman laughed about that, but I wondered how much trust had been lost by offering King to a young mind. And in his entire speech, no where did he ever raise the word ‘standards’. It was all about making all books equally available to all children as though both books and children had no individuality. He made it sound as if disagreeing with him was laughable.

The fact is, I sometimes fought our school on certain books. I had standards. I also knew my children, knew how I was raising them, knew their readiness levels, and so on. All the librarian knew was her rules, which went something very much like this: at library time you must check out a book, it must come from the shelves approved for your grade, you must check out a different book each time, you could not check out the same book more than once, etc. My child read several books, then started coming across ones she didn’t feel ready for. Some she knew I didn’t allow. Eventually she brought one home because she was required to check it out, and I looked it over and told her not to read it. She was relieved.

In contrast, she was never corralled by the plentiful book shelves in her classroom, and she read and reread many books there. She felt safer. Her teacher praised her repeatedly. She discovered Treasure Island there. Also Robin Hood.

This is the thing: at the library she was maneuvered into having to check out a book, practically requiring it while not in actuality requiring it, and she was subjected to a weekly sense of being sent through a cattle chute. A cattle chute, if you don’t know, starts out as a wide corral, but as the cattle get moved along inside it to one opening only, it gets narrower and narrower until they have no choice but to walk a certain direction, face a certain direction, and eventually get caught in the narrowest part so cowboy folks can do cow medicine and other things to them. She had felt like she was being maneuvered, even at the elementary age, and had wanted to resist but also wanted to be good and follow the rules. So we had a long talk then, and later, and later, and later again, about how we have to be a little discrete in our rebellion, but there are options like civil disobedience and other things that usually other groups claim a monopoly on.

It comes down to this: standards. We have them. Other people have theirs. Some people appear to have none. But I don’t hear from the ALA about people who wish to not read a banned book. They may consider this a non issue, but it becomes an issue when a book that people want to ban is now an assignment, and an adult authority figure is telling a child that they must read it. Where is the freedom in that? This isn’t happening all that often as yet, but it is beginning to. There is a good chance that this tendency will become a trend (a more likely trend than burning books, too). And if a person opposes it, they risk being branded (remember the cattle chute?) as an oppressor of freedom; a possibly rabid book banner; an anal screeching jack booted monkey hovering over their wicked hellish bonfire while pages float up in the air as so much forlorn ash. Such a sad, sad image, and it makes people angry, which can be useful.

I do not propose banning books. I honestly would like that some had never been written. I also support the freedom to choose not to read certain books. This is where people think I’m a goose, but that’s ok. Let me bring in the nutrition argument. As a parent, as a person, I want to choose good healthy food for my family and for myself. Sure, we like our junk food, and we like dessert. We also absolutely love home made chicken noodle soup or oatmeal bread or cheese muffins or broccoli or carrots or tangerines. The healthy food is more important. The snacks are ok in wise measure. There is no place in our diet for gravel, manure, broken glass, heroin, nuclear waste, etc. It is obvious to most of society that a wise and responsible parent must make choices for good nutrition when considering what will go into the bodies of their children. So why not be aware and careful when we are feeding their young minds?

Freedom is important. Unfortunately, bad choices exist out there. Fortunately, I have avoided most of the really bad ones. Because I had the freedom.

That is what Banned Books Week means to me.

old books

Here is a list of some of our favorite books:

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott

The Gormenghast Trilogy, by Mervyn Peake

The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Space Trilogy, by C. S. Lewis

The Chronicles of Narnia, by Lewis

The Little House on the Prairie series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury

Dandelion Wine, by Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451, by Bradbury

(and others by him)

Beauty, by Robin McKinley

Rose Daughter, by McKinley

(and others by her)

Dracula, by Bram Stoker

the Brother Cadfael series, by Ellis Peters

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Sir A. Conan Doyle

Hitch Hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

The Mark of Zorro, by Johnston McCulley

Many books by George MacDonald

Many by Agatha Christie

Numerous biographies, historical accounts, and a few political books

and many, many more.

DSCF3702

Random Thoughts:

(Sometimes as a kid I would just flip open a dictionary and start reading)

(I could find my favorite parts of the encyclopedias before I could read)

11970983281171911309SteveLambert_Library_Book_Cart.svg.hi

(Sometimes in college after a hard day’s study I couldn’t handle anything stronger than Calvin & Hobbes cartoons. I once read a news editor complaining how college students loved their cartoons, so he had obviously forgotten what college was like)

(I’m a strong supporter of decent comic books and graphic novels. One series that is a favorite here is the Akiko series by Mark Crilley)

(Porn is to books what cocaine is to honest medicine)

(Don’t tell me that if a majority likes something, then it has a right to exist. If the majority makes a bad choice, it only makes the bad choice more supported, it does not give it value)

(Rant over)

bunnies read

(There are not enough pictures of books in the world for me)

cropped-dscf0181.jpg

The End.

Books I don’t read

I often come across the argument that unless a person has experienced something for themselves, they can have no idea how that experience really is. When we’re talking life’s true tragedies, or its highest victories, then yes, I agree. But if we’re talking about reading a book, well then, no I don’t.

I don’t have to read a book well known for its gore to know that I do not want that stuff in my head. I do not have to read a book with explicit sexual scenes to know that it has sexual scenes, or that they are too explicit for me to want to read them. This shouldn’t be too hard for people to understand, but there is a proportion of the reading population that asserts this false notion. On the surface it almost looks real: how can you know what this book is like unless you read it??

Well, how can I know what a roller coaster is like unless I ride it? Can I know in advance that I dislike having such things done to my senses, my stomach, and my head? Have I had enough experience with smaller coasters to realize, wisely, that larger ones would simply be a worse experience for me? And in our society, online and elsewhere, can I say out loud that I will not ride a roller coaster (ever) and folks just tease a bit and accept my opinion and go on with their lives? What is different about a book, or a movie, or a party?

Coasters have their effect for a few minutes, perhaps even hours until the body systems settle back down. A book can last a lifetime. The ideas books carry serve as seeds, dreams, and weapons. People want to spread their ideas, and some people want to uproot other ideas and plant theirs in the same place. This is perhaps one underlying statement when someone tells me I can’t know a book I haven’t read. Sometimes they simply want me to enjoy the same book they have, or experience the same sense of enlightenment that they did. Other times what I feel like I am hearing is that I have no right to speak on such issues because I do not choose to read said item. In many cases this is utterly false. Sure, I don’t know the details of every page of a book, but I do know myself. I can make pretty accurate guesses on what I might see in a book. I can also sometimes guess that a book is being pushed not for its own merit, but because it is a tool to attack something else. Sometimes this something else is the way I choose to live my life.

It feels as if this argument, that I can’t speak up about a book I haven’t read, is a method to silence me. The fact is, I can speak up and I will. I know myself, I know how I want to live my life, and I know what kind of society supports these things. I also can recognize those things that do not. Many books today are not just sharing ideas, they are actively spreading lies. They seek to undo huge amounts of civilization. Honestly, I almost don’t care what happens to society, because in my head society is the patina on the metal workings of civilization. But civilization? Do we really want to undermine the very thing that keeps us fed, safe, and sleeping through the night?

Wha…? You say. What does that have to do with books?

Is there anything more civilized than reading a book?

Is civilization based on being able to have stability? Does stability depend on planning for the future, and would that require a certain amount of hope?

In a violent riddled book of explicit suffering and waves of despair and nihilism is there room for hope? Oh, it gets tacked on. This reminds me of that funky social engineering in the 1980s when someone decided children’s cartoons were too violent. They censored Bugs Bunny into some sort of moving Dali artwork and they tacked moral lessons onto the end of Masters of the Universe, or whatever it was called. It was a weird hodge podge of something that couldn’t even be called standards without someone snorting milk out their nose when they heard it. So it is with many modern writings. A little bit of vanilla flavoring in the mud pie officially makes it cake, because some segment of society demands that it is so.

This reminds me again of another tangent, the day when I first read the story “The Emperor’s New Clothes” to my kids. They were amazed, and loved discussing the many layers there. The story still comes up to this day.

We live in troubled times, and sometimes our collective literature reflects this. But when does a book explore the issue and when does it make that issue more certain in our lives? Here are some questions I ask as I research a book before reading:

Does the book glamorize violence? Does it normalize it, make it feel powerful, and spread the feeling that violence is the answer? I’m not talking about self defense here, I’m talking about violence. Hurting others for the fun of it. It feels so powerful to be angry all the time. It feels like something exciting is bound to happen if we just keep our adrenalin falsely stimulated. You know, like domestic violence, road rage, or cussing out the cashier.

Is the sexual relationship part of the story? Or has the story been cobbled together to make a sling to hold up the sex scenes? Of course this premise exists; read up on the history of television and see how many shows were created to be the framework to hold the commercials in place.

Does the book wallow in darkness for the sake of darkness or does it teach useful skills to live a healthy life? A book can be pretty dark in a way and still teach a person how to avoid the dark things addressed within in the book.

The amount of research available these days makes my effort much easier. From sites that discuss issues in books to readers’ reviews online, I can study the book pretty carefully before making the commitment to read it (or deciding to not read it at all).  This can take some time, but it saves me from stepping into some filthy pit and having to work even harder to get that stuff off of me.

I would ask a few more questions:

With depression a rampant problem in our society, does it make sense to feed into it with stories that push the idea that things must be tough, that joy is a myth, that nothing matters, that it’s every man for himself or dog-eat-dog?  And especially, for teens who are especially susceptible to emotional extremes, is this really what we should be assigning them in required readings?

If we can understand nutrition for the body, that broccoli is good for you, that heroin can kill you, etc. etc., then why can we not consider the things that go into our minds? For heaven’s sake, we even assert that omega-3s are good for brain development, yet we see nothing wrong with explicit rape scenes that do nothing to fight against rape but instead work on awakening an appetite for the thing. And then schools choose from book lists that have these very issues in them.

And if schools have to choose, if they get to choose, then why should I not also read and approve/disapprove of what my kids will/ will not read? I make sure they get their iron and vitamin C, and I make sure they have books that teach real skills for life, and have a solid moral standard to them.

Even if you don’t believe in the soul, you must have heard the various arguments over nature vs. nurture. You may be familiar with the poverty cycle. You may have become aware that the media in all its forms does influence, otherwise there would be no advertising.

When I was in college I loved all things Russian (well, nearly all). The language, the literature, the expanse of their spaces. So I did a lot of reading and writing on their history. Peter the Great cut quite a path when he passed through social events! And nihilism was used to lobotomize an entire society so they would more easily accept the revolution. The revolution was officially used to free men from the oppression of royalty, but then the hammer of socialism came down and pounded the individual, and family, and society of Russia. Just not in a royal way.

Here in America we have so many opportunities, and generally speaking, a culture safe enough to pursue dreams and ideals. We must resist the rising philosophy (as old as the world, to be honest) that everything goes, so nothing matters, and the experts will be more than happy to step into our lives and clear up any confusion we experience when we can’t even find our own feet.

I have lived beyond the halfway point of my life and when I realize that, I realize this: I haven’t got time for literary heroin. Give me my Great English Lit.

Roses in Dreamtime

I often have elaborate dreams. Some of them become stories or parts of stories. They are often multifaceted and complete in their narrative; that is, they have a beginning, middle, and end. This dream from last week was one of those.

Roses

There was a man who rode the bus every day to his job. He was a quiet man, leading a quiet life, and he was especially shy. He eventually noticed that among the regulars who commuted along with him en masse was a woman about his age. She rarely looked up, and she was always alone, just as he was. To his special notice, she was always reading: old books that looked decades old, not ebooks or romances. He started watching her out of the corner of his eye. Each day they sat in roughly the same spots. He preferred the sun on his back as they rode into the downtown region, so he sat on a side riding bench that gave him a view up or down the aisle. He was able to observe her sitting facing forward a few rows back.

While he was secretly observing her, she was able to more thoroughly observe him. She liked what she saw, but had little to no idea of what to do about it, so she decided it was up to the male of the species to make the first move. So things continued weekday after weekday, with the regular intervention of the weekend and a few major holidays thrown in for variety.

Finally the day came when he resolved to do something, and turned over many ideas, most of them uselessly over grand. He settled on a small gesture, nothing too demanding, but with charm. He dug the quarters and dimes out of his change jar and went for a walk.

The next morning he did nothing, The next, he sat nervously on the bus and wondered if he was able to even move at all. After that, he got on the bus one morning and walked up to her, and lay a paper rose across the book in her lap. She was already looking at him, surprised that he had passed his usual seat in an apparent approach to hers; she had begun to suspect something was wrong with him the last few days- a pending lay off or some such thing. So when she looked up and watched the paper rose slide into her open library copy of The Odyssey, she was very happy for him. She was happy that his job was secure after all. Then she did a double take and realized she had been brought into the picture and that something might be expected of her, and she quickly met his look just as he sat and turned partly away. She smiled gently and then looked down quickly. Neither looked at the other until it was time for her to get off the bus. She held the book close with the rose poking out of the top, and she smiled again as she passed. He simply stared back in some sort of shock.

They started smiling to one another each morning after that, sometimes even saying something vague and polite. This went on for awhile until one day he slipped a plastic rose into her lap. She smiled in surprise. So few words- thank goodness, she thought- and yet so much was said. The rose did the work for both of them, and drew together hearts that had been shy burrowing creatures from childhood on.

She began to expect something more without knowing what it was going to be. Suddenly one day he was wearing better clothing, and sitting up a little straighter on the bench. It was apparent he had been promoted-somewhere. Somehow. He carried a little briefcase now. A few days later he silently presented her with a real rose. It was velvety, dark, and deep. She held it tenderly, glancing at him over and over as they rode the bus. Others had begun to notice these goings on, and they kept themselves quiet with the sense of people who did not wish to frighten the wildlife. They smiled as they watched her smile over the rose. They sighed when she inhaled the scent. They walked a little differently when they got off the bus, at least for a little while.

Their friendship progressed to an entire dozen roses, which she held tightly and laughed over while their ride shuddered and eased around corners. People swayed in their seats and the sun shifted position until the bus went around another corner.

One day he got on the bus and did not look at her. He sat as quietly and casually as a sleepy commuter who expected to spend the next half hour alone. She watched him, waiting to catch his eye, but nothing happened. There was a great blankness on his face. He did rather notice her looking at him once, but there was no recognition in his expression, and he turned to look the other way. Her bafflement smothered her a bit until she reached her stop. She rose and walked past him and then she got off the bus and went her way.

It took a week, but she got used to not looking at him. She was tired from not sleeping well, too. But as she sat there watching him in resignation, he looked up and caught her eye. And he smiled shyly, a fleeting thing that had him turning away again.

So it had not been her that had caused his abrupt change. She smiled at him as she got off the bus.

A couple days later he slipped a paper rose into the book she was holding on her lap. She was a little surprised, and not in the best way, but she quickly smiled and pretended to sniff the paper.

Another day came, and he gave her a plastic rose, which she took and held in a meditative manner, twirling it and casting a questioning look his way. He smiled bashfully and looked down.

The day came when he gave her a live rose. She cupped it in her hands, inhaling the scent, and watching him. He was slow to look away. His face beamed. His eyes were full of questions. The bus brakes squealed and the engine thrummed noisily. It was only a day or two later that he presented her with a dozen roses. She opened her mouth to say thank you, but he only nodded a bit and smiled side ways and looked down again.

Other observers had lost interest. This looked like it was going nowhere.

The couple, for that is what they were, in their way, continued to smile and say hello from time to time. One day he got on the bus and the blankness was in his face again. He sat alone and lonely while she looked upon him and considered a different set of questions in her mind. She smiled at him as she got off the bus.

Again, one day he noticed her and again, one day he slipped her a paper rose. She was delighted, but quietly so. She waited for the pattern to repeat, and it did: paper rose, plastic rose, real rose, and then a full dozen. All the while he seemed to be falling in love with her all over again. The effect on her was a mixture of warm gratitude and slightly irritable confusion. As the months went by the confusion quieted and the warmth deepened. She accepted him as whatever he was. He always fell in love with her again.

She tested him, as women do. She told him her name one morning as he slipped a rose to her. He heard her in surprise. When the blankness came upon him the next time, the pattern developed a little differently afterwards. He found the courage from somewhere to ask her for her name. She wondered if some part of him had retained that thread of significance, some aspect of the idea of name: her name. It made her feel fierce and protective. Let the unsuspecting fellow commuters crack a joke about it all and she glared with real and dangerous passion at them. She had time, and the ways of the shy were not those of the not- shy. She began to get ideas of how to coach her suitor, and sometimes when the blankness came on, he almost recognized her. The pattern did seem to pick up speed. Instead of taking weeks or months, the entire pattern of the roses took days and weeks. Something was happening, and in her tiny little mind and ever growing heart she knew this.

As my dream came to an end, I got to follow her off the bus and into her little apartment. She had two rooms: a kitchen/living room and the bedroom with a tiny bathroom. In the living area there had been a small round table with a vase on it, but it could not be seen now. The entire corner was a scree of roses, all in varying shades of pink and red. On the buried table was the first paper rose, and the vase for the plastic one, and the fresh rose with the plastic, until the plastic was removed and a full bunch put in, and eventually the vase and roses and table entirely covered with roses that she never got rid of. The room was heavily scented in rose potpouri at this point, and she sat in her chair and carefully considered her friend as best she could. Perhaps he had a job, or perhaps he was getting some sort of daily medical help.  It must be a very strange and difficult ailment to have. She could not even consider giving him up; she wanted him. With a glance at the scree across the room she guessed it was time for a fresh dozen. She decided to dress up for the occasion. She was determined to accept for as long as he needed her to. No other course of action held the least attraction for her. Indeed, she felt as if she needed to accept his roses as much as he needed to offer them. The future was uncertain, but, she smiled, it was certainly rosy.

And then I woke up.

 

single_rose_poster-re4c29b214874495f8db5c397bba40671_w2q_8byvr_512