Celebrate Your Freedom: Read a Banned Book

August 11th, 2008 at 6:30 am

In gearing up for Banned Books Week, September 27 – October 4, 2008, I am trying to decide which banned book to read. My right to read isn’t going to celebrate itself.

We all love a good list. Especially a list of books we’re supposed to have read. We scour these lists, smirking in satisfaction at the ones we have actually read, and making mental notes of the ones we think we ought to read.

A list of banned books provides all the things we love about book lists and more. There is something very illuminating about a culture’s puritan biases based on the ill it harbors for certain books.

So which one(s) do I read?

Some books are more obviously likely to raise the ire of certain citizens, like The Homo Handbook-Getting in Touch With Your Inner Homo. And some are a little more peculiarly controversial, like Forever by Judy Blume.

Judy Blume! I actually have a lot more respect for Judy Blume now. Way to go, Judy, getting a book banned. Alright.

Now, most of the banned books on the list seem to be “one of 55 books that parents in Fayetteville, Arkansas are petitioning to have removed from school libraries. The parents, who formed Parents Protecting the Minds of Children, object to the profane language and depictions of sexuality in many of the books and have accused the librarians and other opponents of their efforts of promoting a “homosexual agenda”.

So yeah. We have a small, vocal group in a single community seeking a narrow agenda. Which is their prerogative of course. But it doesn’t indicate that we are on the brink of 1984 and Fahrenheit 451. I don’t think I’d want How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson displayed too prominently around my ankle biters either. Even if it is a “cautionary tale.”

So which one to read? There are a few surprising ones on the list to be sure.

Bringing Down the House?

All the Pretty Horses?

Barbara Kingsolver?

I think I’m going to play it safe and go with Bless Me, Ultima. It comes with a fabulous story:

High school students in Norwood, Colorado, staged an all-day sit-in to protest the removal of the novel from a ninth grade English classroom. The book had been removed following parent complaints of profanity and “pagan content” (the book’s title character is an herbal healer). Bob Conder, superintendent of schools, confiscated two dozen copies of the novel and threw them in trash cans, then allowed a group of parents to retrieve the books and destroy them. Conder later apologized, admitting he had never read the novel, which appears on First Lady Laura Bush’s “top ten” reading list for all ages.”



Sand Sculpture: An Under Appreciated Art

August 8th, 2008 at 10:35 am

Sand sculpture is an under appreciated art. And we here at Authwhore seek to promiscuously “read” a diverse spectrum of neglected “texts.” Like books. And sand sculpture.

With graphic novelist’s prominence on the rise, I was recently fielding candidates to fill the vacuum of artists groveling for respect.

I shamefully failed to mention sand sculptors. Their work is sheer poetry in sand and deserves passing acknowledgment from the most insignificant of web logs.

Badass Sand Sculpture: Dragon Eats Sand Sculptor

Notice the jaunted flip flop on the left foot. Such thoughtful detail distilled in sand is truly breathtaking.



Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

August 6th, 2008 at 4:28 pm

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation is what would happen if David Sedaris wrote The Devil in the White City.

Now I know that we’re supposed to lump the likes of David Rakoff, Sarah Vowell, and David Sedaris into a category of humor or essays or some other less-than-serious class, but Assassination Vacation is an important book.

And I mean that in the traditional, classic sense. So I’ll say it again. Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell is an important book.

AV belongs up on the eye-level shelf or right on the nightstand with all the other tattered, well-read, really good paperbacks like To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, The Great Gatsby, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, etc, etc, et al.

You see, Vowell embarks on an adventure to satisfy a macabre personal fascination with presidential assassinations, but does so with a grace and wit and piercing intellect that reveals an entertainingly enormous amount of relevant US history. Her book is equal parts well written, informative, and funny. While she’ll gently remind us that the dedication of Lincoln’s Memorial in 1922 was segregated, and that our use of the “water cure” during the Spanish-American War predated our current use of “water boarding,” she’ll also describe the McKinley National Memorial in Canton as “a gray granite nipple on a fresh green breast of grass.”

Sarah Vowell should write and edit textbooks. Our schoolchildren would be smarter, and our country a lot better off. And I mean that. Sarah, please edit high school textbooks. You could single handedly eliminate Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

But whether you have ADHD or not, you’ll find Assassination Vacation a damn readable brew of dry humor and understated intelligence that makes important slivers of our country’s history relevant, approachable, understandable, worth knowing, and most of all, entertaining.



The Aug. 4, 2008 New Yorker Cover is Decadent and Depraved

August 3rd, 2008 at 1:04 pm

You know the times are getting tough when bums start asking for “a couple of bucks” instead of “spare change.”

This is the situation we’re in folks, it is not pretty, and it’s the situation I was in a few days ago right before I came home to find a piece of atrocious mail on my foyer, having been shoved through the mail slot by some schoolboy prank punks. Or a disgruntled postal worker.

You know the times are getting tough when disgruntled postal workers start shoving New Yorkers through your mail slot instead of raking their places of employ with bullets from an automatic assault rifle.

This is the situation we’re in folks, it is not pretty, and it’s the situation I was in a few days ago as I came home, having fended off a wobbling vagrant asking me for “a couple of bucks” instead of “spare change,” and found the single most disgusting piece of art I have ever seen in my life, “Night Cap” by Kim DeMarco:

August 4, 2008 New Yorker Cover

You know the times are getting tough when American publications have to resort to silly puns and plays on words to sell us their pulp. In the good old days of yellow journalism they’d start wars, now they just smear some sloppily thrown together, half-baked image of a swimmer at night wearing a swim cap and call the drivel “Night Cap.”

Oh how clever.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

This is the situation we’re in folks, it is not pretty, and it’s the situation I was in a few days ago as I came home to be insulted by this mindless humor. When will American publications be brave enough to engage in some serious satire and culturally relevant commentary on the world we live in?

When?

I know what a nightcap is. It’s a drink; a libation one imbibes prior to retiring to the bedchamber.

You know the times are getting tough when American publications have to resort to weak homonyms.

It’s as if Obama is treading water? Is that what you’re saying?

The 2008 Olympics are such a contrived spectacle of disappointment and corruption and since no one cares about them, they might as well be held at night? Is that what you’re saying?

The fervor over the Olympics and the Obama campaign has been so intense that everyone needs to just chill and have a nightcap? Is that what you’re saying?



Just Announced: Barnes & Noble and Borders Pimp Same Hype

August 1st, 2008 at 12:33 pm

Barnes & Noble and Borders are the new Time and Newsweek. The new GM and Ford. The new George W. Bush and John Kerry.

These images greeted me in a recent email from Borders:

Borders new Harry Potter Book

Borders Stephanie Myer new book

And these images greeted me in a recent email from Barnes & Noble:

Announcement from Barnes & Noble - New J.K. Rowling Book Available for Pre-Order!
Book Cover Image. Title: The Tales of Beedle the Bard (Harry Potter Series), Author: J. K. Rowling.

Wow. How does one decide between Stephenie Meyer and J.K. Rowling?



The Castle by Franz Kafka

August 1st, 2008 at 6:12 am

In his essay on Franz Kafka in the infinitely special Cultural Amnesia, Clive James recommends that, “The best way to approach Kafka is probably just to plunge into The Castle and get lost. Getting lost and staying lost is the whole idea of the book, and a matchless symbol for how, according to Kafka, we really feel underneath, when we momentarily convince ourselves that we know what’s going on, while still suspecting that the momentary conviction might be part of the deception.”

The Castle by Franz Kafka

I took Clive’s advice and got lost.

I really like The Castle. But in the way that you like some books without having anything intelligent to say about them. You just like them. (I feel this way about The Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye.)

Reading The Castle was like watching a really weird, exotic-but-not-necessarily-pretty flower bloom very slowly. And even after it has blossomed, wilted, and blown away in a shivering breeze, you’re still not sure what exactly you saw happen. Was it a sunrise or a car crash? Regardless, watching it was certainly an interesting, visceral experience.

In regards to The Castle’s bizarre, otherworldly world, The Critic Establishment is left to describe it as “enigmatic” and “dark” and “haunting” and “brooding.”

I think what they mean is what I call weird. The Castle is weird. It takes you to a strange place full of strange people saying things strangely. So it’s rather intriguing in that way. “What the hell is going on here?” is a reader’s predominant question while reading it. But alas, Kafka left it unfinished upon his death, even leaving it mid-sentence.

But there is now the outside chance of resolving the incomplete matter with the death of Max Brod’s secretary who had been hoarding Kafka’s papers.

I rather like The Castle the way it is. It’s my opinion that things are best when