Tag Archives: books

Day of the Imprisoned Writer 2015

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“Threats to freedom of speech, writing and action – though often trivial in isolation – are cumulative in their effect and, unless checked, lead to a general disrespect for the rights of the citizen.”

George Orwell

 

Today is the 34th Annual Day of the Imprisoned Writer, sponsored by PEN International.

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National Banned Books Week 2015

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Today is the official start of “Banned Books Week” here in the U.S.; the annual counter-assault against the angry and the self-righteous who dare to tell the rest of us independent thinkers what we can and cannot read. It’s a relentless battle.

This year the theme is “Young Adult” fiction. YA fiction, as it’s more commonly known, is the newest fad among adventurous scribes who want to help teenagers cross the troubled bridge into full-blown adulthood; the period of life where people learn the hard way that they aren’t the center of the universe. Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” trilogy is one highly successful example. Despite its popularity, it has garnered its own share of conservative protestors. I really can’t understand that. Within the context of American mythology, “The Hunger Games” has everything: violence, racial exceptionalism and plenty of bad luck. I mean, people getting shot down like wild animals. What’s more American than that?

One of the more curious books being challenged is Rebecca Skloot’s “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” Henrietta Lacks was an African-American woman, born Loretta Pleasant in Virginia in 1920, who died of cervical cancer in Baltimore in 1951. It’s not her brief life or tragic death that is necessarily so compelling. It’s not even the fact she died of cervical cancer. It’s what resulted from her death, and the variety of ethical challenges her situation posed. The type of cervical cancer she developed was unique; something oncologists at the time had never seen. Shortly before Lacks’ death, doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital removed two samples of the cancer – without her knowledge or permission. They ended up in the laboratory of researcher Dr. George Otto Gey who noticed the cells were unusually durable. Gey isolated and multiplied some of the cells, producing a line he dubbed “HeLa.” The HeLa line would go on to assist cancer researchers in the ensuing decades.

Perhaps the most famous outcome was the cure for one of humanity’s greatest scourges. Jonas Salk used the HeLa line to develop the polio vaccine, which was approved for general use in 1955, after only three years of testing. Immediately thereafter, other scientists began cloning the HeLa cell line; since then, over 10,000 patents involving the HeLa cells have been granted.

The Lacks Family didn’t learn of these advances until 1973, when a scientist contacted them, wanting blood samples and other genetic materials. For them and many African-Americans, this scenario reminded them of the infamous “Tuskegee syphilis study;” perhaps the most egregious and blatant example of medical racism in the U.S. The tale of Henrietta Lacks is nonetheless a compelling study of medical research and medical ethics. But one idiot in Knoxville, Tennessee has a different view: she calls it pornography. Parent Jackie Sims found Skloot’s book inappropriate for students at L&N STEM Academy in Knoxville. The term “inappropriate,” of course, means: ‘I don’t like it, so no one else should have access to it.’ Sims apparently equates gynecology with pornography. The term “cervical” surely sent her frail mind into a tizzy. Her precious on was given an alternate text (maybe something along the lines of a Disney coloring book), but Sims – like the typical self-righteous curmudgeon – wants Skloot’s tome to be banished from the entire school district. Fortunately, district authorities haven’t backed down, and – as of this writing – the matter is still under consideration.

For a complete selection of this year’s frequently-challenged books, check out this list. Then go out and buy, or download, one of them and read it, if you haven’t already. Remember, true freedom begins with the written word.

Banned Books Week on Twitter.

Banned Books Weeks is partnered with the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

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Banned Books Weeks 2014

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I should have mentioned this earlier, but it’s “Banned Books Week” in the United States – a time set aside every year to acknowledge the sanctimonious morons who have decided they are the ones who can choose what the rest of us can read and see. It’s the usual assault on free speech and freedom of expression moralists have been waging for centuries; a battle we writers and bloggers understand will never really be won. This is an annual event the American Library Association hosts every year. I personally feel it should be a year-long event and not relegated to a single week. The ALA maintains a list of frequently challenged books, but this year’s list features books that include the usual transgressions: sex, homosex, nudity and other various and miscellaneous adult-oriented themes that some think should be shielded from the eyes of America’s overweight, technologically-savvy youth.

Below is just a partial list of this year’s offensive tomes. For the complete list, check out the ALA web site.

Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, Thorndike Press; Little, Brown.
Removed as required reading in a Queens, NY Middle School because the book included excerpts on masturbation. Challenged on the tenth-grade required reading list at Skyview High School in Billings, MT because “[t]his book is, shockingly, written by a Native American who reinforces all the negative stereotypes of his people and does it from the crude, obscene, and unfiltered viewpoint of a ninth-grader growing up on the reservation. Pulled from Jefferson County, WV schools because a parent complained about the novels graphic nature. Challenged in a Sweet Home, Oregon, Junior High English class because of concerns about its content, particularly what some parents see as the objectification of women and young girls, and the way alternative lessons were developed and presented.

Isabel Allende, The House of the Spirits, Dial Press.
Challenged in the Watauga County, NC High School curriculum because of the book’s graphic nature. After a five-month process, the book was fully retained at a third and final appeal hearing.

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale, McClelland and Stewart.
Challenged, but retained as required reading for a Page High School International Baccalaureate class and as optional reading for Advanced Placement reading courses at Grimsley High school in Guilford County, North Carolina, because the book was “sexually explicit, violently graphic and morally corrupt.” Some parents thought the book is “detrimental to Christian values.”

Akram Aylisli, Stone Dreams, Novella published in Druzhba Narodov.
Burned in 2013 at various locations around Azerbaijan. The novella is sympathetic to Armenians and recounts Azeri atrocities in the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia twenty years ago. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev stripped the author of his title of “People’s Writer,” and a pro-government political party announced it would pay $12,700 to anyone who cuts off the ear of the 75-year-old novelist for portraying Azerbaijanis as savages.

Elisabeth Gaynor Ellis and Anthony Esler, World History, Prentice-Hall.
Challenged, but retained in the Volusia County, Florida, high schools, despite a thirty two-page chapter on “Muslim Civilizations” that covers the rise of Islam and the building of a Muslim empire. Protestors believe the Volusia high schools are using the world history textbook to “indoctrinate” students into the Islamic religion and recommend student volunteers tear the chapter out of the 1,000-page book.

Anne Frank, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, Doubleday.
Challenged, but retained in the Northville, Michigan, middle schools despite anatomical descriptions in the book.

Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere, HarperCollins.
Temporarily removed from the Alamogordo, New Mexico High School library and curriculum because of what one parents calls “inappropriate content.” The British author wrote in “The Guardian”: “Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child’s love of reading. Stop them reading what they enjoy or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like – the twenty-first-century equivalents of Victorian ‘improving’ literature – you’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and, worse, unpleasant.”

Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye, Knopf, Vintage International.
Challenged in Legacy High School’s Advanced Placement English classes in Adams County, Colorado, because it was a “bad book.” Challenge on a suggested reading list for Columbus, Ohio, high school students by the school board president because it is inappropriate for the school board to “even be associated with it.” A fellow board member described the book as having “an underlying socialist-communist agenda.”

Norani Othman, ed., Muslim Women and the Challenges of Islamic Extremism, Sisters in Islam.
Banned by the Malaysian Ministry of Home Affairs in 2008 on the ground that it was “prejudicial to public order” and that it could confuse Muslims, particularly Muslim women. The Malaysian High Court overturned the ban on January 25, 2010, and on March 14, 2013, the Federal Court threw out the government’s appeal to reinstate the ban.

Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, Pantheon Books.
Removed, via a district directive, from all Chicago, Illinois, public schools due to “graphic illustrations and language” and concerns about “student readiness.” After students fought back via Facebook, twitter, protests and radio and television programs, the school board issued a letter telling high school principals to disregard the earlier order to pull the book.

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Saving Books, Too

Among the casualties of last month’s Hurricane Sandy, books are the least recognized.  The “Reach Out and Read Program” at New York City’s Bellevue Hospital was hit particularly hard, when they lost thousands of books to the storm.  Children visit a doctor’s office more than most any other place before they start first grade, so the “Reach Out and Read Program” aims to place children’s books in doctor’s offices.  There’s nothing more valuable than the ability to read and write, and providing a child a book can introduce them to a greater number of opportunities than they might otherwise encounter.  This nation has spent too much money on war and prisons.  As individuals, we can certainly make a difference by spending money on one book to donate to the program.

You can make a monetary donation here.

Or, contact Marie Betancourt at roramarie1@aol.com to find other ways to donate.  She’s already advised me, however, that Bellevue is currently closed because of the storm.  But, I think we can all still have a more positive impact on the lives of the patients it serves.

American Red Cross.

Image courtesy Literary Hoarders.

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