Tag Archives: Right to Read

Summer Reading: Thinking Outside the Covers

Today we share with you a post that first ran in 2016, which has been updated with information for this years’ Peabody Summer Reading.  We hope you enjoy exploring the various kinds of reading you can accomplish at the Library this summer!

I think we’ve made the analogy here at some point before, but books are a lot like food.  Some formats, genres, styles, etc., are like candy, that you can just keep consuming with nary a thought.  Some are like really expensive, decadent cakes that you bring out for special occasions, and some are like bananas, that, frankly, make you gag just thinking about them (I’m using a personal example here.  If bananas are your thing, then more power to you.  You can have All My Bananas, too).


Furthermore, the way that we ingest stories is as varied and as particular as the way we ingest food.  Some people gobble, some people nibble…you get the idea.  The point I am trying to make here (other than the fact that I wish it were lunchtime) is that there is no right way or wrong way to get your daily dose of reading.

downloadIn the case of younger readers (and anyone who has Summer Reading to accomplish).  Time was when ‘Summer Reading’ was akin to force-feeding, especially for those students who weren’t visual learners, or who read more slowly, or in a way that wasn’t strictly standard.  And that experience turned a lot of people off of reading for a very long time, which is truly heartbreaking.  Thankfully, now, summer reading lists tend to be much more flexible in terms of students’ choices, as well as much more inclusive of popular titles and more modern themes (incidentally, if you want to see some of these lists, for you or a student near you, you can see them here).  And, even better, is that, as we learn more and more about the wonders of the human brain, we are beginning to appreciate more that not everyone absorbs books in the same way.

AudiobooksFor example, despite the fact that we live in a world that is increasingly based on visual learning in the form of computers, tablets, and screens, there are still any number of people who are auditory learners, meaning that they remember better after hearing directions or a story or a lecture than they do after reading or watching one.  Often, auditory learners have a tough time with summer reading because it is supposed to be an individual, and highly visual exercise that often feels at once very challenging and very boring.  For these readers, audiobooks have been a saving grace.  Not only to they present books in a way that auditory learners can absorb much better, they offer any number of benefits for all.  For example, audiobooks can help readers access stories about their reading level, or in an unfamiliar vernacular–for example, books like Wuthering Heights or Return of the Native that are denser, and tend to feature very rural language and slang that isn’t always easy to comprehend if not spoken out loud.  Additionally, I often find that audiobooks allow me to see the humor or subtext in stories that aren’t always readily obvious from the text.

Fortunately, the Library not only has plenty of audiobooks on our shelves, we also have access to digital audiobooks via Overdrive (which you can download) and Hoopla (which allows you to stream content).  You can chose to read along with the audiobooks, or listen exclusively.  Additionally, a number of e-books offer audio narration along with the text (which Amazon has named WhisperSync) so that you can listen and read at the same time.

graphic-novels-melbourne-482x298For Peabody middle school readers, praise the Heavens, the only requirement for the summer is to read two books.  Any books, whatever books make you happy.  And this opens up a whole world of potential for readers.  For those who aren’t huge fans of traditional books, the Library has a sizable collection of Graphic Novels.  These books are just as valid, just as emotionally and intellectually engaging as straightforward novels, and feature a range of plots, genres, and reading levels.  It’s also worth noting that, as graphic novels become an increasingly popular genre, we are seeing the rise of picture books for adults, that feature beautiful, vivid, and imaginative illustrations for those of us who might not be graphic novel readers.  These books are a great way to start a conversation about visuals in books, and to help readers of different mediums find some common ground.

Finally, reading never has to be a solitary pursuit.  Check out our great Teen and Children Events calendars to see some of the great programs we have lined up to help you meet your reading goals, whatever those might be.


Talking about “Trashy”

Today, we’re taking a look back at a post from October 2015, an oldie-but-goodie that we hope you enjoy!

Yesterday, the fabulous book blog BookRiot posted a sensational review of “The Books That Made Us Romance Readers”–a collection of the books that changed their ideas of romance, and made them passionate, devoted genre readers.  It was a wonderful article, with some truly sensational recommendations.  But part of the introductory material really grabbed my attention: Author Nikki Steel mentioned her umbrage with The Word.  That Word that so grates on my own nerves.  That Word that always comes out when we talk about romance novels.


It’s a word that gets used so often in describing romances, and has been used for so long, that I think we may just take it for granted.  But we shouldn’t.  Because it’s a word loaded with so much meaning and judgement that it often keeps people from even picking up a romance novel, let alone enjoying all that it has to offer.

2015-05-05-1430841078-9909489-romancenovelreader1-thumbIf I told you that a specific genre comprised 13% of all adult fiction sold, and over 50% of all paperbacks purchased, had a regular readership of 29 million people, and collectively earned $1.44 billion last year (which is 20% of all adult fiction sales), what word would you use to describe that genre?  Powerful?  Probably.  Influential?  Certainly.  Trashy?  Most likely not…unless we are talking about romance.  We talk about spy novels, political thrillers, mysteries as “light reads”, “easy reads”, or “fun reads”.  But very, very seldom does anyone call these genres by the T word.  Also, I have never seen anyone act shyly about checking out or reading a book with explosions, military paraphernalia, or espionage-type briefcases and trench-coats on the covers.  Yet there remains a stigma about romances that no statistics can seem to shake.  Why?

In a career retrospective, playwright Vicky Featherstone recalled some advice she had been given years ago: “We’re really used to living in a society where the main narrative – politicians, kings, judges – the main narratives on-stage and in our lives are male-led. And actually, we don’t know whether we’re very good yet at watching a female narrative, especially with a flawed character.”  I hold that this fact is true on-stage, in our lives, and in our books, as well.  The idea of a male spy, a male army general, or a male detective isn’t at all revolutionary, or in any way dangerous.  They have a cultural sanction to be the heroes of the story, and to have women as their sidekicks, their assistants, their lovers, wives, girlfriends, or victims.  But the idea of a female spy (who isn’t  femme-fatale), a female general, or a female private eye presents a challenge to many.

Putting-Women-in-a-BoxFor centuries, female characters have been put in boxes.  Medea is insane; Lady Macbeth is a villain; Bella Swan in an ingenue; Hester Prynne is a victim.  And many people are still very uncomfortable when women break out of those boxes and become the uncontrollable, unpredictable heroine of their story (I’m looking at you, Gone Girl).  Male heroes don’t challenge the status quo, just as male-dominated narratives don’t make us think twice.  But women with narrative power calls all the things we consider ‘normal’ into question.  And it is, sadly, a part of human nature to strike out at things that make us uncomfortable–to deny them their power in order to make things go back to ‘normal’.


220729ede753d421406c10cf64228b4dHence, the unfortunate rationale of That Word, and a major reason for the stigma surrounding romance novels: women in charge of their own lives, calling their own shots, and demanding happiness on her own terms challenges most of the narratives we have read throughout history.  Perhaps most disheartening of all, though, it also stigmatizes readers.  Readers who, according to the stats, tend to be college-educated people with jobs and incomes.  But readers who are told time and again that romances aren’t “realistic” (because the idea zoo animals plotting to kill us all, or a zombie virus that can only be combatted by two male heroes is in any way more realistic?); that they give us an “unhealthy worldview” (if that were true, then we should all stop reading books about serial killers immediately).   That they give unreasonable expectations…

But breaking out of those boxes, and having limitless expectations is precisely what romances allow female characters to do–indeed, it rewards them for it; not necessarily with marriage or with a man, but, more importantly, with fulfillment and self-affirmation.  As the brilliant Maya Rodale explained in an article for Bustle: “the HEA [happily ever after] is the heroine’s reward for embarking on an adventure, defying expectations for herself, creating her own story, discovering what makes her happy and learning to live and love on her own terms. And the real reward isn’t the ring or the guy, it’s getting to be happy.”  They encourage their female readers not to settle, and to refuse to stay put in the box.

So rather than label romances with words that strip them, their characters, and their readers of power and agency, let’s find a new way to describe them, shall we?  Progressive?  Revolutionary?  Empowering?

…Or we can just start by calling them books.  And reminding readers that they have brains and feelings and the individual right to read whatever they want.



Banned Books Week: A Letter From Pat Conroy

Every year during Banned Books Week, we try to feature a letter from an author responding to the challenge to, or attempt to ban their books.  This year’s letter come from American novelist, memoirist, and lover of words and letter, Pat Conroy.

Conroy was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1945, the eldest of 7 children.  His father was a Marine Corp fighter pilot who suffered from alcoholism, and was both physically and emotionally abusive to Conroy, his siblings, and his mother.  The family moved a great deal as a result of the armed forced, and thus, Conroy had few outlets or friends until college.  Basketball was a saving grace, allowing him an outlet for the emotions and stress of his home life.  So was English, as you’ll soon see.

Conroy was a graduate of The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina and his experiences there provided the basis for two of his best-known works,  the novel The Lords of Discipline and the memoir My Losing Season.  Though he taught in South Carolina after his graduation, he was fired after his first year for his unconventional teaching practices, including his refusal to use corporal punishment on students, and for his alleged lack of respect for the school’s administration. He later wrote The Water Is Wide based on his experiences as a teacher, and the book was awarded a humanitarian award from the National Education Association.

Conroy wasn’t afraid to shy away from tough discussions and conversation.  His novel The Great Santini dealt with a marine fighter pilot who was physically, emotionally, and psychologically abusive to his family.  The book caused a good deal of estrangement between Conroy and his family, with his mother’s family picketing outside his book signings and attempting to prevent people from attending.  His father would also, apparently, sign copies of the book with the inscription “I hope you enjoy my son’s latest work of fiction”, with ‘fiction’ underlined multiple times.  Conroy also supported bringing awareness to the hidden life of ‘military brats’,  from their secrets strengths, to the enormous difficulties of displacement, isolation, and trauma.

His two most well-known works, arguably, are Prince of Tidesabout Tom Wingo, an unemployed South Carolina teacher who goes to New York City to help his sister, Savannah, a poet who has attempted suicide, to come to terms with their past, and Beach Music, a novel about an American ex-patriate living in Rome who returns to South Carolina upon news of his mother’s terminal illness, and attempts to face his own darkness, including the loss of his wife to suicide, and the friendships that were torn apart by the Vietnam War.  Both novels–and many of Conroy’s other works–were made into successful and memorable films.  But their content also made some people uncomfortable.

Some of those people worked for the Kanawha County school board in West Virginia.  When parents complained about their children reading the books for their high school Honors English class, taught by Steve Shamblin (who had taught the books several years in a row) due to the depiction of suicide, violence, and sex, the Kanawha County school board banned The Prince of Tides and Beach Music in 2007.  Students in the school banned together, led by a young woman named Makenzie Hatfield, and vowed to take the school board to court to prevent the ban from being implemented, or spreading.  As Hatfield noted to the press, “This is a college class… We chose to take this class. The school didn’t tell us to. We chose.”  During Banned Books Week in October of 2007, students from Nitro High School teamed up with students from George Washington High School, both schools in the Kanawha County School District, to form a student coalition against censorship, and approximately 50-60 students wore T-shirts with their own protest slogans, and held their books at a board meeting, while demonstrating a silent protest. Some 20 students also signed up to speak about their First Amendment rights, and rights as readers.

Hatfield also sent an email to Conroy, who responded with the letter below, which we quote in part:

October 24, 2007

To the Editor of the Charleston Gazette:

I received an urgent e-mail from a high school student named Makenzie Hatfield of Charleston, West Virginia. She informed me of a group of parents who were attempting to suppress the teaching of two of my novels, The Prince of Tides and Beach Music. I heard rumors of this controversy as I was completing my latest filthy, vomit-inducing work. These controversies are so commonplace in my life that I no longer get involved. But my knowledge of mountain lore is strong enough to know the dangers of refusing to help a Hatfield of West Virginia. I also do not mess with McCoys. […]

In 1961, I entered the classroom of the great Eugene Norris, who set about in a thousand ways to change my life. It was the year I read The Catcher in the Rye, under Gene’s careful tutelage, and I adore that book to this very day. Later, a parent complained to the school board, and Gene Norris was called before the board to defend his teaching of this book. He asked me to write an essay describing the book’s galvanic effect on me, which I did. But Gene’s defense of The Catcher in the Rye was so brilliant and convincing in its sheer power that it carried the day. I stayed close to Gene Norris till the day he died. I delivered a eulogy at his memorial service and was one of the executors of his will. Few in the world have ever loved English teachers as I have, and I loathe it when they are bullied by know-nothing parents or cowardly school boards.

About the novels your county just censored: The Prince of Tides and Beach Music are two of my darlings which I would place before the altar of God and say, “Lord, this is how I found the world you made.” They contain scenes of violence, but I was the son of a Marine Corps fighter pilot who killed hundreds of men in Korea, beat my mother and his seven kids whenever he felt like it, and fought in three wars. My youngest brother, Tom, committed suicide by jumping off a fourteen-story building; my French teacher ended her life with a pistol; my aunt was brutally raped in Atlanta; eight of my classmates at The Citadel were killed in Vietnam; and my best friend was killed in a car wreck in Mississippi last summer. Violence has always been a part of my world. I write about it in my books and make no apology to anyone. In Beach Music, I wrote about the Holocaust and lack the literary powers to make that historical event anything other than grotesque.

People cuss in my books. People cuss in my real life. I cuss, especially at Citadel basketball games. I’m perfectly sure that Steve Shamblin and other teachers prepared their students well for any encounters with violence or profanity in my books just as Gene Norris prepared me for the profane language in The Catcher in the Rye forty-eight years ago.

The world of literature has everything in it, and it refuses to leave anything out. I have read like a man on fire my whole life because the genius of English teachers touched me with the dazzling beauty of language. Because of them I rode with Don Quixote and danced with Anna Karenina at a ball in St. Petersburg and lassoed a steer in Lonesome Dove and had nightmares about slavery in Beloved and walked the streets of Dublin in Ulysses and made up a hundred stories in The Arabian Nights and saw my mother killed by a baseball in A Prayer for Owen Meany. I’ve been in ten thousand cities and have introduced myself to a hundred thousand strangers in my exuberant reading career, all because I listened to my fabulous English teachers and soaked up every single thing those magnificent men and women had to give. I cherish and praise them and thank them for finding me when I was a boy and presenting me with the precious gift of the English language.

The school board of Charleston, West Virginia, has sullied that gift and shamed themselves and their community. You’ve now entered the ranks of censors, book-banners, and teacher-haters, and the word will spread. Good teachers will avoid you as though you had cholera. But here is my favorite thing: Because you banned my books, every kid in that county will read them, every single one of them. Because book-banners are invariably idiots, they don’t know how the world works—but writers and English teachers do.

I salute the English teachers of Charleston, West Virginia, and send my affection to their students. West Virginians, you’ve just done what history warned you against—you’ve riled a Hatfield.


Pat Conroy

You can read the full letter over at Letters of Note.

As Conroy notes, life is hard.  People do terrible, seemingly unspeakable things to each other, and to themselves.  But books give us the power to speak of these things in a way that builds empathy, provides invaluable insight, and helps many of us feel that we are not alone in coping with such issues.  They may spark uncomfortable discussions or thoughts, they may lead us to feel negative emotions–but all of those feelings are part of growing, of having our worldview expanded, and widening our ability to connect with other human beings whose live is unlike our own.  That is an incredible power for such a small object as a book.  And Banned Books Week calls on us to celebrate that power, not to hide it.

Pat Conroy died in March 2016…but we still send along our thanks to him for his courage, for his words, and for his defense of everyone’s right to read.

It’s Banned Books Week!

It’s a big week in bookland, dear readers.  Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers — in shared support of the freedom to seek and express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

Banned Books Week began in 1982 in response to a surge in challenges to books across the country.  Since them, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF)  tracks reports of book challenges and bans and compiles the annual Top Ten Challenged Books List  in order to bring awareness to this issue.  Their report this year was chilling.  There was an alarming 17% increase in book censorship complaints in 2016.  Since most challenges do not get reported by libraries to the OIF, the actual number is probably much higher. Another fact to add to this disturbing trend: typically, only 10% of the titles reported to OIF are normally removed from the institutions receiving the challenges.  In 2016, half of the most frequently challenged books were actually banned last year.  You can have a look at this video, produced by the American Library Association, about the 10 most challenged books of 2016.  Many of them are titles that have been challenged previously, but a few are new.

The Banned Books Week Coalition (BBWC) is a national alliance of diverse organizations joined by a commitment to increase awareness of the annual celebration of the freedom to read, and this year, they are is responding to these challenges and increased censorship with “Our Right To Read,” a celebration of the diverse range of ideas found in books, and our right as citizens to make our own intellectual choices.

BBWC Chair Charles Brownstein says, “Our free society depends on the right to access, evaluate, and voice a wide range of ideas. Book bans chill that right, and increase division in the communities where they occur. This Banned Books Week, we’re asking people of all political persuasions to come together and celebrate Our Right to Read.”

We’ve said it here before, but at our Library, you–and everyone else who visits us–have the right to read whatever you like.  We are honored to help you access the stories, information, and resources that you need, without judgement.  And we are also huge fans of Banned Book Week.  So stay tuned this week for more celebrations of our right to read!

On Book Shaming…

One thing you won’t find in the Library.

I realize that my social media feeds probably look very different than most people’s, dear readers.  I subscribe to a lot of book review sites, book lover’s sites, library sites, reader’s advisory sites…to be brief, there’s a lot of book talk going on.  Today, when I logged in, two links were posted back-to-back that got me thinking.

The first was a page that presented a list of books that an “educated, literate” person “would never admit to reading”.   This list, bizarrely, ran the gamut from the Twilight Saga to The Protocols of Zion (a terrifying work of anti-Semitism that was celebrated by the American Nazi Party), from John Grisham’s earlier works to the Scarsdale Diet Manual (a fad diet from the 1970’s that contributed more to heart disease than it did to weight loss).

That a list would run such an enormous gamut without comment or critique was in itself…odd to me.  A lot of the books there were ones I had read in history and literature classes in college (The Valley of the Dolls was on more than one syllabus, actually).  There were a lot of books written by wom

en, or written for a primarily female audience (romance novels, etc).  A lot of them were just old.  And there’s nothing wrong with reading old books.  They may be a little anachronistic, but…so is The Fall of the House of Usher.  But I haven’t heard anyone try and use that against it.

The second link was to a list of “Great Books” that the author had lied about reading (they had told people they had read these books even though they didn’t).  And you know what?  I hadn’t read any of those books, either!

And it got me to thinking…why on earth do we attach so much shame and emotion baggage to the books we’ve read, or the books we haven’t read?  Maybe it speaks to the cultural power of books (or, at least some books) that we feel like we aren’t ‘whole’ people without having experienced it?  But I never finished War and Peace, and I’m still here.  I’ve also read Anna Karenina in the original Russian, and am no better off, either.

Never finished it.

And why are we embarrassed to admit that we have read something?  I ask this as someone who routinely advocates the Choose Your Own Adventure novels for grown-ups, so clearly, this is a genuine question on my part.  I can understand being disappointed by a book.  There have been plenty of times where I am bummed that I spent so much time on a book that wasn’t worth it.  There are times I am embarrassed that I didn’t finish a book on time.  But the implications with these lists is that our self worth is (or should be) attached to our literary choices in a way that is pretty damaging to our psyche…

These kind of lists make me worry.  I worry because there are people out there who don’t read because they don’t know what is “cool” or “right” to read.  Or they don’t read because they don’t have anyone to discuss books with them, or feed their interests.  I worry that people don’t read because other people have made fun of their reading choices.

So let me be very clear here:

At the Library, you can read whatever you want.  And no one has the right to make you feel badly about what you read, or what you don’t read.  Not even you yourself.

If it interests you, if you want to learn something, if you want to try something new, or if you want to re-discover something you loved, we are here for you, and are more than happy to help you find them. And if you don’t like it, if you didn’t learn anything stunning, if you still want to try something new, or go back to something familiar, that’s is absolutely, 100% ok.  But if you never try, or if you spend your time worrying about someone judging you for what you’re reading (or not reading), or, even worse, judging yourself, then you are never, ever, going to get something meaningful out of the book.

So let’s put all these lists about what we “should” read, or what we “shouldn’t” read, and, instead, focus on reading more: Reading outside our boundaries.  Reading to learn.  Reading to live.  Reading to make connections.  Reading to grow.  And not feeling bad about any of it.

Saturdays @ the South: Mexican Literature

Image discovered on LitHub

I fully admit that my reading list isn’t as diverse as it could be, partly because the bookternet (bookish + Internet) makes it so easy to reach for books already in my wheelhouse. Favorite authors mention other authors they enjoy, Goodreads points me to books I might like based on what I’ve already read and my wonderful bookish friends and fellow colleagues at the library are constantly dropping book references. This is one of my favorite parts of the bookternet (and the bookish community in general) because I know that I will never run out of great reading material in my to-be-read pile. But it also means that, if I’m reading books like what I’ve already read, I’m not reading books that aren’t like anything I’ve ever read before.

We’ve talked a fair amount about diversity in literature here on the Free For All, but mentioning it occasionally isn’t quite enough. It’s important to continue to talk about diversity, particularly in literature, on a regular basis lest it become relegated to shadows, ensuring that nothing ever changes. In an effort to talk more about diverse literature, I’m starting a regular feature for Saturdays @ the South where I talk about books from a particular area of the world in an effort not only to introduce you to diverse voices, but to also introduce myself to new voices and ideas that I haven’t been exposed to previously. It won’t be every week; there will still be the weird bookish ramblings and musings you’ve come to expect on a Saturday, but I’d like to feature a new country or region every month to ensure that the conversation continues.

Today, we’re talking about our neighbors to the south, Mexico. Mexican literature has a rich heritage and many of it’s classic works, as well as new contemporary authors, are beginning to become more widely available in translation. My high school and college Spanish is very sadly rusty, so I’m grateful for the efforts of organizations like Deep Vellum and UNESCO and resources like Three Percent who promote translations of works into English. While there are always issues with reading any work that has been translated from the author’s original language, the best will try to keep the lyricism and ideas of the author in tact to ensure a reading experience that is still rich. Here are some books by Mexican and Mexican-American authors that can expand our reading experiences together:

Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo

Will Evans wrote on LitHub  he “believe[s] the greatest Mexican novel ever written is Pedro Paramo…” because it “changed the way that literature is written, read, processed and remembered when it was published in 1955.” Wow. That’s a bold statement to make for any novel, but it’s enough to make me want to read this one sooner rather than later.

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli

The Culture Trip mentioned that Valeria Luiselli, a Mexico City native, is “described as one of the brightest literary talents in the entire world right now.” Again, wow. How have I missed this on my reading radar? This book is her latest novel (published in 2015) follows the adventures of Highway, a world-traveler, auctioneer and general bon-vivant, whose most precious possessions are the teeth of the “notorious infamous” like Virginal Woolf, Plato and more.

Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera

This is a book about borderlands that takes a great deal from Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo. The narrator is trying to bring her brother back to Mexico from across the US border, but the book tackles much more than immigration as it is steeped in mythology as well. A quick note here: Yuri Herrera has at least three books mentioned on the Best-of-Mexican-Literature lists I found, so I’m guessing that any of his books would be a good place to start.

Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrigue

LitHub voted this one of the best books of 2016, period. No ethnic qualifier or best of Chicano/a literature. They just thought this book was awesome, and boy, does it sound cool. This book is quasi-historical, mostly meta-fictional about “a 16th-century tennis match between Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo and Italian painter Caravaggio, playing with a ball stuffed with the hair of Anne Boleyn.” Seriously, how quickly can I get this book?

What You See in the Dark by Manuel Munoz

This book is set in the 1950s in an Alfred Hitchcock-style narrative. This tale of a doomed love affair set against the backdrop of a filmmaker who comes to Bakersfield, CA to scout locations for a film about murder at a motel peeks into character’s private thoughts, jealousies and dreams. Mexican-American author Munoz has received high praise for both this book (his first novel) and his previous short story collections.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Alire Aaenz is another Mexican-American author who has managed to pull together a novel that is both about two teenagers falling in love, but also a sweeping character study of teenagers, their parents, Mexican-American identity in the modern age and LGBTQ perspectives that shatters stereotypes. His characters are undeniably real, his writing is gorgeous and the range of emotions through which he guides both the characters and the readers is nothing short of an astounding accomplishment. The audiobook,is narrated by pre-Hamilton, post- In the Heights, Lin Manuel Miranda and is perfectly executed. This book is a favorite of mine and was recommended to me by more than one librarian here in the library. It’s a great example of a book that I probably wouldn’t have been exposed to because it’s not like what I usually read, but was an incredibly rich and rewarding reading experience that I’m so glad to have had.

Hopefully one of these books will pique your interest in reading a little more internationally. As Japanese author Haruki Murakami once wrote: “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” It’s good to get into someone else’s head for a while. If you’re intrigued and would like more suggestions, feel free to mention that in the comments or stop by the library and ask! Till next week, dear readers, do your best to read a little out of your usual sphere of influence. You never know what next great read you’ll discover just beyond our backyards.

Banned Books Week: “Great Literature is help for humans.”


Alice Malsenior Walker was born on February 9, 1944, in Putnam County, Georgia.  She was the youngest of eight children born to Willie Lee Walker, a sharecropper whom Alice described as “wonderful at math but a terrible farmer,” and Minnie Lou Tallulah Grant, who supplemented the family’s income by working as a maid.  Alice grew up during a time when Jim Crow laws–laws that enforced segregation and privileged white people living within their jurisdiction–were in effect, and Alice and her siblings were all expected to work as sharecroppers, helping their father.  Her mother defied convention, however, insisting that her children learn how to read and write.  As a result, Alice began writing her first stories at the age of eight.

Around this same time, Alice was wounded in her right eye by a BB pellet fired by her brother.  Because her family didn’t own a car and couldn’t easily travel, it was a week before Alice could get to a doctor and, as a result, lost the sight in her eye.  For years, scar tissue built up around the wound, making Alice extremely embarrassed and shy.  The scar tissues was removed six years later, however, and by the time she graduated high school, however, she was valedictorian and was voted most-popular girl, as well as queen of her senior class.  However, Alice noted that the physical and emotion trauma of that event had  given her the opportunity “really to see people and things, really to notice relationships and to learn to be patient enough to care about how they turned out”.

After high school, Walker went to Spelman College in Atlanta on a full scholarship, and then transferred to Sarah Lawrence College, graduating in 1965.  During this time, she began to publish her poetry, and devoted herself to the Civil Rights Movement, even taking part in the 1963 March on Washington, D.C.   She also joined Msmagazine as an editor in 1971, before moving to California and writing the novel that would forever after be associated with her name.

1368226The Color Purple was released in 1982.  The novel follows a young troubled black woman fighting her way through racist white culture, as well as patriarchal black culture as well, highlighting in a devastating, insightful, and deeply emotional way how oppressions work together to keep people from achieving their dreams.  The book became a bestseller and was subsequently adapted into a critically acclaimed 1985 movie, as well as a 2005 Broadway musical, which was revived just this past year.   Alice Walker also received the Pulitzer Prize and American Book Award for her work–and became one of the most censored authors in contemporary American history.

In 2012, Alice Walker gave an interview to Guernica magazine in which she discussed her book, and the many reactions readers have had to it, as well as her own thoughts on censorship and the need to read ‘dangerous books’.  In honor of Banned Book Week, here are some highlights from the interview (you can read the whole thing here by clicking on this link).

From: https://www.guernicamag.com/daily/alice-walker-writing-whats-right/

Alice Walker: Writing What’s Right

October 1, 2012

Guernica: In the introduction to Alice Walker Banned, Patricia Holt writes, “Along with her Pulitzer Prize and American Book Award, Alice Walker has the honor of being one of the most censored writers in American literature.” Did you ever feel that the censorship of your work created duties for you—moral, ethical, or otherwise—that you didn’t ask for?

Alice Walker: Not at all.  I considered it part of what can happen to anyone on the journey of one’s life.  In Southern Black culture we are sustained more than most people might imagine by our ancestral songs; these songs, called “sorrow songs” (from the days of enslavement) and later “spirituals,” later morphed into gospel, jazz and blues.  In this canon we find songs that, even under the most brutal conditions, consider Life itself to simply be a race with one’s self.  The object is to reach the end intact as you.  So one of the songs goes:  “Guide my feet, while I run this race; Guide my feet, while I run this race.  Guide my feet, while I run this race.  ’Cause I don’t want to run this race in vain.”  This plea is addressed to The Creator, who is also the deep Self. The truest work is not to run the race of life in vain; ending up completely severed from your true self.  I am so thankful for songs like this!  When I speak and write about being under the protection of ancestors, it is because of messages and wisdom like this that I know sustain me.

Also, I think it is anyone’s right to do what they feel they have to do.  They have a job. I have a job. I will write what I think is right for me to write.  They will oppose it.  In a way that makes us equal.  Though when one’s work is completely suppressed this is a bitter acceptance.  However, my work has always been championed.  Stood up for. Thousands of people in California and beyond spoke up for The Color Purple and for my short stores.  There was a great outpouring of support.  From everywhere! And actually I left the struggle up to others.  I had delivered my gift.  It was given in complete love to everyone.  If they wanted to keep it, it would have to be their work to fight for it. They did.

Guernica: As a censored writer, you’re keeping hallowed company: Dorothy Allison, Harper Lee. Toni Morrison, John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut and Howard Zinn have all been challenged, and that’s just the tip of the censorious black marker. What are some of the banned books you most admire?

Alice Walker: I have so loved the work of Kurt Vonnegut and Howard Zinn, especially while a student, both of them dedicated to the exposure of the insanity of war.  I also love Mark Twain for his clear denunciation of American imperialism and for his wise and humorous, often quite sly, sendup of organized religion.

Guernica: What’s most at stake when a book like The Color Purple is banned?  What’s at stake for women, and women of color, when a story like this is silenced?

Alice Walker: Great Literature is help for humans.  It is medicine of the highest order.  In a more aware culture, writers would be considered priests.  And, in fact, I have approached writing in a distinctly priestess frame of mind.  I know what The Color Purple can mean to people, women and men, who have no voice. Who believe they have few choices in life.  It can open to them, to their view, the full abundance of this amazing journey we are all on.  It can lift them into a new realization of their own power, beauty, love, courage.  It is a book that unites the present with the past, therefore giving people a sense of history and of timelessness they might never achieve otherwise.  And even were it not “great” literature, it has the best interests of all of us humans at heart.  That we grow, change, challenge, encourage, love fiercely in the awareness that real love can never be incorrect.