Monday, September 27, 2010

Banned Book Week

The American Library Association (ALA) has declared this week Banned Books Week.

If you are like me, you read a list of books that have been challenged by members of the public for removal from the library and scratch your head at at least one or two titles on the list — because, if you're like me, you've read the books on the list and didn't have the same reaction.

Here is the list from 2009:

  1. ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle — Reasons: drugs, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  2. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson — Reasons: homosexuality 
  3. The Perks of Being A Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky — Reasons: anti-family, drugs, homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited to age group
  4. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee — Reasons: offensive language, racism, unsuited to age group 
  5. Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer — Reasons: religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group 
  6. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger — Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group 
  7. My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult — Reasons: homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
  8. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler — Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group 
  9. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker — Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  10. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier — Reasons: nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group 

I've read most of them.  Aside from hating My Sister's Keeper for its lousy ending (which is different than the movie ending, surprise surprise), I don't understand why these are objectionable (despite the reasons listed).  Plus, I thought And Tango Makes Three was lovely.

According to the ALA, Banned Books Week
celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them.

So, go read a banned book.  Make up your own mind.

I will, too.

See you at the library.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

At the Tollbooth

I am seeing the author and illustrator of my favorite book ever.  At one of my favorite bookstores ever.  With Carole.

Okay, breathe.  (Which is more than I did when I saw the writing on the wall.)

When Carole and I were in Politics and Prose for Sara Gruen's reading (more on that later), Carole sought a couple of Newbery Award-winning books for her collection in the children's book section.  (She found two of the rarer titles, which was a lovely addition to the evening.)

As Carole stood at the cash register with her purchases in hand, my eye caught a sign on the wall behind the bookseller:

Norton Juster
and Jules Feiffer
will be here

At that point, I stopped breathing and grabbed Carole's shoulder.

"What?" Carole aske, alarmed.  (Normally I'm not speechless.)

I pointed at the wall.

The gasp Carole uttered was worthy of a Juster-Feiffer lover.

The Phantom Tollbooth is my "desert island" book, and I keep extra copies on hand for loans.  I also give the book as a gift to people of all ages.  From the very young (Bradley was about a week old) to the, er, adult, everyone who has received it has declared it the perfect gift.

I knew the duo were publishing another book this year, but I hadn't kept track of its progress.  The Odious Ogre is out and ready for me to read.  Once the author and illustrator's signatures are on the books, I will be a content woman.

Now, plenty of people will see them at the National Book Festival, and I wish those readers all the best in that endeavor.  However, I'll be seeing these two talented men at a wonderful bookstore with however many people will fit within its walls.

Carole and I will be there early.  I don't think we'll camp out at the door, but I can't rule out the possibility.  May the bookstore staff take pity on two very eager readers early on a Sunday.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fall for the Book on the Horizon

For those of you who have marked your calendars, you know Fall for the Book is going to start Sunday, September 19.

I will be among the crush of people trying to meet Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain.

I won't be among those in the crush trying to meet Kathryn Stockett, which disappoints me to no end. Apparently the event planners decided she was too popular to allow us to determine who would attend her event, so it was ticketed. And these required free tickets were gone within a half hour, distributed by an overwhelmed staff that couldn't keep up with demands.

I expected someone of her stature to be in the biggest venue on the Fairfax campus. The Help has been on the bestseller list for the better part of a year, and the movie based on it already is in production. Instead, she's in Reston, at a venue I've never visited. Perhaps I shouldn't malign the venue, but I can't imagine it would have more seating than the Center for the Arts, where Carole, Collin, Corinne and I saw Chinua Achebe last year without tickets.

Let me repeat that:
Chinua Achebe
without tickets
at the Center for the Arts.

And no one got hurt.

But enough of the sour grapes.

There are some great authors at this year's event.  David and I will attend the discussion of The Poisoner's Handbook with author Deborah Blum at NVCC-Loudoun.

Carole and her mom Lynn will see Ann Patchett at George Mason University (and get my books signed for me while I'm in Loudoun County).

Novelists, poets, non-fiction writers, bloggers and more will fill the venues all over the metro DC area with a plethora of literature and books.

The following weekend is the National Book Festival — visit that website and see what fabulous authors will be in the District that day.

See you at Fall for the Book!

Update: I am seeing Kathryn Stocket, thanks to my friend Joanna.  The pressing of sour grapes into whine now may cease.  

Monday, September 13, 2010

Review: Sacrifice

I am of two minds about Sacrifice.

One: what a wild story!

Two: I hate the narrator.

First, the first.  As with Blood Harvest, the other S.J. Bolton novel I reviewed, this is one convoluted story with lots of twists and turns.  I'm all about that.  I just always feel like I'm the last one at the party.  Now, part of this issue with Sacrifice I blame on the second issue — but more about that in a moment.

This is one rocking story.  Tora is a new obstetrician in Shetland, a small enclave in Scotland (yes, where those adorable little ponies originate).  She's originally from London, from a big raucous family, but moved to Shetland at the behest of her husband, Duncan, the only child of a quiet family with distant parents.  He relocated his business and purchased their house, and Tora transferred to a small but efficient and well-appointed hospital in town.

After six months, while digging her horse's grave, Tora finds a body in the peat: a woman who died within two weeks of giving birth.  Oh, and she had her heart cut out of her chest.  This all happened within the past three years, as best the medical examiner can tell.  Tora is consulted as the staff obstetrician, so she feels drawn into the case.  Her boss, conveniently tall and hunky, tells her to let it go.

That's her cue to help the lead detective, Dana, who finds herself thwarted at every turn.  The two of them find more resistance than they expect in this sleepy town, and it all looks suspicious.  Every clue and lead they encounter, together and separately, is explained away.

And that's where I learned to hate Tora.  She's supposed to be this bright doctor, but she accepts the wobbly stories of the men around her with little more than a puzzled look.  Even as the bodies mount and the evidence decries their flimsy excuses, she takes their word over her own eyes— even when her husband tells her an apparent lie about key evidence.

Tora's hunky boss admits to being able to control her and she still lets him prescribe her drugs.  Her father-in-law, the leading expert in a particular language, tells Dana she'll get more information from her over-the-counter library book than she will from him, and Dana agrees.  Police inspector Andy tells her a bizarre break-in with telling evidence at her house is just a "sick joke" and she should "just forget about it," so she sets about to do just that.

Tora even undermines and discredits the brilliant mind of her police officer friend because the men in her life disagree with Dana.  To Tora's credit, she eventually grows a spine and brain, but she has to do it over someone's dead body — though even at that, not even right away.

Bolton spends a lot of time introducing plot twists that have no basis in the story, but the story itself is compelling, so I'm willing to take that leap.  However, as with Blood HarvestSacrifice throws in surprises at the end with plot complications galore and a big reveal I literally didn't see coming.  Bolton's books make me feel like I missed an important memo everyone else received.

Sacrifice was an interesting story, so I don't really want to warn readers away from it.  Just be ready to leap.

Myself, I think I will take a break before I venture into Bolton territory again.  Maybe by then, I'll have gotten her Big Reveal Memo and won't be left skimming the book for missed clues.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Review: Johannes Cabal the Detective

With so many of my beloved books in boxes in a storage unit two miles from home, I needed a friend.  Johannes Cabal did the trick — in Johannes Cabal the Detective, the second book of this deliciously wicked series by Jonathan L. Howard.

It is no secret that I loved the first book, Johannes Cabal the Necromancer.  First of all, who could resist the title? Second, the first chapter was riveting.

Howard does the same again, only differently, in this second Cabal.  Unlike other serials, this new installment introduces Cabal in a new light: a free man.  Of sorts.  When a man tries to steal a book never intended to see the light of day, he loses some freedom, especially in Mirkarvia.  However, not all is lost: the emperor is dead, and Cabal's special talents are needed.  Freedom for the temporary revival of a country's leader?  Seems like a fair deal.  Alas, not everyone is as honorable as Satan....

Thus begins Cabal's new situation in the midst of a European political struggle.  Having to fashion himself as a civil servant aboard a dirigible, he faces his nemesis and discovers there's more going on in government than pencil-pushing and a luxury cruise aboard the Princess Hortense.

Howard doesn't disappoint with the second installment of the necromancer's activities.  More importantly, readers have a chance to become better acquainted with this brilliant, creative necromancer.  Cabal's perspectives and asides are worth the price of the book alone (especially when picturing him in his first, albeit not last, precarious position that involved a stiff breeze and a robe).  And just when you thought you might have it all figured out, you discover you so don't.

Many books today come with afterwards that belabor the point, book club discussion points, author interviews and assorted other afterward chapters — and I have come to skip as many as I can get my hands on.  However, do not make that mistake with this book: if you think the story is over, keep reading.  In a word: fascinating.

Howard knows how to treat his readers.  He already has half of the next Cabal book under his belt — which I am champing at the bit to read it.

Read this book and laugh aloud time and again.  Then recommend it to a friend.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Reacquainting Ourselves With Old Friends

A few years ago, I stumbled across juvenile fiction titled Mr. Putter and Tabby.  I can't remember if this dynamic duo were baking a cake or running a race when we met, but they were up to something.

In the books written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Arthur Howard, Mr. Putter is an elderly gentleman who lives alone until he meets his new old cat, the supportive Tabby.  The two of them have their habits — eating oatmeal, taking naps — but every once in a while, they manage to find just enough trouble to get their hearts pumping.

Usually it involves their neighbor, Mrs. Teaberry, who lives alone with her good dog, Zeke. Mrs. Teaberry is up for adventure and always wants to try something new.  Zeke wants to be a dog and chew, though he also knows how to be polite (well, as polite as a bulldog can be).

The watercolor drawings are charming and expressive, the stories are sweet and the characters are lovely.  I am hooked.

They have gotten into a slew of adventures, Mr. Putter and Tabby, and Mrs. Teaberry and Zeke usually factor in, even if it's peripherally.  While the characters are somewhat traditional in their mannerisms, they usually have a few surprises hidden up their sleeves.

One of the hooks for me is the drawings — more specifically, Tabby draws me in.  Tabby's face is expressive, especially when her teeth start chattering.  Usually she's pretty laid-back, but when faced with temptations that cut to the quick of her cat-ness, she chatters.  (When faced with a roomful of yarn, what cat wouldn't?)  Also, Tabby is more than content to just be with Mr. Putter, and that warms my heart.

Mr. Putter is no slouch in these stories.  We don't know a lot about him and Mrs. Teaberry, but we learn a little more with every story with glimpses into their youth and young adulthood.

Frankly, everyone needs these people in their lives.  I am fortunate that I have my own Mrs. Teaberrys and Zekes in my life with two wonderful neighbors who also are friends.  Plus, it's no secret that I have my own Tabby or two, which makes good cat stories all that much better.

 This week at the library, I discovered a few more adventures of Mr. Putter and Tabby that were new to me, and I walked out with a half a dozen books.  They were delicious.

I am thrilled to discover that Mr. Putter and Tabby have a new adventure coming out next week, and I will anxiously await its arrival at the library.

If you haven't met these delightful characters yet, I suggest you visit your local library or bookstore.  You can't go wrong with any of the titles in this series.