Thursday, September 21, 2017

Are You With the Banned?

Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 as a response to a surge in challenges to books in libraries, schools, and stores. It brings together librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers in support of the freedom to read. Each year, the Office for Intellectual Freedom puts together a list of the Top Ten Most Challenged Books of the year, based on stories from the media and challenges which have been reported, and you can also check out lists of the most frequently challenged books and challenged classics on the American Library Association's website; they also have infographics which show challenges by reason, initiator, and and institution over the course of a decade. Readers are encouraged to get involved, via the Rebel Reader Twitter Tournament, Stand For the Banned Read-Out, and more.

There were 323 challenges reported in 2016 to the American Library Association [ALA]. A challenge is "an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group," according to the ALA, rather than an actual removal of the item, which is banning. The top ten for this year included graphic novels, children's fiction, picture books, young adult books, and one book of short stories written for adults. Not all the books were new - there were challenges on books published from 2005-2015 - and the challenges were varied. "May lead a student to 'sexual experimentation'," "challenged because of criminal sexual allegations against the author," "because of language, sex education, and offensive viewpoints," "includes LGBT characters, drug use, and profanity,"and for "being 'disgusting and all around offensive.'"

What you might not realize is that any book might be challenged. Less likely, perhaps, to make the top ten most challenged list are books of poetry and work by poets. The following list is taken from "Poetry's Place in the History of Banned Books," by

Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil) by Charles Baudelaire: Banned in 1857 for eroticism, and, according to the judges, poems that “necessarily lead to the excitement of the senses.”

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: Banned for alleged promotion of drug use and portrayal of anthropomorphized animals.

Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer: Banned for its criticism of the medieval church, as well as its obscene language and sexual content.

Amores (Loves) & Ars amatoria (Art of Love) by Ovid: Banned, challenged, and burned for sexual content.

A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein: Banned for encouraging bad behavior and addressing topics some deemed inappropriate for children.

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman: Famously “banned in Boston” in 1882 for sexual content.

The Tempest by William Shakespeare: In 2011, deemed inappropriate for Arizona schools, as the law prohibited courses that “promote the overthrow of the United States government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”


Banned Books Week

Banned and Challenged Books [American Library Association]

Banned Books Week on Facebook

Banned Books Week on YouTube

Banned Books Week 2017 to Celebrate Everybody's Freedom to Read [American Booksellers Association]

Banned Books Week infographic [ACLU]

Simon & Schuster Celebrates Banned Books Week

Banned Comics [Comic Book Legal Defense Fund]

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Literary Links: In the Realms of Fiction

Sign For A Star Trek Science Fiction Landmark; Vulcan, Alberta, Canada. Photograph. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016. Accessed 24 Aug 2017.
We just finished watching Game of Thrones and were arguing over which of the Seven Kingdoms we'd like to represent. (The correct answer is THE NORTH.) This got us talking about other fictional lands and peoples - is it better to be a hobbit, elf, or dwarf? What's your Hogwarts house? Star Trek or Star Wars? Who's your favorite character in Firefly? If you'd like to geek out with us, check out some of these links which discuss cool fictional realms, imagined travel, and worldbuilding.

14 Incredible Fictional Worlds You'd Most Want to Visit [HuffPost]

12 Best Fantasy Worlds Ever Created [Screen Rant]

5 of the Weirdest Fantasy Worlds Ever Created [B&N Sci Fi & Fantasy Blog]

Top 10 fantasy fiction universes [Guardian]

5 Crazy Creative Science Fiction Worlds in Books [Bustle]

19 Gorgeous Retro Travel Posters to Fantasy Destinations [Buzzfeed]

7 Deadly Sins of Worldbuilding [iO9]

How to Build a Fictional World - Kate Messner [TED Talk]

Editor Picks: Top 10 Must-"Visit" Fictional Lands [Encyclopaedia Britannica]

7 Fictional Lands We'd Love to Visit [Mashable]

The 50 Coolest Fictional Cities [Complex]

7 Fictional Lands That Should Have Google Maps [Buzzfeed]

In the library catalog, check under the subject "Literary landmarks."

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Unstable States: Reading Psychological Suspense

SUSPENSE (1946). Photography. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016. Accessed 4 Aug 2017.
A tale that is more interested in the “why” rather than the sheer mechanics of “how”—and that is more attuned to what makes a soul damaged potentially beyond repair—falls under the large umbrella of psychological suspense. Crime can be at the forefront, but the chase for the criminal is often hamstrung by mental intricacies of the case, its perpetrator, and, often most prominently, its would-be solver. A murder is usually the inciting event, the big rock that hits the water, but in psychological suspense, when it’s done right, the focus is on the ripples that rock makes. Psychological suspense is a genre within crime fiction that can, and does, encompass myriad subgenres, making it difficult to classify definitively. Still, one thing is for sure: if the mental states of the characters contribute to the story—the more unstable the better—and the plot revolves around this delicate balance, chances are you’re reading psychological suspense. And you’re reading with the lights on.
~Jordan Foster, "Top Ten Writers of Psychological Suspense"

Why do we love to read genres like psychological suspense? The intricacy of the plot? The complex, often wounded characters? The moral ambiguity that often ends up being punished? The fact that these tales have a domestic aspect, often set in familiar places and locales, while amping up the tension?  Psychology Today suggests it's because of their "power to stir up intense emotion. Our brains release neurotransmitters like dopamine, and oxytocin when we are intensely emotional (intensely happy as well as scared, or horrified) and these can serve to consolidate memories, and even strengthen bonds between us and others sharing the same experience." Maybe it's just the fascination with other people's psyches - Jessica Ferri asserts on the Early Bird Books site, "There's no escaping your own mind," but maybe you can, a little, by digging deep into the minds of others.

Fans of mysteries and thrillers will have likely heard of Daphne du Maurier, Gillian Flynn, Tana French, Sophie Hannah, Patricia Highsmith, and Ruth Rendell. But how about some of these less well known twisty tales?

Dare Me by Megan Abbott

The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel

A Place of Execution by Val McDermid

Now You See Me by S. J. Bolton

The Clairvoyants by Karen Brown

The Visitors by Catherine Burns

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain

Little Deaths by Emma Flint

The Ice Beneath Her by Camilla Grebe

Long Man by Amy Greene

Her by Harriet Lane

The Fall Guy by James Lasdun

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

Alex by Pierre Lemaître

The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan

House. Tree. Person. by Catriona McPherson

The Iron Gates by Margaret Millar

Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent

The Walls by Hollie Overton

Drowned by Therese Bohman

The Perfect Neighbors by Sarah Pekkanen

Let Me Die In His Footsteps by Lori Roy

Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Heartsick by Chelsea Cain

Watching Edie by Camilla Way

The Black Angel by Cornell Woolrich [eBook]

Refinery29 says "Once you've reached the end and all the secrets have spilled out, it's not always fun to go back and read them again. You need new mysteries to unravel — new plotlines and characters to make the hair on your neck stand on end." Have you ever re-read a suspense thriller, or do you agree with their assessment? Regardless, you can find many more twisty titles in the library catalog - for more books, try a subject search in the catalog using the terms "Psychological fiction" or "Suspense fiction." But be prepared - there are thousands of titles to sort through!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Poetry of Science: Recommended Reads for Young Learners

Children playing in science exhibit. Photography. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016. Accessed 4 Aug 2017.
A collection of poems for history, geography, science, and math is the first step to bringing a human element and a personal, often humorous touch to the topics you are studying. This helps students retain information and vocabulary — they now have vivid and/or humorous mental images that forge remembering connections... Second, poems are short and cut to the heart of a topic. You can use a poem to connect students to your content topic in powerful and memorable ways... Third, and perhaps most important, poetry helps students explore important issues in your content area, issues that extend beyond the classroom into their lives, communities, and the world.
~Laura Robb and J. Patrick Lewis,  Poems for Teaching in the Content Areas: 75 Powerful Poems to Enhance Your History, Geography, Science, and Math Lessons

Using poetry to help teach science might not be the first way you think to approach your child's education, but it has been shown to be a useful approach! Children's book publishers Scholastic and Reading Rockets, a national multimedia literacy initiative, both have suggestions for using poetry in the classroom for other subjects besides English - both organizations talk about classes reading poetry together, discussing the topics raised, and then writing their own poetic responses. Reading Rockets even mentions taking a "poetry walk," to get sensory impressions to use in writing haiku about nature. Additionally, the American Library Association [ALA] mentions that both science and poetry require "keen observation" and notes that, of  National Science Education Standard's "seven major areas of science that are critical to the K–12 curriculum...poems can serve to initiate a topic or enrich and extend it," and they have a booklist to prove it.

Want to encourage your child's power of observation and interest in science? Why not start with the following recommended picture books and see if they pique your youngster's interest?

The Blood-Hungry Spleen and Other Poems About Our Parts by Allan Wolff

Water Sings Blue by Kate Coombs

Hey There, Stink Bug! by Leslie Bulion [eBook]

Ubiquitous: Poetry and Science About Nature's Survivors by Joyce Sidman

Animal Poems of the Iguazú by Francisco X. Alarcon

Bees, Snails, and Peacock Tails by Betsy Franco

Science Verse by Jon Scieszka

Scien-trickery by J. Patrick Lewis

Spectacular Science by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars by Douglas Florian

Our Food by Grace Lin

Monarch's Progress by Avis Harley

For more science books for kids and teens, check out Picture-Perfect Science Lessons, Expanded 2nd Edition: Using Children’s Books to Guide Inquiry, 3–6 by Karen Ansberry and Emily Morgan (which explains the 5E instructional model - Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate - explaining why kids can read picture books in the classroom), the library's Science Project Help LibGuide, and the National Science Teachers Association's [NSTA] Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K–12 list.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Voices of Diversity

CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES. MURAL OF FACES, SHOWING ETHNIC DIVERSITY. UNION STATION SUBWAY.. Photography. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016. Accessed 4 Aug 2017.
Our culture and stories continue to evolve and expand, and our cultural production, from publishing to Hollywood, is beginning to catch up. A variety of artists develop diverse work in film, music, multimedia, and podcasting. Writers from many different backgrounds are creating romance novels, mystery, noir, speculative fiction, fantasy, comic books, literature, poetry, creative nonfiction, memoir, researched nonfiction, academic nonfiction, biography, graphic novels, and so much more. There are a great many chroniclers of the American experience. Look for them in unusual places and across every genre.
~Candice Kail, "#Ownvoices - Collection Development: Race, Diversity, and Society"

The mission and vision statement for the We Need Diverse Books campaign is "Putting more books featuring diverse characters into the hands of all children. A world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book." But we think it's also not too late for adults to find themselves in the pages of a book, too! Sharing our experiences is an important way to learn about, and to learn to accept, each other, despite our differences. A Google search for the word racism in the news comes back with 7 million results in .37 seconds - race, and affirming diversity, are definitely topics that continue to be debated at length, worldwide. We invite you to partake of some titles from our catalog showcasing diversity which you might have missed:


This Muslim American Life by Mustafa Bayoumi

Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul by Eddie S. Glaude, Jr.

Recovering the Sacred: The Power of Naming and Claiming by Winona LaDuke

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

The Making of Asian America: A History by Erika Lee

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race edited by Jesmyn Ward

Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness? What It Means To Be Black Now by Touré

The Turquoise Ledge by Leslie Marmon Silko

Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape by Lauret E. Savoy

Rez Life: An Indian’s Journey Through Reservation Life by David Treuer

Policing the Black Man edited by Angela J. Davis


The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez

The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf by Mohja Kahf

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

We the Animals by Justin Torres

I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita [eAudiobook]

Sons and Other Flammable Objects by Porochista Khakpour

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

Grace by Natashia Deón

The Road Back to Sweetgrass by  Linda ­LeGarde Grover

As Candice Kail says in the article quoted above, "it's assumed that the classics will already be part of nearly all [library] collections because, whether acknowledged or not, cultural pluralism has always defined our society." Looking for an older book dealing with issues of diversity? Try our list of classics, all available in the library catalog.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Roxane Gay: An Insightful Feminist

Roxane Gay is a Haitian-American writer, bisexual feminist, arts and culture critic, and a professor of English at Purdue University. I haven't been this moved by a writer since I discovered Alice Walker in the 1980's. Roxane Gay first appeared on my radar with her book Bad Feminist: Essays. Since then, I have enjoyed Difficult Women, An Untamed State, and her latest book Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body.

Feminism, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
1.: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
2.:  organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests

Feminism is more complex than this definition and continues to evolve with every generation through diversity, ideology, and sociological issues. Roxane Gay's life experiences infuse her writing with a fiercely brilliant prose and elegant clarity. Gay is someone I would want to spend time watching reality television with to benefit from her analysis of what these shows say about our surreal society in between catch phrases such as "I didn't come here to make friends".  

Bad Feminist: Essays covers Gay's experiences in academia, women's friendships, gender, sexuality, politics, and racism in America. Her essays about misogyny in popular culture, music, and 50 Shades of Grey had me alternately laughing and wincing inside. Bad Feminist covers racism, rape culture, and envisions an underground reproductive railroad that women may need to resort to in these times that seem to want to force us into a pre-Margaret Sanger time warp. Her humor isn't laugh out loud, but sharp and insightful, making it possible to absorb her points without dissolving into tears of rage and frustration otherwise. This book is the perfect blend of essays that showcase Gay's skills as a cultural critic and intellectual. You can also get a daily dose of her thoughts on her Twitter feed.

I had the pleasure of reading Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body before reading Difficult Women or An Untamed State. Once I moved on to her fiction after reading Hunger, I was even more impressed with how Roxane Gay has woven her life experiences through fictional characters. An Untamed State was Roxane Gay's first novel about an affluent, privileged Haitian-American woman who is kidnapped for ransom by a band of rapacious criminals. The novel covers the thirteen days of Mireille Duval Jameson's captivity and her father's refusal to pay her ransom. Held captive by a man who calls himself The Commander and his accomplices, Mirelle is raped and tortured in retaliation until she is finally released. Chapters of the book follow her husband's impotent anguish and her father's rationalizations for not saving his daughter. Mirelle's ensuing post-traumatic disorder and recovery speak to a victim's sense of betrayal, devastation, and feeling contaminated by the evil of her perpetrators.

Roxane Gay's fiction, essays, and memoirs area a gift to women who are struggling with compulsive overeating, self-loathing, and our undeniable human needs in a dysfunctional society that expects women to be passive, quiet, decorative, and non-threatening to every insecure, cat-calling misogynist or Internet troll we encounter in daily life. Gay, who survived a gang-rape at age twelve, turned to food in order to emotionally survive her ordeal. She has described this memoir as her most personal and difficult book to write and it is difficult to read, but impossible to put down. Hunger pinpoints the inextricable link between trauma, addiction, and compulsions designed to block out what can't be survived otherwise. While seeking invisibility through excess food and weight, Gay strove for a protection and invisibility from men, but created what she describes as a prison of being physically immobilized and treated as less than human by our vain, superficial culture that coats its cruelty in hypocritical concern, dietary fads, and dangerous weight loss surgery.

Hunger is not a book about triumphant weight loss after a diet or being fifty or even 100 pounds overweight, but what physicians refer to as the range of extreme morbid obesity. Gay discusses the daily indignities she has to confront with airlines, at the gym, and in the grocery store. Her chapter about considering weight loss surgery highlights the dangers of this procedure which makes life in the aftermath sound like an even worse torture than the health hazards of obesity. As a cultural critic, Gay takes on the media's complicity in exploiting people through reality television shows such as The Biggest Loser and analysis of Oprah's public trials and tribulation with weight. Roxane Gay affirms that she "is stronger than I am broken", which gives readers hope that it is possible to live with our bodies in whatever state they may presently weigh, post-traumatic stress disorder, and to transcend cruelty and prejudice through awareness and courageous expression.

For more books on feminism, The Public Library offers the following books: 

All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of An Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister

Colonize This!: Young Women of Color On Today's Feminism edited by Daisy Hernández and Bushra Rehman
Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates

Feminism Is For Everybody: Passionate Politics
 by bell hooks

Feminism Unfinished: A Short, Surprising History of American Women's Movements
by Dorothy Sue Cobble, Linda Gordon, and Astrid Henry 

Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines In Living Color by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring
Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World  by Laura Barcella 

Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism
Matters by Jessica Valenti 

The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness by Jill Filipovic  

The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit

My Life On the Road by Gloria Steinem

Sex Object: A Memoir by Jessica Valenti

The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines
 by Mike Madrid 

Why I March: Images From the Women's March Around the World with photographs by Getty Images; editors: Samantha Weiner and Emma Jacobs 

Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body by Susan Bordo

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Food Culture of Alice Waters

When you eat fast food, you not only eat the food that is unhealthy for you, but you digest the values that comes with that food. And they're really about fast, cheap and easy. It's so important that we understand that things can be affordable, but they can never be cheap, because, if they're cheap, somebody's missing out. The fast food culture tells us that, you know, cooking is not something important, and it can be in the basement, it can be in the back, when, in fact, it's the most important work that we do. I think it is the unrealistic values of a fast food culture that are really making us very unhappy, that we're all going a little crazy. We spend as much searching for our cell phone than we do preparing a meal.
~Alice Waters, "Brief But Spectacular"

With her new memoir coming out, Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook, we thought we'd give a little blog space to Alice Waters, often called "the mother of American cooking." Alice Waters opened a little restaurant called Chez Panisse in 1971 in Berkeley, California, and in the 40-plus years since has been a tireless advocate for organic food, slow food, school lunch reform, and local sustainable agriculture. She's been the recipient of several awards and honors - her 2015 National Humanities Medal "proving that eating is a political act, and that the table is a powerful means to social justice and positive change. "

Eating at Chez Panisse looks like a tremendous experience. The Restaurant is downstairs, offering a three to four course dinner with the menu changing nightly, "each [course] designed to be appropriate to the season and composed to feature the finest sustainably sourced, organic, peak-of-their-season ingredients, including meat, fish, and poultry." The Café, upstairs, features "moderately priced à la carte menu for both lunch and dinner." The website describes the experience more poetically than we could ever hope to:

Alice and Chez Panisse are convinced that the best tasting food is organically and locally grown, and harvested in ways that are ecologically sound by people who are taking care of the land for future generations. The quest for such ingredients has always determined our cuisine. For over 45 years, Chez Panisse has invited diners to partake of the immediacy and excitement of vegetables just out of the garden, fruit right off the branch, and fish straight from the sea. In doing so, Chez Panisse has established a close network of suppliers who, like the restaurant, strive for both environmental harmony and delicious flavor.

But, don't think Alice Waters herself will be whipping up your dishes. Since the birth of her daughter in the early 1980s, Alice Waters has served as executive chef - she "contribute[s] to the collaboration of the kitchen...oversees Chez Panisse, writes cookbooks, helps design menus and tries to preserve local food traditions," but she hasn't cooked anything in their kitchen in 30 years. There are a variety of chefs at Chez Panisse - different ones for the restaurant, the café, for pastry - and alumni of the kitchens include Jeremiah Tower, Samin Nosrat, and Cal Peternell.

Are you interested in food activism? Alice Waters supports Slow Food International, which is concerned with topics such as bee population decline, food waste, protecting family farming, and GMOs, and she founded the Edible Schoolyard Project, with its mission being "to build and share a national edible education curriculum for pre-kindergarten through high school...envision[ing] gardens and kitchens as interactive classrooms for all academic subjects, and a sustainable, delicious, and free lunch for every student." Do you agree with her about the importance of "help[ing] people understand the relation of food to agriculture and relationship of food to culture?" Even if you're not as hardcore as Alice Waters, you might still enjoy her cookbooks - New York Times bestsellers and recommended for "everyone who wants to learn to cook, or wants to become a better cook." Learn more about the food culture of Alice Waters with some of the titles listed below.

For Children

Alice Waters and the Trip to Delicious by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

Fanny in France: With French Adventures and French Recipes by Alice Waters

Cookery by Alice Waters

My Pantry

The Art of Simple Food and The Art of Simple Food II

In the Green Kitchen: Techniques to Learn By Heart

Chez Panisse Fruit

Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook


American Masters: Alice Waters and Her Delicious Revolution

In addition to her own books, Waters has provided the foreword to cookbooks by various other chefs, including Joanne Weir, David Tanis, Cecilia Chiang, the Cheese Board staff, and, one of our favorites, Niloufer Ichaporia King, if you're interested in other cookbooks with a similar ethos.


The 10 Dishes That Made My Career: Alice Waters [First We Feast]

Alice Waters, Chez Panisse, and Her Farm-To-Table Journey [CNN]

Life's Work: An Interview with Alice Waters [HBR]