Whoops! BANNED Book Week

Well.

I humbly compose this retraction. As many of you probably realize, this is not Band Book Week but rather Banned Book Week. Obviously an ostrich of an entirely different color. Sure, band books are important, and what with the sex and drugs some of them are probably banned band books, but what we really celebrate this week is freedom from censorship.

Libraries and schools are targets for those who feel that certain types of materials should not be accessible in a public venue. They challenge these books, approaching those in authority with a request to have the books removed from circulation. Sometimes, sadly, the books are removed (banned), but more often they remain available.

Many recognized masterworks are frequently challenged, including 1984, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, and The Grapes of Wrath.

Books 1-4Newer challenged books include Fifty Shades of Grey and The Lovely Bones.

Books 4.1-4.2

Children’s and young adult materials are frequently challenged, including Captain Underpants, The Hunger Games series, the Harry Potter series, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

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Graphic novels are not exempt from attempted censorship. Bone by Jeff Smith was number 10 on the 2013 most often challenged list. Other critically acclaimed graphic novels such as Blankets by Craig Thompson and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel have also been protested as containing “obscene images.”

Books 9-11All of these examples are wonderful books in the eyes of some readers, but books that should be hidden from the light of day by others.

Why, you might wonder, would someone think a book should be banned? Reasons ranging from sexual overtones to anti-family content, from promotion of smoking and drinking to coarse language, from sexism to nudity are all used to justify the challenges to these books. There will always be materials that someone objects to, but fortunately we have a system that allows people to object, their objections to be reviewed, and censorship to generally not be tolerated.

Let me regale you with a couple of stories from my life that help illuminate my attitude.

My high school librarian was not a very friendly person. Most students did not like him. It came to light that he took it upon himself to hide books in a back room if he thought that they were not suitable for students. These books did not show up in the card catalog and he did not go through any channels to have the books banned. It was purely one individual’s decision. And of course these decisions impacted hundreds of people each year. This is not a shocking story that ends with our hero being wrongly tortured and executed, but it did shape my attitudes towards censorship.

The second story is that of living in a country which practices censorship. For two years I lived in Malaysia and this provided an interesting introduction to censorship. Certain books and magazines were not allowed in bookstores (I never interacted with the library system if there is one). Movies were edited to remove language and objectionable scenes, as were television shows. Of course this censorship was carried out for religious reasons, and I respect this, but it did make me appreciate the freedoms we have here. And on a side note, much like Prohibition times in the USA, the censored materials were available if you knew where to look, but getting caught was not a desirable outcome.

Getting back to the books that were listed above, I’ve read about half of them and I’m a better person for it. I sometimes read books that disturb me but often gain something from them. I enjoy themes that might disturb others and I’m glad that books with those themes can be found in my public library. And most of all, I’m ecstatic that I don’t have to secretly obtain censored books and live in fear of being discovered with them.

So celebrate! Check out a banned book and see what the fuss is all about. Come to the main library to see our banned book display. Find a book that you think should be banned and try to approach it with an open mind, perhaps searching for redeeming qualities. In all activities, rejoice that you have the freedom to object, to read and most of all, to benefit from the collections that we maintain in the library.

Invasion of the Killer B-movie Robot Monster from Mars

It CameB-movies meet P.G. Wodehouse in the 2014 graphic novel It Came!, ‘directed’ by Dan Boultwood. Boultwood previously illustrated a series of graphic novels about The Baker Street Irregulars which were written by Tony Lee, who has also written for IDW’s Doctor Who Comics.

Before the main ‘feature’ there are a number of 1950’s style advertisements. For example, the top of one page sports an illustration of an attractive, stylish woman declaring, “I like my men like I like my bacon: Smokey.” At the bottom of the page: “Smoke & Choke’um Cigarettes: For that discerning odour.”

Just before the ‘feature attraction’ begins there is a ‘trailer’ for another ‘feature’ (and possible future comic, according to interviews with the author): The Lost Valley of the LostLost Valley features the two stars of It Came!, Dick Claymore and Fanny Flaunders, as well as Cecil Herringbone and Sir Rutherford P. Basingstoke as Caveman. The trailer features views of canyons with our heroine, played by the lovely Fanny Flaunders, in perilous situations: being attacked by a snake, a plant and a spanner. The trailer’s climax sees the heroes being confronted by a rather cuddly dinosaur.

On to our ‘feature’, It Came!, presented in Eyeball-O-Rama-Vision! A colorful poster-style page depicting a giant robot clutching a beautiful woman proclaims, “Something is coming round for afternoon tea…and it isn’t the vicar!” Then our story begins. In 1950’s England an old farmer drives his tractor under the stars. Suddenly, a robot monster attacks!

Two days pass and Dr. Boy Brett, dashing pipe-smoking British scientist, and his lovely assistant Doris Night are motoring down a country road in what appears to be a Morris Minor. Brett is very English, with rather Wodehousian speech patterns. For example, complimenting Doris, Brett says, “You know, Doris? For a girl, you’re a good egg!”

Doris and Dr. Brett stop at a pub in a quaint country village. The village is deserted. Our heroes are chased by an alien robot. They escape to the next quaint village, which is inhabited by people who appear to be living in the 1940’s. Dr. Brett makes a very British phone call to Colonel Willie Warwick Wilberton of the British army, who sends out some troops in exchange for two pints and a pork pie.

And that’s just the first quarter of the book!

Earth vs Flying Boultwood is inspired by American B-movies of the 1950’s, the type one might see on Mystery Science Theater 3000, such as Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers and Attack of the Crab Monsters. However, It Came! is more of an homage than a send-up. Boultwood has lots of fun with the genre (for example, when the flying saucer is revealed there is a string attached!), but the fun is never cruel.

It Came! has everything: beautiful women, flying saucers, soldiers, politicians with really big pipes, explosions, tea and crumpets, and, of course, science! It’s enjoyable, funny reading and I highly recommend it.

Ghosts in the Shelf

Voodoo Hoodoo SpellbookAs librarians, we love it when our patrons get excited about the materials we purchase for them. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a title we’ve ordered fly off the shelf and accumulate holds; it’s a good sign that we’re on the right track to knowing what our readers want. Occasionally there’s a downside to success: when we can’t keep a title on the shelf because people don’t want to return it. When titles go unreturned we charge the guilty party and replace the books right away, either with copies of the same book, or with something more updated. We often order multiple copies of replacement books to accommodate the obviously high level of interest. Over time, the librarians who buy books in different areas of our collection have come to notice specific titles and topics that go A.W.O.L. more frequently than others. Some may not be too shocking to some, while others may be a bit of a surprise. Here’s what our book selectors have to say about what some readers just can’t get enough of at the EPL:

Essential Bicycle Maintainance & RepairAccording to Richard, bicycle repair manuals often ride off into the sunset, and sex instruction books frequently go undercover.

Pat reports that books on growing and cultivating marijuana go up in smoke.

Alan frequently has to reorder rock star memoirs on addiction recovery.

Game of ThronesAndrea says that in the young adults section, books by Ellen Hopkins are frequent offenders. One disappearing nonfiction title that gave her a chuckle had something to do with being an ethical hacker.

In Zac’s area, he has to replace a lot of graphic novels. Some eternally-popular titles include Sin City Vol. 1, The Eye of the World, The Game of Thrones, Y: The Last Man, The Lucifer series, and Batman:The City of Owls.

Cover image from Numerology for your FamilyFor my part, books in the occult and new age areas (reading crystals, casting spells, astrology, etc.) can be an issue. Bibles, bible study books, and devotionals are often not returned. My favorite not returned title was a self-help book on impulse control. My guess is that the borrower really needed it.

Other problem areas include automotive repair, true crime, diet and medical advice, gardening and homesteading, herbalism, foraging, computers and technology how-tos, cookbooks, tattoo design, crafting, test prep, and home projects.

For the most part it seems like the materials that most frequently go unreturned at the EPL are items that people might need at their side for quick reference. There are a lot of manuals (hands-on or spiritual) for getting through day-to-day problems, or self-improvement. Occasionally these books make their way back to our shelves after long absences. One can only hope that this means the borrowers finally fixed whatever issues were plaguing them.

While we may find some humor in the variety of materials that our patrons can become overly-attached to, missing items can be a serious problem if left unchecked. Library staff constantly work at following up on long-overdue items to make sure that materials are where they need to be when our readers want to check them out. So to our loyal readers, if you happen to be sitting on a cache of late materials, be kind and get them back a.s.a.p so that someone else can enjoy them.

Adventures in Time and Space – Part 1

I’ve been a Doctor Who fan since 1985, back when budgets were low and one had to stay up until 1am (or later) on Saturday night to get a weekly Doctor Who fix. The character of the Doctor appealed to me, generally using his wits rather than weapons to defeat his foes.

general Dr Who picWhat or who is Doctor Who? It’s a British science fiction TV serial that first aired on November 23, 1963. The ‘Who’ in the title refers to the mystery surrounding the main character, known only as The Doctor, his real name never being revealed.

The Doctor is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. His people mastered the mystery of time travel but chose to observe rather than interfere in the lives of other people and planets. The Doctor, however, as he put it in the 1969 story The War Games, ‘got bored’. So he left his planet in a stolen time machine called a TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space), became a self-imposed exile, and travelled time and space fighting injustice in the Universe.

The Doctor has the ability to regenerate, to die and be reborn, and with each regeneration his appearance changes. This allows different actors to play the role. So, every three years or so, one actor leaves the show and another takes over, which accounts for the program’s longevity. Thus far 11 actors have starred as The Doctor in the British Broadcasting Corporation’s long-running show, and a 12th recently made his first appearance in the 2013 Christmas episode.

Doctor_Who_1996_posterThe ‘classic’ show ran continuously from 1963 to 1989, a Saturday tea time staple until the early 1980s when the BBC began experimenting with time slots. Seven actors played the role during this period. Later, a US/UK coproduced Doctor Who, featuring an eighth actor in the role, was attempted in 1996. It was a big hit in the UK but not in the USA and so remained a standalone film rather than a series.

In 2005, the program was revived by the BBC, with Russell T. Davies acting as executive producer and head writer. Davies created the TV series Queer as Folk  for Britain’s Channel 4 network, which was later reworked for the American cable network Showtime. Steven Moffat, who co-created the hit series Sherlock, a contemporary reimagining of the Sherlock Holmes story, is the current executive producer/head writer for Doctor Who. The revived Doctor Who has currently run for 7 seasons and is one of the top rated dramas on British television, as well as the highest rated show on the US cable channel BBC America. Amazingly, November 23, 2013 was the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of Doctor Who!

EPL holdings include:

Individual story arcs from the ‘classic’ series

Classic
 Specials

Specials

Seasons of the revived series

Revived

Audiobooks

Audio1

Fiction

Fiction

Graphic Novels

Graphic

So whether you’re new to Doctor Who or a seasoned veteran, a veritable gold mine of treasures awaits you. And stay tuned for the next installment of Adventures in Time and Space, which focuses on books about The Doctor.

Getting Graphic

We’re heading steadily through March, and I have to say I’m a wee bit proud of myself for continuing to work through my only New Years resolution this year. If you’re a regular reader, you may recall my self-imposed reading challenge which was designed to stretch my mind and read outside of my comfort zone.

Here’s a quick rundown of my 2014 Reading Resolutions:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book 
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past
  11. Read a graphic novel (see below)
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

You’ll kindly overlook the fact that I’m skipping around on my list. Sure, it would have been more organized to tackle these in list order, but it turns out I can’t quite ignore that little voice inside my head that still wants to rebel against prescribed reading–even if I am the person who came up with the guidelines! The only way to drown out the voices is to read what I’m in the mood to read. And this month I decided to get graphic.

I’ve always gotten a bit lost trying to read graphic novels. My brain can’t stop looking around at all the images, and comparing and contrasting what I see with what my brain is trying to imagine on its own. Rogue brain. Be silent!

PrestoEnough of my neuroses. Let’s talk about Bandette. Presto! is the first book in the Bandette series by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover. Bandette is a teenage thief who calls Paris home. I like to refer to her as a modern-day Nancy Drew meets Robin Hood meets Sherlock Holmes. She always dons her costume, complete with cape and mask, before venturing out to clean up the streets, thwarting the criminal underworld as well as the local police inspector, Belgique. She has a weakness for first editions–her personal library is split between the books she’s purchased with her own money and books she has “liberated,” also known as stolen. And her skills as a thief are only matched by her quick wit and unique sense of humor. Bandette may not take the world so seriously, but is that due to her age or her occupation? Take this line, for example. She’s in the thick of battle and still manages to quip:

Hush, Matadori! The air is already thick with bullets. Do not overcrowd it with drama as well.

Presto! combines the first five issues of the Monkeybrain comic book series Bandette. And while I hadn’t read them until I happened upon this tome in our Young Adult graphic novel collection, I am hesitant to read any more until the next bound volume is published. For one thing, it will build anticipation. It will also allow me to work on other reading challenges in my list. And honestly, reading them bound together with all the little extras in the back (including author interviews and a behind-the-scenes look at the process of writing, drawing, and coloring the comic) is in and of itself a beautiful thing I’d miss out on.

When I started reading Presto!, which can be easily consumed in an afternoon, I knew I would need to take notes on my reading experience for the blog. Here are my reactions, perceptions, and ideas that I recorded during my introduction to Bandette. You can click on each image to make it larger and easier to read.

Notes1 Notes2

Since it’s past my deadline (Bandette wouldn’t follow any but her own deadlines!) I’ll let my handwritten notes above speak for me. You can also take my husband’s word for it, as he devoured Presto! the night I brought it home to read and nagged me about it until I had time to read it myself. I even purchased my own copy, knowing I will re-read it in the future.

Overall I’ve come out of this third reading challenge with a better appreciation for the illustrated novel and a definite plan for Halloween. I’ve also got what I would call a new literary best friend. Bandette, I can’t wait until we meet again in volume two.

Caught in the Act: We Read Banned Books

Sex, drugs, and bathroom humor – all of these and more could land a book on the American Library Association’s list of frequently challenged books. In honor of Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of our freedom to read whatever we see fit, we’ve asked A Reading Life regulars and guest posters to tell us about their favorite banned books.

The Face on the Milk Carton coverTheresa
The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
Janie Johnston’s life was boring, boring, boring until one day at lunch when she grabbed her friend’s milk carton. She was allergic to milk, but one little sip wouldn’t be a big deal, would it? On the milk carton was a picture of a little girl kidnapped from a shopping mall 12 years earlier. Suddenly, Janie remembered the dress, the way the starched collar itched, and the way her braids tickled her cheeks. “The girl on the back of the carton,” she whispered to her friends, “it’s me.” Janie cannot believe that her loving parents kidnapped her, but as she tries to piece together what happened, no other answer makes sense.

This story of Janie’s quest to find answers and to discover her true identity is a captivating read; a book that I have easily sold to teens looking for a good book. I was surprised to find it on a list of frequently challenged books. The most common reasons listed were: challenge to authority, sexual content, and inappropriate for age group. Yes, Janie skips school with her boyfriend Reeve to try to find some clues as to what is the truth of her parentage, (challenge to authority?). The complaint about sexual content really surprised me. I had to reread the book to figure out where that came from. Reeve asks Janie how they will explain skipping school, he says, “they’ll figure it’s sex we wanted….” (sexual content?). “Inappropriate for age group”, is the one complaint that may have some merit when it is coming from elementary school parents since the book deals with teenagers and high school issues. Grade school readers might not be familiar with high school life, and they might not be interested in dating and such, but the plot isn’t particularly what I would consider to be for mature audiences.

I will continue to recommend The Face on the Milk Carton and its sequels. Janie’s dilemma, “What if I am not who I think I am?” is a theme that resonates with teens as they look for their place in the world, and the intrigue as she unravels the mystery of her origin make for a fast read.

The Stupids Step Out coverRon
The Stupids series, by Harry Allard
The Stupids are a wonderful non-conformist family whose adventures can be read about in The Stupids Step Out and The Stupids Have a Ball, among others. Along with their cat Xylophone and dog Kitty, Stanley Stupid, his wife and their two children Buster and Petunia look at life a little differently than most.

A typical day in the Stupid household might include breakfasting in the shower, mowing the rug, interpreting a power outage as death, and sleeping with their feet on their pillows. Illustrations are filled with weird touches such as strangely labeled pictures hanging on walls, people engaged in bizarre activities or wearing odd clothing, and pets who are more clever than their owners.

In other words, these are silly books. There is something for both kids and adults to enjoy and little chance that children will be permanently warped through reading about the Stupids. So be a rebel, read a banned book to your kid. Just make sure to wash their pillowcase after they use it for their stinky feet.

The Glass Castle coverMarge
The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls
“Don’t I always take care of you,” asks Jeannette Walls’s father, in her memoir, The Glass Castle. In reality he almost never did. Raised by both a father and a mother who seemed genuinely oblivious to the needs of their children, Walls recalls frequent moves, poverty, hunger and neglect. Remarkably, she describes her turbulent family life in a matter-of-fact tone without bitterness or self pity and with flashes of humor and a sense of the ridiculous.

A popular book on the New York Times bestseller list for many weeks, The Glass Castle was also among the top 10 most challenged books in 2012 for offensive language and sexually explicit content according to the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom. Indeed, there is some foul language and one particularly distasteful scene but the language and content simply seem appropriate to the story the author is telling.

Those unlucky enough to be deprived of the opportunity to read this book would miss the story of a woman of great resilience and forbearance who not only survives but prevails. Refusing to let her past define her, Walls moves to New York City at seventeen, finds work, graduates from Barnard College and begins a career as a journalist. As the book ends, she is hosting a Thanksgiving dinner at her home for her mother and siblings seemingly at peace with the past.

Blankets cover imageAlan
Blankets by Craig Thompson
This terrific coming-of-age graphic novel was pretty famously challenged for its depiction of a nude teen. How bad is it? Out of 592 pages, we’ve got 1 or 2 pages that are risqué (and beautiful, brutal, and true). Pick up this phonebook-sized volume and your reward is the real deal, a literary depiction of what it is to: come of age with a brother, fall in love, lose your faith, and be a human being. The art is incredibly evocative. Innocence is wide-eyed, with thin lines and graceful flow. Anger is expressionistic, jagged, thick, and black, black, black. Highest possible recommendation.

What did Thompson do next? The gorgeous, even more care wrought Habibi.

We hope this short list has tempted you to take a walk on the wild side and read some banned book with us. For more information about Banned Books Week, and why books are challenged or banned, check out ALA’s excellent collection of resources on the topic.

Sherlockmania!

He is one of the most recognizable names in literature. Hundreds of pastiches by copious authors have been written about his character. Movie and TV series abound. Parodies aimed at all ages proliferate. And a multitude of quotes which never issued from his fictional lips are attributed to this British detective, Sherlock Holmes.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories are undoubtedly brilliant, introducing (or at least popularizing) a new genre, a new style of detection. The hero is not a particularly likable or sympathetic chap, but his skills are remarkable. It’s no wonder that he has maintained such a high level of acclaim for more than a century.

Sherlock Holmes originally appeared in 4 novels and fifty-six short stories set between 1880 and 1914. His character apparently died in a story written in 1893 (but set in 1891), but fan outcry led to his resurrection in 1901 (in a story set in 1894).

Technology has changed since Holmes’s introduction and Everett Public Library carries Sherlock Holmes books on CD, eBooks and AudioEBooks in addition to plain ol’ books printed on paper.

Perhaps it is comforting to know that Sherlock’s adventures did not end with the death of Conan Doyle. Numerous authors, many alive today, have written stories about Holmes’s exploits during the same period that Conan Doyle chronicled.
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(The Italian Secretary is also available as an AudioEBook)

Other authors have dared to speculate on Holmes’s life after his apparent retirement.
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Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes titles by Laurie R. King are available as books, large print books, eBooks, books on CD, and AudioEbooks.)
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A Slight Trick of the Mind is also available as a book on CD)

In some cases, Holmes has even been thrown into the present, through a series of mysterious occurrences, of course.

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One can also find series aimed at young adults featuring Sherlock as a teenager.
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(Death Cloud is also available as a book on CD and AudioEBook)

One series, which focuses on the young boys who make up the Baker Street Irregulars, is aimed at younger readers.
Fall of the Amazing
(Set in the Victorian era)

Another format aimed at young adults and juveniles is graphic novelizations of Conan Doyle’s stories.
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Murray Shaw graphic novels
(These juvenile books include explanations of Holmes’s deductive reasoning and the clues that helped him arrive at a solution)

Perhaps the biggest buzz currently centered around the famous detective is the BBC series Sherlock. This take on Holmes has him living in present-day London, not a man somehow removed from Victorian times but simply a brilliant investigator born near the close of the 20th century. This ingenious show delivers unto us a Holmes who has all of the 21st century’s miraculous technology at his fingertips. The stories are based in the Conan Doyle canon, but include abundant updating and fast-paced dering-do.
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And when you finish this superlative series, be sure to look into some of the other big and small screen depictions of England’s most brilliant detective.
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And if that’s not enough to keep you busy, there’s always Agatha Christie

Ron