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Why GR’s new review rules are censorship – Some thoughts

Late Friday (US time) Goodreads announced a change in review and shelving policy, and immediately started deleting readers’ reviews and shelves. In doing this they became censors. Limiting readers’ ability to discuss the cultural context of a book is censorship designed to promote authors’ interests.

young girl readingOver on Goodreads reader Emma Sea has lashed out against the site’s new policy and has engendered quite a lot of support from commenters. I lead with this entry today because at the heart of the controversy lies the question of exactly what a book review is and what a review should—and shouldn’t—contain.

As soon as I started reading Emma’s post, I knew that the reference to Orson Scott Card’s book Ender’s Game was coming. This very popular book is being made into a movie. Card himself is outspoken in his criticism of gays and gay marriage; as a result, many people have called for a boycott of the movie, even though the book does not deal in any way with gay rights.

So, in terms of book reviewing policy, the question becomes: Is it acceptable to refer to Card’s beliefs in discussions of Ender’s Game?

I have struggled with this very question myself. Ender’s Game is one of the best books I’ve ever read. And I grew up under the school of New Criticism, which holds that literary works should be judged on the basis only of their text, not of their author or of any other external social or cultural context. However, I have reached a point in my life when I believe it’s important for me to stand up and be counted in support of my values and beliefs. I certainly stand by Orson Scott Card’s right to hold and to state his beliefs, but I also reserve the same right for myself.

But the question still remains: Is it appropriate for me—or anyone— to mention a disagreement with Card’s stated beliefs in reviewing a book that does not in any way touch on the subject of those beliefs? I’d love to hear suggestions on how to resolve this dilemma.

Why I Believe I Should Stand Up and Speak Out

Because I keep finding stories, like these, about censorship:

30 Books You Should Read Before You’re 30

some books are best experienced at a certain age, like, say, “Catcher in the Rye.” If you pick it up for the first time when you’re far beyond puberty, you’ll likely wonder what all the hype is about. Likewise, there are certain books you should read in your 20s, due to the age of the characters or the intended audience — books like Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History” or Christopher Hitchens’ “Letters to a Young Contrarian.”

There are also fantastic classics that may not have been assigned to you in school but that you should pick up ASAP simply because you’re missing out — books like Doris Lessing’s “The Golden Notebook” or “A Collection of Essays” by George Orwell.

Check out the 30 books we think you should read before you’re 30:

I’m not sure exactly why the folks at Huffington Post chose 30 as the magic age. I’ve read several of these recommended books in recent years, and I’m well over 30. In fact, I like to think that I probably got more out of reading these books precisely because of my maturity.

At any rate, this is a good list to use when you’re looking for the next book to pick up.

30 “Guilty Pleasure” Books That Are In Fact Awesome

All books are worth reading, obviously. But some books are slightly more “guilty pleasure” than “classic literature.”

Because you can never have too many good-books lists. . . .

Bookless Public Library Opens In Texas

An all-digital public library is opening today [September 14, 2013], as officials in Bexar County, Texas, celebrate the opening of the BiblioTech library. The facility offers about 10,000 free e-books for the 1.7 million residents of the county, which includes San Antonio.

I’ve always been a big fan of ebooks, but I’m still trying to wrap my brain around the idea of a bookless library. Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?

The Working Novelist: Writing and the Irrational

Something about the process of writing (and maybe art in general) pushes us toward the parts of ourselves and the world that we don’t totally understand.  Toward the grey areas, the uncertainty, the unsettled.

I don’t write fiction myself, but I’ve heard fiction writers say that sometimes a character will speak up on its own and take over the writing of the story. Here writer Alex Washoe describes how something similar happened to him:

When we read over what we’ve written – if we’ve surrendered ourselves at least a little to the process, to the “vivid and continuous dream” – we often find things we didn’t mean to include.  Stray details, odd comments, small actions – things that perhaps don’t seem to relate to the main action of the story.  Things that sometimes contradict what we thought we were saying.  The first tendency is always to delete these things, the smooth them over, to bring them in line with our plan.  And most of the time, that’s probably for the best.

But if we are willing to stay with these things, to hold them in our minds and find where they lead, they can sometimes open up dimensions of character and story – meaning – we never knew were there.  These stray details, these odd moments, these irrational tics push us away from what the conscious mind thinks it’s doing toward something a little less neat.

Readers, too, often find these little suggestive details in literature, and those details often deepen and enrich our understanding, whether we are aware of that process or not.

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Monday Miscellany: Banned Books Week Ed.

Banned Books Week

September 30 — October 6

Banned Book Week
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Banned Books Week at 30: New and Notable Efforts

Publishers Weekly has a good overview of Banned Books Week in honor of its 30th anniversary.

How to teach your child to love reading

Girls readingThis article comes from a newspaper in the United Kingdom, but the content seems pertinent for the U. S. as well. Susan Elkin,  author of Unlocking the Reader in Every Child (Ransom, 2010) and Encouraging Reading (Continuum, 2007), offers some sobering statistics:

As tens of thousands of children returned to school earlier this month, the National Literacy Trust’s report Children’s and Young People’s Reading Today informed us that only 30 per cent of children and teenagers read books daily in their own time. In 2005, the figure was 40 per cent.

Children learn the rudimentary decoding skills of reading at school, but to become competent readers they need practice:

The best place for a child to do that essential daily practice – which should quickly become a pleasure rather than a chore – is at home. That means taking children to libraries and/or buying them books. It means turning off (most) screens and certainly getting television sets, laptops, phones, games consoles and the like out of children’s bedrooms – or, better still, don’t put them in there in the first place.

The most effective way parents can help their children learn to love reading is by modeling it:

The most useful thing parents can do to encourage children and teenagers to read is to be seen reading a lot themselves. Parents who say they are “too busy to read” simply convey the message that reading is beneath the attention of important grown-ups. “Do as I say but not as I do” cuts no ice with children. They will quickly stop reading because not reading will be seen as “cool” and “adult”.

The 10 Best Narrators in Literature

Antoine Wilson, author of Panorama City, discusses his ten favorite fictional narrators for Publishers Weekly’s Tip Sheet. There are really 20 discussions here, as Wilson includes an alternate for each of his choices.

Wilson’s annotations of his choices provide a good example of how to evaluate the narrator of a work of fiction. Since one of the first things authors must decide is whose story they are telling, getting to know the narrator is often the key to understanding the work.

On a personal note, my thanks to PW for putting all 10 books on one page instead of making us click through single pages for each title.

Watch a novel being written ‘live’

Fantasy author Silvia Hartmann is offering readers the chance to watch her novel taking shape, word by word, on a Google document. If you’re an aspiring writer yourself, or if you just want to take a look at one author’s writing process, here’s your chance.

Follow the link in this article from The Guardian to Hartmann’s Google doc.

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Celebrate the freedom to read


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Print Books vs. Ebooks Debate (cont., ad nauseam)

Never one to shy away from controversy, Jonathan Franzen recently condemned ebooks as the harbingers of the fall of civilization:

“I think, for serious readers, a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience. Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn’t change.

“Will there still be readers 50 years from now who feel that way? Who have that hunger for something permanent and unalterable? I don’t have a crystal ball.

“But I do fear that it’s going to be very hard to make the world work if there’s no permanence like that. That kind of radical contingency is not compatible with a system of justice or responsible self-government.”

After the news coverage of Franzen’s press conference the Huffington Post, never one to shy away from an opportunity to add its two cents, chimed in with Jonathan Franzen Hates EBooks. This article reminds us:

This isn’t new territory for Frazen – back in 2007, when the first Kindle appeared on the scene, he told the LA Times that “the difference between Shakespeare on a BlackBerry and Shakespeare in the Arden Edition is like the difference between vows taken in a shoe store and vows taken in a cathedral,” adding “Am I fetishizing ink and paper? Sure, and I’m fetishizing truth and integrity too.”

HuffPost then provides a list of other personages who have spoken out against ebooks:

  • Maurice Sendak
  • Ursula Le Guin
  • Sherman Alexie
  • Penelope Lively
  • Ray Bradbury
  • Stephen Colbert

I really don’t see what all the hub-bub is about. Why do we have to be for one type of book and against the other? I love print books, audiobooks, and my Kindle. I just see these as different forms of basically the same thing, a work of literature. Audiobooks allow me to consume the written word in situations when I couldn’t read a printed book, such as when driving, exercising, or doing chores around the house. And my Kindle is a lot easier to carry around than printed books, especially books the size of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections and Freedom. The Kindle makes it possible for me to read when I’m in waiting rooms and to take lots of books on vacation. These three versions of literature are not inherently different. They are not mutually exclusive. And the increasing use of ereaders is not going to result in the collapse of modern civilization.

Thank goodness at least one other person in the world understands this, NPR’s Jonathan Segura. In No More E-Books Vs. Print Books Arguments, OK? he very sensibly points out:

Here’s the thing: you don’t have to be a print book person or an e-book person. It’s not an either/or proposition. You can choose to have your text delivered on paper with a pretty cover, or you can choose to have it delivered over the air to your sleek little device. You can even play it way loose and read in both formats! Crazy, right? To have choice. Neither is better or worse — for you, for the economy, for the sake of “responsible self-government.” We should worry less about how people get their books and — say it with me now! — just be glad that people are reading.

The Greatest Books of All Time, as Voted by 125 Famous Authors

“Reading is the nourishment that lets you do interesting work,” Jennifer Egan once said. This intersection of reading and writing is both a necessary bi-directional life skill for us mere mortals and a secret of iconic writers’ success, as bespoken by their personal libraries. The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books asks 125 of modernity’s greatest British and American writers—including Norman Mailer, Ann Patchett, Jonathan Franzen, Claire Messud, and Joyce Carol Oates—”to provide a list, ranked, in order, of what [they] consider the ten greatest works of fiction of all time- novels, story collections, plays, or poems.”

While admitting that respondents’ first task was to figure out their own definition of great, this article nonetheless proceeds to ask the question and tabulate the answers. You’ll find lists of the top vote getters in the following categories:

  • Top Ten Works of the 20th Century
  • Top Ten Works of the 19th Century
  • Top Ten Authors by Number of Books Selected
  • Top Ten Authors by Points Earned

And, because I know the suspense is killing you, I’ll tell you that Tolstoy beat out Shakespeare as the top author by points earned.

Seattle libraries: No sleeping or eating allowed, but porn-watching OK

The Seattle Public Library has a long list of rules of things you can’t do in the library, to ensure “comfort and safety” of staff and patrons. You can’t eat, sleep, look like you’re sleeping, be barefoot, be too stinky or talk too loudly.

But you can watch graphic porn on a public computer in front of kids. Despite repeated complaints from female patrons about men watching porn in full view of their children, the library has held fast to its policy of unfettered online access for grown-ups.

The reason: It’s not in the business of censorship.

The issue of censorship in libraries is more complex than this article’s set up suggests, as the rest of the piece does, in fact, admit.

The Big Reasons Indie Authors Aren’t Taken Seriously

With the publishing industry in turmoil, more and more authors are bypassing the traditional route to publication by publishing their books themselves. Yet, with no editorial staff to insist on writing standards, the quality of such books is often—though not always—quite low. And Melissa Foster and Amy Edelman know why:

  • Big Reason #1: Bad Editing
  • Big Reason #2: Quantity Over Quality
  • Big Reason #3 – The Lack of Gatekeepers
  • Big Reason #4 – Crappy Covers

They have a lot to say about each reason, so click through and read their explanations.

Personally, I’m not too concerned about the covers. But I am concerned about the lack of gatekeepers, or those editors who insist that authors write well and make sense. How about you?

7 Child Protagonists That Adults Can Relate To

Sharon Heath thinks that most of us probably didn’t enjoy our childhood all that much. “Which is where the catharsis of fiction written for adults with child protagonists comes in–offering us a chance to revisit our early years with imagination and wisdom and see the world and our own lives with new eyes.”

Whether the heroes and heroines of these books are precocious or tentative, suicidal or resourceful, disconnected or endearing, each of them bumbles along as we all did–as we all do!–without a handbook. Almost all of them suffer the mixed blessings of uniqueness and otherness, and a number of the current crop view life through the lens of autism–an apt metaphor in this age of preoccupation with iEverythings, where researchers are telling us our kids are losing the capacity to read facial expressions and social cues.

She offers the following books as examples of child protagonists whom adult readers can relate to:

  • A Wrinkle in Time
  • Ordinary People
  • The Little Prince
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
  • The Lovely Bones
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog

To Heath’s list I would add the following child protagonists that I found endearing:

What child characters would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments.


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The greatest death scenes in literature

Five judges of the 2012 Wellcome Trust book prize for medicine in literature ponder the question “What makes for a great literary death scene?” Tim Lott calls their choices “eclectic.” Take a look, and see if you have other favorite death scenes to add to the list.

The 10 best songs based on books 

Here’s another list, this one in pictures.

Hey, Teacher. Let Kids Read Alone.

Writing in the Huffington Post, high school English teacher Steve Terreri suggests that school may be contributing to rather than stemming the decline of reading by American adults. He argues that classrooms try to turn reading, which is essentially a personal and solitary activity, into an act of social conformity:

Reading a book or story or poem or play on one’s own is a peculiarly individual experience. No other medium comes to mind so absent of social or communal qualities, and considering the collective genius currently available in books on every imaginable subject, I’ve often speculated that the modern classroom’s entire reason for being is to translate individual learning experience into social consensus or application.

Terreri concludes:

Considering how wide the differences between reading on one’s own and reading in a class are, I’m interested in how educators might take some aspects from the former to let high school students read just to read and still not only foster literacy but stimulate interest in literature.

How to get your kid to be a fanatic reader

Best-selling author James Patterson weighs in on the issue with CNN:

Sorry, moms and dads, but it’s your job — not the schools’ — to find books to get your kids reading and to make sure they read them.

Patterson says that boys especially need encouragement to read: ” Boys should be made to feel all squishy inside about reading graphic novels, comics, pop-ups, joke books, and general-information tomes.” He encourages family members as well as sports and entertainment superstars to model reading.

Of course Patterson has a vested interest in encouraging youngsters to read. But this article is refreshingly free of self-promotion. It also contains links to many organizations where parents and schools can find information to help them promote reading among children.

Censorship Causes Blindness: The 5 Best Banned Books Turned Films 

In honor of the American Library Association’s annual Banned Books Week, celebrated last week here in the U.S., Word and Film offers its own list:

  • American Psycho
  • Lolita
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • Lord of the Flies
  • The Handmaid’s Tale

Be sure to visit this site, which provides the official trailer for each film.

Books that deserve to be banned

Also in honor of Banned Books Week, Salon writer Laura Miller—facetiously, of course—asks:

Where were these censors when we really needed them — that is, when our 10th-grade teachers assigned “Beowulf” or “The Pearl”? As deplorable as real-life book banning may be, there’s some required reading that those of us at Salon would love to see retired from the nation’s syllabuses simply because we were tortured by it as kids.

Remember Silas Marner? How about Green Mansions? See what books Salon editors remember with distaste. And then take a look at some of the many comments left my readers. They provide an informative exchange.

Book News Censorship

Glendale school board may block ‘In Cold Blood’ –

Glendale school board may block ‘In Cold Blood’ –

The landmark 1966 literary nonfiction book “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote may not make it onto a high school honors reading list in Glendale after obections were raised by a committee made up of school principals. The school board must approve the book before it can be taught; “I think ‘chilling’ is far too benign a word to use,” school board member Mary Boger said of it.

An 11th grade teacher has requested permission to add In Cold Blood to her Advanced Placement class reading list.

Since this is such a pivotal work in literary history, students who have not read it will be at a decided disadvantage when they take the AP exam.

Support Banned Books Week.

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Celebrate Banned Books Week

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Banned Books Week this year is from September 24 through October 1.

More information is available from the American Library Association: Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read

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The 10 Most Powerful Women Authors

Forbes contributor Avril David has put together a list of “10 women [who] can tell (and sell) a good story”:

Although there are many more women throughout history who have proven to be powerful authors, this list is limited to those who are living, with a focus on personal narrative and fiction writers.

She emphasizes that this list is a matter of personal opinion, so I guess she has the right to set whatever parameters for inclusion she wishes. But Joyce Carol Oates and Danielle Steel on the same list?

Top Earning Authors

Another list from Forbes, this one based solely on profits and including both men and women. How many can you guess before looking at the list?

Sherlock Holmes Banned from Reading Lists for Being Anti-Mormon

The Albemarle County School Board in Virgina has voted to remove Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tale  A Study in Scarlet from sixth-grade reading lists because it portrays Mormonism in an unfavorable way. Although the book was found not to be age-appropriate for the sixth grade, it will continue to be available to older students. According to this news story:

Not everyone was happy about the removal of the book from sixth grade reading lists. Apparently “more than 20 former Henley students turned out to oppose the book’s removal from the lists.”

Book battles heat up over censorship vs. selection in school

U.S. schools have banned more than 20 books and faced more than 50 other challenges this year, the American Library Association reports, and many more are expected this fall.

USA Today has a round-up about censorship in schools.

Sleuthing Around Dublin’s Darkest Corners

NPR talks with Irish author John Banville, who publishes mysteries under the name Benjamin Black.

“If you are going to write noir fiction, Dublin in the ’50s is absolutely perfect . . . All that poverty, all that fog, all that cigarette smoke, all those drink fumes. Perfect noir territory.”

Black’s mysteries feature sleuth Quirke, a consulting pathologist in a Dublin morgue:

“He has a very dark and troubled past,” Black explains. “He was an orphan. When he looks back to his earliest years, he sees only a blank, which is I think what drives him. What drives his curiosity. His itch to know about other people’s lives, other people’s secrets.”

Black describes Quirke as the exact opposite of Sherlock Holmes:

“In these books, nothing is ever resolved,” Black says. “The baddies are not put away. Poor old Quirke is as dumb as the rest of us, you know.”

Five essential books about 9/11

As the tenth anniversary of the event that changed the world as we knew it approaches, The Los Angeles Times offers a list of five books that memorialize it.

My own addition to this list is the novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.