Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week

September 24-October 1st is Banned Books Week, the week when bookstores, libraries and teachers encourage people to explore a “frequently challenged” or banned book. Some of my favorite books – everything from the Little House series, to Huckleberry Finn and the Harry Potter books to The Color Purple and The Catcher in the Rye have been banned or challenged by people who believe that protecting their kids from free thought and different ideas is somehow good.

I’m fortunate. I was born into a family of avid readers and free thinkers, and taught to make my own decisions. Books – banned and not – taught me much about life, love, and the inherent goodness of people.

So, go read a banned book this week. Even better, if you’re a parent or caregiver, read one with your child, and discuss the themes that caused it to be challenged by censors.

Celebrate your freedom to read.

Sunday Salon: Bookless?

The Sunday

September is nearly over, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t finished reading a single book. As is my custom, I have several started, but nothing is capturing my attention. I could blame work, or the weather, or any number of other things, but the reality is that I just haven’t been able to fall into anything I’m reading.

I have this urge to invite people over just to read plays or short stories and discuss them. Not books. I have no patience for book clubs and book groups, because I read too quickly (most of the time), and by the time everyone else has finished the book, I’ve read five others. I was this way in school, too, which made literature classes difficult for me. I wish it had occurred to me to ask for the exam work as soon as I finished reading a book; it never did.

And so, this blog lies empty-ish, and I skipped posting anything to Sunday Salon last week, and I want to read, I do, but my brain won’t engage.

On the other hand, I’ve written twelve pages of a story I’m working on for fun, and five of my novel, so the month hasn’t been completely useless.

Sunday Salon: Re-discovery

The Sunday

Have you ever bought or borrowed a book, either because it looked interesting, or because a friend recommended it, and then found that you’ve actually read it before?

That happened to me recently. I was exchanging emails and blog comments with my friend Becca, because I’d mentioned that one of my favorite books to re-read was Bread Alone. She suggested I might like The Whole World Over, by Julia Glass. Later that weekend, I bought a copy at the local used bookstore, in hardcover, for under $5.

That evening in the bubble bath, I cracked open the book, only to find the opening pages eerily familiar. Sure, there’d been a sense of deja vu when I’d looked at the cover in the store, but I’d just assumed I’d seen similar cover art. Nevertheless, I began reading the book anew.

And the thing is, I don’t mind this sort of rediscovery. I remember that I’d enjoyed the book the first time I’d read it, but I read very quickly, so there are times when, depending on my mood in the moment, certain things catch my attention differently. Example: When I was little, and read Little Women for the first time, the part that I cried through was when Beth died. When I read it again as a young adult, who’d had some experience with love and relationships, I was moved by the scene where Jo refuses Laurie, because on one level, we want these two brash kids to be together, but anyone who’s had a best friend of the opposite gender knows that those relationships never work when they cross into romance.

The Whole World Over, then, is going to remain my “bathtub book” for the next couple of weeks. I know the story well enough that I don’t need to race through it to see what happens, but that doesn’t mean I won’t appreciate a slow, savoring read of it while I soak in lavender-scented bath bubbles.

What about you? Do you ever “re-discover” a book? Do you embrace the situation, or feel cheated out of a new story?

Happy Birthday, Roald Dahl

James and the Giant Peach

Roald Dahl, author of two of my favorite children’s books, James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was born on September 13th, 1916. My first introduction to his work was in a grade school classroom in Georgetown, CO. I was in second grade, but taking some classes with third-graders, and one or two with fourth-graders. I don’t remember which class, exactly, had a teacher who spent the last twenty minutes of every day – or maybe every Friday – reading us great stories.

James and the Giant Peach was one of those stories. Another was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, but that book is by E. L. Konigsburg and thus relegated to another post.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

In any case, while I was researching something completely different, I came upon a newsletter from Cambridge University talking about the celebration of Roald Dahl Day next week, and about the 50th anniversary of James and the Giant Peach.

The essay is by Professor Maria Nikolaejeva. An excerpt is below, and the full text of the essay can be found here

Dahl is one of those many writers who are significantly more famous for their children’s books than their works for a general (that is, adult) audience. Although his short stories are truly brilliant, he would hardly be hailed exclusively for them among the “50 greatest British writers since 1945” (The Times, 5 January 2008). The fact that this canon includes a number of children’s writers (beside Dahl, C S Lewis, Philippa Pearce, Allan Garner, Philip Pullman and Rosemary Sutcliff) is remarkable in itself; it demonstrates that children’s literature cannot any longer be dismissed as second-rate; and I would argue that Roald Dahl has contributed substantially to this recognition, repeatedly mentioned as the best-loved, best-selling author without the, regrettably, still derogatory appellation “children’s”.

(I refrained from changing the punctuation from British to American.)

The Sunday Salon: Shifting Seasons

The Sunday

Labor Day weekend doesn’t really have a lot of significance when you work from home as a writer. My “office” is the Internet, which never closes, and there are weeks when I choose to work Saturday and Sunday and skip Monday and Tuesday, and other weeks when I work a more conventional schedule. It depends on deadlines and whether or not I’m feeling at all creative.

Naked Heat

In the part of Texas where I live, Labor Day weekend doesn’t bring much of a temperature change, either. Sure, the days of being able to swim instead of sweat for exercise are dwindling, and the nights are getting a little cooler, but summer often lingers into October here, at least, if you go by the thermometer.

Long years of conditioning, however, have marked this weekend as the time when I shift my reading away from summer “beach” books (and I mean that literally – last year I read all of Elin Hilderbrand’s Nantucket novels; this year I still have Summer Rental and Maine to finish) to other types of books.

For some reason, I read a lot of mysteries in the fall. Maybe it’s because the falling leaves and cooling days lend a touch of unpredictability to my mood, or maybe it’s because the earlier sunsets and lingering darkness in the morning are sort of murky and shadowy.

Already in the last week or so, I finish last year’s “Castle” tie-in Naked Heat, and I’m half-way through Cleo Coyle’s latest coffeehouse mystery, Murder by Mocha.

Murder by Mocha

I’ll read other stuff of course, but for me, fall is Mystery Season.

What about you? Does your reading shift with the calendar, or do you simply read whatever your mood calls for?

30-Day Book Meme #5: Bread Alone

Bread Alone, by Judith Ryan Hendricks

The 30-Day Book Meme asks me to write about a book “that makes me happy,” and the first title that popped into my head is Bread Alone by Judith Ryan Hendricks. I love this book so much – about a woman who is dumped and left mostly penniless by her cheating husband, moves to Seattle, works in a bakery, and eventually rediscovers her best self, her romantic self, and her love of baking and fabulous bread.

Partly, I love this book because it’s a cafe story, and partly it’s because – except for the cheating husband part – she’s living one of my fantasies. I’ve bought and given away multiple copies of this novel. It’s well written, draws you in, and has vivid characters.

If only it came with freshly-baked sourdough, it’d be just about perfect.