Real talk: On the banning of books

I love to read.

Obvious statement is obvious, of course, but it’s one that I believe bears repeating. Since I learned to read many, many, many years ago, I’ve read pretty much every book I could get my hands on. My fourth and fifth grade teachers still talk about how they had to make me put up my book during our weekly spelling tests.

There were two articles I read last week; both, coincidentally, involved author Neil Gaiman. Now, I feel like someone is going to revoke my nerd status for this next remark, but I have to clear the air her: Gaiman’s bestseller book, American Gods, is one of the few books I have never been able to finish. The story just did not captivate me the way I hoped it would.

There. I said it. Shun away, y’all.

(Also, if you’re not a reader but wondering why American Gods sounds familiar, it’s because it’s currently in development as a series for HBO).

However, an article popped up on my Twitter feed linking to a Guardian article about a lecture Gaiman gave recently in London. You can read the article in its entirety here, and I strongly recommend you do so — and yes, for those of you who are Facebook friends with me, I did post this on my wall last week.

There was one key point that ties into the next article, and it’s really such an amazing point that I want to highlight it here.

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 21st-century equivalents of Victorian “improving” literature. You’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.

Well-meaning adults… it’s those people I want to discuss now.

The other article I saw on Twitter last week referenced one of Gaiman’s other popular works, Neverwhere. The BBC recently produced an amazing podcast of the story featuring a veritable Who’s Who of British stars including James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer, and Benedict Cumberbatch (available on iTunes, I believe).

A mother in Alamogordo, New Mexico, successfully petitioned the local school board to remove Neverwhere from a supplemental reading list at Alamogordo High School, where the book has been offered in the curriculum since 2004.

Why?

A single passage on page 86 which makes reference to two background characters engaging in public sex.

And just for the record, I would like to high five the English teacher at AHS who wrote this letter in response to the controversy. Rock on, Ms. Wallis!

Now, let me clear this up: I do not have kids. I don’t even have a dog. However, I don’t think it’s possible for me to state how strongly I am opposed to this sort of knee-jerk reaction from “well-meaning adults” when it comes to removing books from library shelves.

Story time! When I was in the eighth grade, a mother of one of my classmates petitioned the school board to remove several books from our junior high library shelf. While I’ve forgotten what the third book was, the other books were Detour for Emmy and The Color Purple — the former because it included a sexual scene, the latter because the book opens with a rape.

My thirteen year-old self was very outspoken against the campaign. I supported our school librarian, talked to my classmates and teachers about why the banning of books was wrong, and even wrote a letter to the editor of our local paper (my parents still have several copies in their office).

I didn’t believe — and I still don’t believe — that a few parents have the right to dictate what I can and cannot read. Nor do I feel that this mother in New Mexico has the right to deprive 100+ high schoolers of the opportunity to read Neverwhere. I was blessed with two amazing parents who pretty much let me read whatever I wanted to, but they were always there to talk about my literature choices with me.

My best friend’s parents wouldn’t allow her to read Harry Potter. We all know how much I adore those books. They weren’t my parents’ cup of tea, but they never tried to stop me from enjoying them. We had open discussions about witchcraft, magic, and faith — but not once did they take my books away from me.

Long story short: banning books is wrong. And in our society, it is baffling to me that this sort of thing is still going on. Take a stand, and read a banned book. Or you know, read a non-banned book.

The point is: read.

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She had her nose in a book…

…And her head in the clouds.

For my last birthday, my wonderful family gifted me with a NOOK Color. After an initial period of resistance to the e-reader trend (I just love the heft of a book in my hands), I’d finally admitted that yes, I wanted the shiny.

And really, as much as I love books, I don’t have the room in my current home to store them. Books need room to breathe and stretch their arms, to be admired — I live in a shoebox (but a very nice shoebox at that).

Within two weeks of receiving my NOOK, I had read almost nine books — what can I say? I needed to catch up on The Hollows! And I can definitely see why my parents said “No NOOK until you finish grad school.”

Truth

While I’ve slowly been slogging along through A Song of Ice and Fire this summer (better known as the Game of Thrones books), I’ve had to pause my journey through Westeros to read a few books from my local library.

The conundrum for me: I have the first four George RR Martin books. They’re mine. But library books are mine for a finite amount of time — I have to read them right then and there! And yet, later I wonder why it’s taking me four months to get through A Clash of Kings.

Most of you who know me know that I have very… eclectic tastes. I’ve documented my love for fantasy and science fiction novels, but honestly? I’ll read most anything. Here are a few of my current reading/have read/to read selections:

Have read: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling, better known as Kelly Kapoor from The Office, is hilarious. Her writing is self-deprecating, witty, and after finishing her book, I just want to be her best friend. It’s a super easy read that you’ll devour in less than a day. AND, she’s got her own show this fall on FOX called The Mindy Project — you can check out the trailer here.

Needless to say, I’ll definitely be tuning in!

Currently reading: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Okay, confession time. When I say “currently reading,” I mean that it’s loaded on my NOOK and I need to read it before I have to give it back to the library. But I’m starting it tonight, so progress! The Paris Wife tells the story of Ernest Hemmingway’s first wife, Hadley, and their life together in Paris during the Roaring Twenties.

Paris? The Lost Generation? Did I mention Paris? Yes, please.

To read: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Oh come on, y’all knew I had to have a fantasy book somewhere on this list (Game of Thrones notwithstanding). The Night Circus is the September book for the DC Theta alumni chapter Book Club — which I am going to make a concerted effort to go to next month!

In all honesty, I don’t know much about this book. But the blurb on the Barnes and Noble website makes it sound interesting, so I’ll give it a go.

And then, I might finally finish A Clash of Kings. >.>

Sound off! What are some of your favorite books and/or series? (And please remember, this is a 50 Shades of Grey-free blog — mention it not!)

In defense of urban fantasy

A lot of blogs I follow have ‘themes,’ such as cooking blogs, travel blogs, entertainment blogs. For those of you who saw the title of this post and thought, “WTH?” then I’ll just say this — the theme for this blog is ‘My Life’ therefore the posts are varied in subject.

Last night, I drove to Baltimore for a book signing. Those of you who know me know that I’m a voracious reader. I love reading! If I like a book, I’ll start reading and likely won’t stop until I finish — which is the reason my parents refused to get me a NOOK until I finished grad school. Ignoring homework in favor of reading novels… yeah, I’d probably have done that.

Sorry, I’m not sorry.

The author in question was Kim Harrison, author of the The Hollows series (also known as the Rachel Morgan series). Her tenth book in the series, A Perfect Blood, was released on Tuesday, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet her in person.

So, I braved both the rain and rush hour traffic on the Beltway to drive to Baltimore to meet one of my favorite authors. And you know what? It was so worth it.

Swag for the attendees -- Rachel's pack tattoo

When I got to the signing at 6:15 (it started at 7:00), my line number was #102. And here I thought I’d arrived decently early. It didn’t matter. I had the chance to meet and chat with (for two hours) Erika from Your Urban Fantasy, which was fantastic. It’s so nice to chat with someone who’s just as big a fan of the books as you are! We discussed our favorite characters, plot points, and who we hope Rachel ends up with at the end of the series (Trent).

But standing in line for two hours (why oh why did I wear my boots with heels?) totally paid off when I got to the front to meet one of my favorite authors.

I met her!

She was SO NICE! I’ve commented on her blog before, and she replied — how awesome is that? She maintains her own blog and replies to comments — but it was so cool to meet her in person. To tell her about how much I’ve loved seeing Trent (my favorite character) evolve over the past ten books in person was surreal. This woman — this amazing, talented writer — who takes time to listen and communicate with her fans… it was the best part of my month.

Those of you who know me know that I love to write, and one day, I hope to publish my own books. All I can say is that if my books are only a fraction as good as Kim’s, then I’ll be one happy writer.

Now, moving to a slightly different (yet relevant topic): why urban fantasy?

I get this question a lot — usually from my family. If they see I’m reading a book, their first question is usually, “Is that one of those weird vampire books?”

My question is: Why are vampire books (and fantasy books in general) considered weird?

I’ve made no bones about my love for Harry Potter, but those are far from the only fantasy books I enjoy. I’ve read nearly every book written by Anne Rice, enjoyed the Anita Blake books (up through Incubus Dreams, at least), and I’m getting into A Song of Ice and Fire — better known as the Game of Thrones series.

But yet, the voice of my mother asks, “Why do they appeal to you?”

It’s hard to succinctly define why these books are so appealing. But there are a few themes that ring true in nearly every single fantasy book I’ve ever read.

Strong characters: No one wants to read a book where the main character is a limp noodle — I’m looking at you, Twilight. The woman in fantasy books have a tendency to kick some serious ass, and it’s awesome! Rachel Morgan is the typical girl next door (er, witch next door), and while she often gets her own ass kicked as often as she’s doing the kicking, you can relate to her struggles. She doesn’t sit around and wait for the men in her life to come to her rescue — she’s out there, saving her own skin. Daenerys Targaryen grew from a young girl whose life was controlled by her older brother into a strong, confident woman — a khaleesi in her own right. And when Ron left, Hermione didn’t sit around and wait for him to come back. She helped Harry find the Horcruxes needed to kill Lord Voldemort.

Another world alongside our own: In The Hollows, you can get your insurance from werewolves. Witches sell charms that work better than asprin, and the most powerful bachelor in Cincinnati is secretly (or not so secretly) an elf. Hidden from humans until a virus wiped out a quarter of the world’ populations in the 1960s, Inderlanders (supernaturals) came out of the closet and helped restore order. Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake is an “animator” — a person who temporarily raises the dead so they can be questioned for legal purposes. She’s also a licensed vampire hunter/executioner and a federal marshal. There’s another world running parallel to our own, which brings me to…

The mythology: In urban fantasy, the hero/heroine’s world is expanded upon with each passing book. I loved learning more about the origins of demons and elves in Kim Harrison’s books, how witches evolved from a curse put upon the demons by the elves during the last great war between the two species. The world of Harry Potter is so rich and incredibly detailed that the mind just boggles. There’s just so much possibility in these worlds; while reality might blow, you can pick up a fantasy novel and get lost in a different world for a time.

There’s a little bit of everything: You want romance? Action? Mystery? Danger? Magic? I need say no more.

Power: While it might seem like I’m solely an urban fantasy fan, that’s not the case. But in UF books, the individual has real, tangible power. Rachel Morgan (I keep going back to her, but I love those books so much) has the power to end the war between the elves and demons, to restore balance in Inderlander society. Her actions have rippling consequences, both good and bad. This is someone whose life is (in my opinion) so much more exciting than my own.

Imagination: These books are so fantastically not reality that I’m drawn to them. When I read a book, I like to escape. And reading books about normal, everyday life just doesn’t always appeal to me. I live that everyday — I want to read something new. Something exciting. 🙂

Love.

So, what do you think? What sort of books appeal to you, and why?