Musings on Banned Books Week

In honor of Banned Books Week, I am rereading 1984 by George Orwell. My choice of books was inspired by an incident earlier this month in an eastern Idaho school district.

In Rigby, Idaho, in response to a parent complaint about the book, school officials considered removing 1984 from the curriculum of high school senior government classes. In the end they allowed the book to remain in the hands of students.

About three years ago, a similar incident occurred in Meridian, Idaho. The school board removed The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie from school reading lists, but with a different result. Someone who disagreed with the board’s decision obtained a number of copies of the book and stood in a nearby park after school (off school grounds) and distributed free copies to students as they left school for the day. The teens gladly accepted the gifts. Sherman Alexie heard of the situation and donated more copies of the book to be given away.

What happens when you tell teenagers (or anyone else) they may not read a certain title? Many will find a way to read it.

During my years as a high school English teacher, I took advantage of this bit of reverse psychology and gave students a reading assignment. Around the time of Banned Books Week, students were asked to chose and read a book that had been banned or challenged somewhere in the world. They were also to research the reasons for the challenge. Students then shared what they had learned. They never ceased to be surprised about the books which have been banned throughout history and the reasons why.

Charlotte’s Web.

1984.

The Grapes of Wrath.

The Bible.

The Color Purple.

Brave New World.

Captain Underpants.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

Wait, what??? Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? It had to do with mistaken identity. The author had the same name as another author whose ideology did not mesh with that of the school board which banned the book.

There seems to be no shortage of people who wish to control what others can and cannot read.* It’s called mind control.

I prefer to think for myself. I chose my own books to read. I celebrate Banned Books Week by reading banned books throughout the year.

My banned books assignment was widely popular among my junior and senior English students. Surprisingly, in five or six years of my assigning banned books to students, not one single parent complained.

On a side note, my husband and I toured the Library of Congress this past week. During Banned Books Week–how cool is that! We learned that Thomas Jefferson owned 6,000 books. I wonder how many of those have been banned over the years.

Enjoy your Free-Reading Friday and read a banned book!

banned books

*I’m not talking here about parents’ monitoring and guidance of what their own children read. Parents absolutely have a responsibility to see that their children read age-appropriate material.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s Friday Somewhere

Yikes! I’m a day late for Free-Reading Friday. I got wrapped up in a project and spaced out what day it was. These hot August days melt into one another. I can hardly remember what day it is unless I mark the calendar.

Can I make a case for it being Friday somewhere in the world? Maybe not. I know it’s tomorrow somewhere, and my today is someone else’s yesterday; but I may be too close to the International Date Line for my today to be tomorrow anywhere.

At any rate, any day can be a free-reading Friday as long as you spell it with “day” at the end.

I’ve just finished reading The House Girl by Tara Conklin. It is a quick, enjoyable read that switches back forth between Josephine, a young woman who lives as a slave in Virginia in the 1850s, and Carolina, a present-day lawyer who works on a lawsuit seeking reparations to descendants of slaves. As Carolina digs into history, she learns of Josephine’s difficult life. Meanwhile, Carolina has issues of her own to solve. I won’t spoil it further. If you like historical fiction, you might enjoy The House Girl.

I’m settling into my next book, Sisters in Law, by Linda Hirshman, about Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sandra Day O’Connor. My book group friends tell me it’s an interesting read.

Enjoy your Free-Reading Friday on this Saturday. It will be Friday again soon enough.

House Girl

 

Summer Reading

booksHot summer days mean extra reading time as I stay indoors to escape the 100+ degree heat. I’ve just started reading Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. I loved the movie, but I’m told the book goes into greater depth over a longer period of time. It’s what books do.

It’s been a while since I’ve offered up some suggestions for your reading pleasure. The titles I’m suggesting today are not thematically related, or even the same genre. They’re simply good books.

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom tells the story of Lavinia, a little girl from Ireland who is orphaned while on the ship bringing her family to America. The ship’s captain, who also owns a plantation, indentures her and places her in the care of his slaves who raise her. Because she is white, Lavinia never quite belongs in either the slaves’ world or the plantation owner’s world. Her situation makes for an interesting, thought-provoking, sometimes harrowing read.

Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie is a page turner about a serial killer in Seattle, Washington. Alexie addresses a number of themes, including cultural identity, Native Americans, racism and mental illness. This is not a story for the faint of heart; if you live in Seattle, I do not recommend you read alone at night.

If you’re looking for a lighter read, Still Life by Louise Penny might fit the bill. Inspector Armand Gamache is called to the quaint village of Three Pines, south of Montreal, to solve the murder of a longtime resident The first in a series of mystery novels featuring Inspector Gamache, Still Life is reminiscent of Murder She Wrote.

I hope at least one of these books suits your taste as you escape the summer heat. Stay cool and enjoy a happy Free-Reading Friday!

 

 

My Reading Journal

Greetings! This Free-Reading Friday, I have just finished reading My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul. It is a memoir inspired by the reading journal the author has kept since she was in high school. If you like books about reading, you may find this one interesting.

I, too, keep a reading journal.  I am a life-long reader, but I did not begin to keep track of my reading until I was well into my 40s. My journal began as a simple list of titles and authors in the back of my personal journal, and has evolved since then.

Around 1997, I added the number of pages each book held. I had an ulterior motive. The staff at the elementary school where I taught at the time wanted to teach the students what one million looked like. The school began a massive reading campaign. In exchange for so many pages read, students and teachers alike received “Washington Bucks” which were then posted onto the walls of the school. We never reached $1,000,000. The fire department deemed the paper-plastered walls a fire hazard in the 19th century school building. Nevertheless, we all kept reading.

In 2013, I decided I wanted to keep my reading list all in one place, so I began a separate notebook. The format allows me space in which to write responses to my reading as I desire.

Four years later, my notebook is nearly full. From the front of the notebook, I’ve listed books I’ve read. From the back, I’ve listed interesting titles I’d like to read. The two lists are about to meet. It seems there are always more books on the “want to read” list than on the “have read” list.

It’s always exciting to begin a fresh notebook for any reason. As I begin my new reading journal, I am eager to see what worlds I will visit via the written word.

Happy Free-Reading Friday!

reading journal

 

What Did Jesus Say?

Now and then I will see a  Facebook post by a modern-day Pharisee who claims “Jesus said this,” or “Jesus said that”, without including the Scripture reference. I’ve been a student of the Bible for forty years, but my response is often, “Really? I don’t remember Him saying that.”

I’ll search the Gospels for the reference. Sometimes the quotation has been cherry-picked out of context, sometimes misquoted. Other times, the quote is just plain revisionist scripture.

These occasions led me to want to better educate myself about what Jesus actually said. Thinking a red-letter edition of the Bible would be helpful, I looked through the several translations and editions we had at home. I found no suitable Bible to use. The only red-letter edition on hand was a small, King James gift Bible I had received as a child. The print was way too small for my 67-year-old eyes. Besides, King James language, although poetic and beautiful, can no longer be considered the vernacular. I needed something I could read and understand.

I went Bible shopping. I was overwhelmed by the wide range of choices, none of which was within my budget. There were large tomes with large print and space for taking notes, small Bibles with too-small print, myriad translations, even a few with the words of Jesus in red.

I also found something called journaling Bibles. These are intended for those who do art work in their Bibles in response to Scripture. Margins are ample, paper is sturdy; some even include drawings to be colored. (I consulted Pinterest. Apparently Bible journaling is quite a fad. It is telling that I found a greater variety of these in the craft store than in the book store, artfully displayed next to specialty “Bible journaling markers” and lettering templates. Someone is making a green killing on these.)

I threw up my hands in frustration and did not buy a new Bible that day. Instead, I bought a pink Bible highlighter–the kind that is erasable and will not bleed through thin paper. I would make my own red-letter edition.

The plan? Using my favorite study Bible, I would read the Gospels as an Advent discipline. As I read, I would highlight Jesus’ words with pink. I am not the most consistent, disciplined student. I have made progress, but Advent was over months ago. Here it is June, and I’ve reached the 16th chapter of Luke. That speaks to my humanness, I suppose.

Not having a deadline to finish has its advantages. I’ve been able to go at my own pace, thinking about what I read. Reading the Christmas story right after Easter gave me a new perspective. I read it not as a routine ritual, but as something to consider in relation to the Resurrection.

The highlighter has also slowed me down. I have focused on Jesus’ words. Even His shortest utterances have a power I had not before realized.

I’m glad I undertook this red-letter project. It continues to teach me much.

Bible pix

… about Book Club

I just returned home from a book club meeting. It’s an activity I look forward to each month.

Some might say we use the phrase “book club” loosely. We’re more of a ladies’ literary eating society. Once a month, seven or eight of us, all retired school teachers, get together. The hostess regales us with a delicious luncheon, and we visit about this and that before getting down to the business of discussing what we’ve read over the past month.

Our group decided a couple years ago to take a different direction from traditional book clubs. After getting bogged down with a couple of  books no one enjoyed, we dispensed with the idea of all reading and discussing the same book. Now we all read whatever we want during the month. At book club, each of us reports on her favorites; then we share books around so everyone has a chance to read them.

Some (most) of us are addicted to purchasing new books, so there are always plenty to share around. Today, a couple of the ladies brought multiple tote bags full. If someone can’t find a book she wants to read, she isn’t paying attention.

We visit all afternoon. The discussions are lively, the company pleasant. I never fail to return home with a hefty list of books that I’d like to read. It’s a wonderful way to spend a Free-Reading Friday.

books

Photo: public domain

Unlocking the World

I ran across the featured picture while I was looking for something else. The quilt in the photo was one of my very first attempts at applique and patchwork years ago. I don’t name all my quilts, but I named this one “Reading Unlocks the World”.

How true that is. I grew up an ordinary kid in an ordinary suburb of Boise, Idaho. When my family traveled, we went one place–to Sacramento to visit relatives. My world was quite small.

Reading indeed unlocked the world for me and allowed me to travel far and wide.

As a youngster I traveled to the Land of Oz, visited a little girl and her grandfather in a small cabin in the Swiss Alps, and trekked along the Oregon Trail.

I met movie stars, Presidents, sports heroes, and Helen Keller. I also met ordinary kids like myself, who taught me how to navigate my growing world.

The adventures have continued throughout my reading life. I cannot imagine a life without reading.

This snowy spring day, I have begun a new journey into the life of Albert Schweitzer via his autobiography, Out of My Life and Thought. I have read many biographies over the years. Somehow I missed this one  until now.

Enjoy your Free-Reading Friday!