I Read Banned Books

September 21-27 is Banned Books Week in the United States. Wait a minute, I hear you say, how can book be banned in the country whose Bill of Rights is held up as a model for the rest of the world? Many Americans ask that same question.

The First Amendment reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Only three little words in that very-long sentence apply here (and no, I won’t be commenting upon other pieces of this amendment in this post, although there is much that could be said): freedom of speech. And, to be fair, I don’t think Congress has ever banned a book or passed a law that would ban a book. In most cases, books seem to be banned by school administrators or removed from curricula or library shelves for a variety of reasons ranging from obscenity to sexual content to social issues that they’d rather not address with their students.

All of that might seem reasonable, if not for the books in question. I could almost, almost understand To Kill a Mockingbird being controversial when it was first published in 1960. It talks about racism and justice in ways that were considered groundbreaking on one side of the equality movement and heretical on the other. But when I started poking around yesterday, I learned from the American Library Association’s Frequently Challenged Books list that To Kill a Mockingbird was banned as recently as 2011 for containing “racism.”

There are so many other books I could mention here from Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner being banned for “homosexual content” and questionable religious content (apparently folks have missed the freedom of religion clause in addition to freedom of speech) to Judy Blume’s books being banned for honest portrayals of adolescent sexuality, to The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison being banned for some of the same misguided reasons as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. But there’s actually a great list of banned books on Banned Books Week’s site.

But I just keep going back to banning the too-few books that actually try to talk about race for containing “racism.” There’s a huge movement underway to increase the diversity in the publishing industry. That diversity extends beyond racial diversity to include diversity in sexual orientation and also characters who have disabilities. It began as a reaction to the announcement of an all-white, all-male panel as part of BEA’s BookCon this past spring, but #WeNeedDiverseBooks has spread beyond that, in part because of the increasing tension in the United States over marriage equality and police violence against black Americans and elsewhere over similar issues.

Diversity in YA put together a great post about how banning books squelches this diversity because the majority of banned books are ones that are written by minorities or written about them. And heaven forbid minorities speak out about this issue. When UK’s children’s laureate Malorie Blackman did so, bigots heaped abuse and threats on her for speaking up.  In a society when we’re already marginalizing so many people based on race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or socio-economic group, can we really afford to continue banning books that speak for these very people?

The answer is no. We cannot. Ultimately, diversity in publishing is not a matter just for writers or publishers to address. The works of art that we as a society produce reflect our hopes, our beliefs, and our identities as individuals and as a nation. Likewise the works of art that we choose to censor reflect our fears and our tight-as-ever grip on status quo.

Dr. Manny Got it Wrong

On Tuesday, Fox News published an article by Dr. Manny Alvarez titled “English-Only Bills Are Not Unfair to Immigrants“. A friend posted it to her Facebook page, and I’ve been stewing about it ever since. I knew as soon as I read it that I disagreed strongly, emphatically, with his stance but it’s taken me a few days to put together coherent thoughts on a topic that provokes strong feelings on both sides of the debate.

Dr. Alvarez is Cuban-American, so Fox News certainly hit gold in getting him to take this stance–he’s been there, a foreigner in America, and he chose to learn English. How can anyone argue with him? Well I’m going to. Read more

Have you read a banned book today?

KiteRunnerThis week is Banned Book Week, which, according to the American Library Association, “highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.”

Despite freedom of expression being clearly provided for in the Bill of Rights, our country has a glorious history of censorship, book burning, and attempts to squelch books and speech on such inflammatory topics as racism (To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, Invisible Man, Beloved, Color Purple), poverty (Grapes of Wrath), sex (The Great Gatsby,), communism (1984), religion that is not strictly Jesus-approved (Lord of the Rings, Satanic Verses, Slaughterhouse Five), and the importance of an education (Barack Obama, September 2009) to name just a few of my favorites. Read more

One of the Fifty Million…

This weekend, I attended a talk by Kip Nash, a Boulder man who has turned many of the front yards in his neighborhood into farm plots as part of the Boulder Community Roots project. If the endless gorgeous seed catalogs, warm weather, and the kohlrabi, sorrel, kale, garlic, onions, garlic chives, and strawberries sprouting in my garden didn’t do it already, spring garden fever set in with a vengeance after his inspiring talk.

At one point, he referenced Richard Heinberg–a peak oil guy– Read more

Free at last, free at last…

It just seemed like a fitting week to pull out that quote. What with Monday’s MLK Day, Tuesday’s inauguration and now a beautiful, long-overdue series of executive orders issued by President Obama to reverse one of the most shameful legacies of the Bush Administration, it just seemed appropriate (there are some personal tie-ins too that I won’t comment on right now, other than to say the four of us are doing a lot better over here at ChezArtz).

These executive orders, which go a long way toward his inaugural promise not “to continue with a false choice between our safety and our ideals,” include: Read more

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

I’m a bit of a worrier. Combine that with the company Matt & I work for announcing huge layoffs, war dragging on abroad, friends losing their jobs left and right, the economy spiraling ever downward, and finances therefore tightening, all at a time when I’d rather be shopping for fun things for my children, and you get a mama whose list of things to be thankful for is a little shorter than it has been in the past. Or is it? Read more

If I were a Christian, I’d attend Anne Lamott’s Church

When reading Anne’s many diatribes on Salon, or her book, Operating Instructions soon after Gabriel was born, I have in the past felt like I should give her a call to chat about God. But now, after reading her A call to arms this evening, I’m sure of it: If I were a Christian, I’d go to Anne Lamott’s Church.

Before you get too excited about my new-found religious zeal, I must admit that just last night I was contemplating becoming Buddhist after a particularly wonderful yoga experience until Matt sagely commented “Isn’t yoga Hindi?” (You are so right! There I go, mixing up my Eastern religions again. My brother the religious studies minor would be so proud!) So I’m not really the best person to ask about religion, especially because I can neither confirm nor deny how much red wine I may have guzzled since my husband headed to California on Sunday.

But I will say that Anne Lamott is not the only person out there who is feeling a need to meditate, or pray, or do something to respond to the recent blatant propaganda, venom and fear-mongering dished out by McCain, Palin, and their crew. The bliss of my media-free week in the mountains of Idaho rapidly diminished upon my return, and I needed Lamott’s pep-talk this evening more than ever.

As always, she handles her grief and frustration with a deft comic hand, asking everyone who is literally fuming over the deception and absurdities of Republican presidential ticket to go out and take a spin on the Sarah Palin Baby Name Generator.

So, now that I’ve changed my name to Shank Piston in honor of the Chief Executive of the great state of Alaska, I will share some of my favorite excerpts from Anne’s article:

On Sarah Palin: “I hate to criticize. And I love to kill wolves as much as the next person does. But this woman takes such pride in her ignorance, doesn’t have a doubt in the world about her messianic calling, that it makes anyone of decency feel nauseated — spiritually, emotionally and physically ill.”

Oh, snap!

Now, I am a reform Christian, so it is permissible for me to secretly believe that God hates this woman, too. I heard God slam down a couple of shooters while she was talking the other night.

Me too, God, me too!

On what we can do to change things: “This is the only way miracles ever happen — left foot, right foot, left foot, breathe. Right foot, left foot, right foot, breathe. The great novelist E.L. Doctorow once said that writing a novel is like driving at night with the headlights on: You can only see a little ways in front of you, but you can make the whole journey this way. It is the truest of all things; the only way to write a book, raise a child, save the world.”

I met two women outside the grocery store today who were registering folks to vote. In the brief time I was there, they got totally dissed by one person who flung some sort of anti-liberal shot at them (they were not wearing campaign buttons or mentioning party affiliation at all and yet by the act of trying to encourage democracy through participatory government, were instantly labeled heretical liberals) and were chagrined when they approached someone who was a convicted felon (and thereby legally unable to vote). So when I walked up, I tried to do my part, because with two little kids, I’m not going to be out registering voters in the Vitamin Cottage parking lot any time soon. I looked them straight in the eye and sincerely thanked them for doing something so crucial to our form of government and our way of life in this country: standing up for what they believed in and doing their part, one baby step at a time…

The Three Minute Update!

It’s been an embarrassingly long time since I blogged (5 days, seriously?!!?!), it’s time for me to go to bed, and I don’t even want to think about all the posts I need to stock-pile this week to keep you entertained while I’m on vacation next week!

So I’ll be quick and start tomorrow (which, due to the holiday, is Monday merely masquerading as Tuesday) with a clean bloggy slate.

I spent the evening Thursday venturing down to Denver for Obama’s speech. No, I didn’t get to attend the actual speech, but I did get to hang out at the Rocky Mountain Blogger’s Bash, which was the next best thing. Several wonderful ladies have already covered this (Crazy Bloggin’ Canuck, Crunchy Domestic Goddess, and A Mama’s Blog all have good coverage 😉 ), so I won’t say more except that I really wish the lovely gentleman from My Left Nutmeg would have consented to give me his hat (even if it did come from a haberdashery), and, although I still HEART Obama and was teary through his speech, what was up with mentioning the ridiculous oxymoron of “clean coal.” Come on!

OK, so where have I been since (because I think I’m at the 2:59 mark)…Friday, I met a new friend and talked about chickens, lacto-fermentation, gardening, the local color here in Lyons, and lots of other fun stuff. Got home just in time to put the kids down for their naps before going to Ute Trail for their 50% off plant sale. I won’t share too many details other than the fact that I had to drive home on the shoulder of the road with my blinkers on and that Matt spent the rest of the weekend digging holes for the many plants I purchased.

That brings us to today. We planted more plants, took another trip to Ute Trail, planted AGAIN, did some food preservation, and now I seriously, seriously, need to go to bed. Whew!

It’s about time!

After a series of rather ridiculous attack ads questioning Barack Obama’s credentials and patriotism, and even going so far as to compare him to the vapid Paris Hilton (although I could almost kiss her for her response to McCain’s ad, I’m happy to see Barack Obama striking back with some hard-hitting ads of his own. What do you think, Joan, is this enough to end the “slump” so many in the blogosphere have been talking about recently?

The following is worth a watch, especially if you’re tired of politicians who are completely out of touch with the struggles of mainstream America:

An interview with method’s “green giant,” Drummond Lawson

After trying many method products over the past 6-8 months and writing my method product review last week, I found I still had some unanswered questions about this innovative company and its products. Why do they still use petroleum-based ingredients? What’s up with the artificial fragrances? Why aren’t they signing the Compact for Safe Cosmetics and partnering with EWG? Why don’t their sweeper dusters break down in the compost bin?

So I got in touch with Drummond Lawson, environmental chemist and member of the “greens-keeping” team at method and started prepping questions about some of the concerns I raised in my product review.

I chatted with Drummond last week, set to probe through marketing shtick to get the answers I wanted. But for the most part, marketing fluff was refreshingly absent from the conversation. Instead, Drummond paints a rather inspiring picture of what a company can do not only to design a cool product, but to really agitate for change in a marketplace that has been about convenience at the expense of the environment for far too long. We also touched on method’s vision to put a greener soap on every sink in America, on what Clorox’s green line means to a company like method, on its work to develop better environmental standards, and on the secret to composting those danged sweeper dusters.

Drummond: It’s cool to see consumer awareness about products. It’s a gap in conventional media, so in terms of soapboxes, this [blogging] is a cool avenue.
Read more