Sunday, September 30, 2012

Banned Book Week Begins Today: Are You Ready?

Are you ready to read some banned books?

For some of us, this isn't a stretch — like Whoopi Goldberg, we read plenty of books that have been banned or challenged, like poems by Shel Silverstein. (Watch the video below.)

For others, it is novel: why read something you're not supposed to read? Someone decided it's not right to do, read a particular book — so why read it?

My question is: why let someone else decide what you're going to read?

Yes, we do it all the time. We pay attention to awards and bestseller lists, bookseller picks, our friends. But we have choices. When someone pulls a book off the library shelf, it removes our choice based on their criteria.

Libraries do not have all books on the planet (and they have fewer every day — so make sure your state and municipality support and fund public libraries!). Someone has to decide what makes it on the shelves, so why not manipulate the criteria? If I don't "believe" in evolution, or magic, or pre-marital sex, or using profanity, can't I help the library by telling them what books contain that which I find objectionable? Because libraries are for the community as a whole, and what is considered "unacceptable to the community" should be carefully and cautiously defined.

Libraries are not the only place to find books. Sure, maybe I could go buy it — but why? Why must I purchase books because someone else has decided I mustn't read them via the public library I help fund?

I am fortunate: only once did my folks suggest I not read a book. I was not even in high school and my mom thought I might want to wait until I was older to read about the Mason "family" murders. Other than that, I decided. And I want to continue deciding for myself, and making sure that the public can decide for itself.

So do what Whoopi Goldberg and I do: read banned books.  You can get a list at the bottom of this page, or ask your librarian.

By the way, if you are like me, you'll be amazed at what you've already read that's been challenged.

Read openly, read whatever you want, read freely. Read.

Friday, September 28, 2012


One of the most tragic stories in literature is unrequited love. 

One of the bravest characters in literature is Severus Snape.

(For the record, I wondered, but never wavered. If the headmaster could trust him to completely, who was I to doubt?)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Poetry Wednesday: Rita Dove, Fall for the Book

Today, former Poet Laureate Rita Dove is reading at the Fall for the Book Festival, and I can't wait to meet her. Here is one of the Pulitzer Prize-winner's poems. Listen to her read it at the White House, then read it yourself.

Maple Valley Branch Library, 1967

For a fifteen-year-old there was plenty
to do: Browse the magazines,
slip into the Adult Section to see
what vast tristesse was born of rush-hour traffic,
décolletés, and the plague of too much money.
There was so much to discover—how to
lay out a road, the language of flowers,
and the place of women in the tribe of Moost.
There were equations elegant as a French twist,
fractal geometry’s unwinding maple leaf;

I could follow, step-by-step, the slow disclosure
of a pineapple Jell-O mold—or take
the path of Harold’s purple crayon through
the bedroom window and onto a lavender
spill of stars. Oh, I could walk any aisle
and smell wisdom, put a hand out to touch
the rough curve of bound leather,
the harsh parchment of dreams.

As for the improbable librarian
with her salt and paprika upsweep,
her British accent and sweater clip
(mom of a kid I knew from school)—
I’d go up to her desk and ask for help
on bareback rodeo or binary codes,
phonics, Gestalt theory,
lead poisoning in the Late Roman Empire,
the play of light in Dutch Renaissance painting;
I would claim to be researching
pre-Columbian pottery or Chinese foot-binding,

but all I wanted to know was:
Tell me what you’ve read that keeps
that half smile afloat
above the collar of your impeccable blouse.

So I read Gone with the Wind because
it was big, and haiku because they were small.
I studied history for its rhapsody of dates,
lingered over Cubist art for the way
it showed all sides of a guitar at once.
All the time in the world was there, and sometimes
all the world on a single page.
As much as I could hold
on my plastic card’s imprint I took,

greedily: six books, six volumes of bliss,
the stuff we humans are made of:
words and sighs and silence,
ink and whips, Brahma and cosine,
corsets and poetry and blood sugar levels—
I carried it home, past five blocks of aluminum siding
and the old garage where, on its boarded-up doors,
someone had scrawled:

I can eat an elephant
if I take small bites.

Yes, I said, to no one in particular: That’s
what I’m gonna do!

by Rita Dove
Courtesy Ms. McClure's Class

Monday, September 24, 2012

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Read-Out: Banned Book Week Begins September 30

What if you had no choice in what you could read?

There are plenty of people who think they know better than you what you should be able to find at the public or school library. The American Library Association supports the freedom to read by illustrating the danger of limitations on this freedom from Banned Books Week.

This year, Banned Books Week is September 30 to October 6.

Celebrate Banned Books Week by reading a banned or challenged book. You can find the top 100 banned or challenged classics of the 20th century here.

Consider participating in a read-out, either in person or virtually.  Read a banned book out loud and share it, as encouraged by Bookmans:

...or on your own YouTube video channel. Find out more here.

Reading out loud, in public, on camera — they're all just ways to make sure you read what you want, when you want, and how you want.

Don't let others make that decision for you. Support the freedom to read.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Book Festivals Abound in September: Are You Ready?

If you're in the metropolitan Washington area, or if you want to take a trip to the nation's capitol, consider the two biggest book festivals of the year.

National Book Festival features 100 authors and illustrators that gather on the National Mall for two days of book-love.

This year, the festival will be held September 22-23 and this year features Avi, Jewel, Lois Lowry, Donna Britt, Walter Issacson and Charlaine Harris and dozens of others. Click here for information.

If you want a chuckle with your guidance, read this Washington Post article, "Everything you always wanted to know about the National Book Festival (but were afraid to ask)."
Fall for the Book will be held September 26-30 at George Mason University, the City of Fairfax and throughout the metropolitan Washington region. Scheduled authors include Neil Gaiman, Michael Chabon and Alice Walker and dozens of others. Click here for information.

What festivals are in your area? How do you get ready for them? Share your ideas and information.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Poetry Wednesday: Porch Swing in September

You may recognize this poet from a previously shared poem on Hedgehog Lover....


Porch Swing in September

The porch swing hangs fixed in a morning sun
that bleaches its gray slats, its flowered cushion
whose flowers have faded, like those of summer,
and a small brown spider has hung out her web
on a line between porch post and chain
so that no one may swing without breaking it.
She is saying it's time that the swinging were done with,
time that the creaking and pinging and popping
that sang through the ceiling were past,
time now for the soft vibrations of moths,
the wasp tapping each board for an entrance,
the cool dewdrops to brush from her work
every morning, one world at a time.

From Flying at Night. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Burning House: An Experiment

What would you take with you if the house was on fire? I asked that question in one memorable Poetry Wednesday post, The valley is on fire.

Find out about Foster Huntington's book and related website, The Burning House, and how he found that answer among friends and strangers alike.

Have you written your poem on the subject? Taken a photo? Made decisions?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The valley is on fire

Years ago, I watched news coverage of a California wildfire on television and asked myself, "What would I take with me in a fire?" Of course, I had to up the ante, so I tossed in a little more tension. This was the resulting poem. 

It's actually an amazing mental exercise: if all of your peeps and pets were safe, what belongings would you take with you? Set your own boundaries (car or carry, etc.) and answer the question yourself. Maybe the answer is your next poem.

The valley is on fire

and it comes as no surprise
to me.  I grew fond of the dense
grainy sunset, and the ashes
on the porch were a welcome
sight.  They helped me think.

But my eyelid still twitches
when I get the empty boxes from the trunk
of my Chevy, and when the cat scratches
her litter I freeze, sure
it is your tires crunching up the gravel
driveway.  I’m not a coward, but I know
my strengths.  You are not among
them.  So I pack first the things
for which I would burn — Mother’s
jewelry, the cat’s medicine, my

The wind picks up.  Now I smell
the fur of those to small to outrun
the quick snapping flames.
I lift the drawers
from the dresser, turning them
upside down and giving them a shake
or two — not because they
need it, but because I need
the finality of a shake.  You have
taught me well. 

And when the litterbox
is stacked on the Samsonite in the back seat
and my galoshes are wedged next
to the spare tire and my ten favorite
books are tucked in with the linen
and Nana’s typewriter presses against
the picnic basket below the cat and carrier
up front next to me, I’ll start
out of the valley, before the fire reaches
what was always your home anyway.

- by Chris Fow Cohen
© Chris Fow Cohen. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Summer Reading: Down to the Wire!

Is your summer reading program completed, now that school is in full swing and you are back to the grind, the sand swept out of the car and the cardigan is gently hung in the closet? Or are you a "late" reader, with summer reading extending until the lunar end of the season: the autumnal equinox?

Either way, I hope your summer reading was successful and fun.

I am among the latter — as are all those who joined Chris' Summer Reading Challenge. Summer lingers for a while after Labor Day, even though the days are drawing to a close earlier with every passing sunset. The nights are cooler, but the sun remains strong — and reading, any kind of reading, remains a joy. Summer continues through September 22 this year, so those who are up for the challenge have a little longer to consume their summer reading list.

Those who joined Chris' Summer Reading Challenge have until another 11 days to finish their summer reading. Please send me your completed reading list (title and author of books) consumed between June 13 and September 22. Also, please let me know how you plan to donate time or funds to your local library or literacy program.  Karen and Stacy have kept me abreast of their reading, which has been exciting, and Karen and I will discuss The Great Stink this week. (I'll post a review soon, but I have one word for you: wow!)

If you're the reader with the heftiest consumed list, you will receive the book of your choice. (If you don't remember this part of the deal, catch up on it here.)

Okay, get back to your books, and we'll chat again soon. Happy reading!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Review: How To Be A Woman

Caitlin Moran is like the girlfriend you always wanted, or always wanted to be. She's honest, smart, quick-witted and funny as hell — and so is her book, How To Be A Woman.

She also knows how to go too far at the right time. There were a couple of stories and quips where I had to hang on for dear life to read. I may not have had a similar life, but I assure you I've had some of the same thoughts, ideas and experience.

I don't know if I'd have the same conversations with my husband about my daughter's vagina, but let's just say if I did, I'd feel better knowing someone else had, too. She wrote enough to make me realize I'm not the only one — on so many topics.

I also loved her chapters on underwear, menstruation, sexism and declaring her feminism. I heard a friend say she didn't think she was a feminist, but she was an educated professional with her own bank account and the family's sole provider. When I asked her what she thought feminism was, she thought for a moment, then thought some more. "I wouldn't stand on a chair," she finally said. But yeah, she realized she's a feminist after all. (You're welcome.)

In the end, Caitlin made me laugh a lot, cry a little, and think. I loved the book and plan to read it again. And again. Then pick up her new book, Moranthology, so I can ready even more of her writing. (For the record: I have pre-ordered it. Look for it on UK sources.)

She may not be for everybody, but everybody should give her a try.

And for the record, I loved Aslan. Still do, in fact. Thank you for saying it out loud first, Caitlin.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Poetry of... Einstein?

Einstein was a genius, so of course he wrote poetry. (Duh!) Thanks to Stephanie Smith and Susan Entner from the City of Lake Forest, California, for sharing this gem.


Imagination is everything.
It is the preview of life's coming attractions.
(I am enough of an artist
to draw freely upon my imagination.)
Imagination is more important than knowledge.
Information is not knowledge
and yet knowledge is still limited,
for knowledge of what is
does not open the door directly to what should be.
Yes, logic may get you from A to B,
but Imagination will take you everywhere.
Imagination encircles the world.
Imagination is everything.

by Albert Einstein

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Benefits of Labor Day, With Robert Frost and Abigail Adams

Think about all the benefits the workforce has been given, and today thank those who came before you who made sure you got them.

We call them "work benefits," but they're really life benefits.

Good fences make good neighbors, indeed. These benefits are fences that keep employers from taking what isn't theirs: your life. They were hard won, and they are hard kept. Workers need to protect them, even now, preferably as a group, with the power and protections such a group conveys.

The interests of employers is different than the interests of workers. Abigail Adams' words ring true even today: all men would be tyrants if they could. Always tend your fences: not against someone, but for yourself.