Tag Archives: banned books

In the Moment with Sherman Alexie

Wednesday night was alive with excitement, energy, and nostalgia.

My husband stayed home with the kids, and I ventured out on my own. I met a friend for dinner — a delectable meal void of macaroni and cheese, complemented with a cloth napkin, and paid for by my sweet friend. I ordered a glass of Pinot Noir, made by a vineyard who’s name  I can’t remember, which came with an entry card for a contest the vineyard was sponsoring. I sipped my wine like I’d just come of age and filled out a form to win a new bike in December. I dotted my I’s with fervor. I felt lucky.

We skipped dessert for a more enticing event happening around the corner at the Boswell Book Company: Sherman Alexie, live and in person, speaking and reading.

The bookstore was packed, and the air electric. It was standing room only, so my friend and I weaved our way in and out of bodies to the back, where we found a niche near a bookshelf with a perfect view. I scanned the crowd: old, young, diverse. As I thought of the experience we were all about to embrace, cheers erupted and there he stood.

He spoke for an hour. He read poems from his new book, War Dances. Like in his writing, his words struck the air in an often humorous, raw, and poignant way.

He spoke with passion about the way technology is changing how we experience art. As we turn more and more towards digital and high-speed tools, the human aspect of art, whether it’s music or reading or writing, is filtered out little by little. Sherman Alexie described digitized books as sterile, robbing us of the anticipation found in a hand held object that draws us in and envelops our every sense: touch, sight, smell.

The smell of a bookstore, especially a used or antique bookstore, was a sensual image I could grasp well. I thought about the hidden stacks in the library of my alma mater, where I ventured one day in my early college years. I can’t remember the book I needed to borrow, but in my search I found a spiral staircase that took me down, down, down. The deeper I went, the older the books. It was a hidden treasure, a secret room of words, stories, and leather binding. Still today, I am drawn to antique books for the feel, the look, the character of the book itself. Years ago I bought an antique book written in French. I couldn’t read a word of it, but it didn’t matter. I bought it for the beauty of the cover and the endpaper.

On Sherman Alexie’s official website, the summary of his new book, War Dances, speaks well to the feel of the night as it settled into the recesses of my mind:

“…War Dances takes us to the heart of what it means to be human. The new beginnings, successes, mistakes, and regrets that make up our daily lives….”

I love the tactile experience of reading a good book. In that moment when I pick up the book, I am completely present. I am thinking only of the title, the author, the cover, until my hands open to the first page and my eyes begin to read. Then, I fall into the story.

Sherman Alexie made a very strong impression.

Great books, and authors, may be headed your way.

The Wisconsin Book Festival 2009 began yesterday in Madison, WI. This annual festival began in 2002 and now draws about 15,000 people – all in the name of books and writing and the love of reading.


Wow, what a line-up. A whole slew of amazing authors are being hosted, heard, and admired as you read this. Download the Program Schedule, a work of art in itself.

But, beware, when they say “it’s a large PDF file, it might take a while to download,” they mean business. Still, I waited. I flipped through it. My eyes teared up. I thought of packing my bags and camping out in Madison for the next several days.

But, if you’re like me (have a job, raise young kids, don’t bother checking your wallet because all that’s in there is a library card and crumpled receipts marking the obvious…you’re broke), leaving town is not an option.

A peek at the program is still in order, though. Even if you’re hundreds of miles away from Wisconsin, it’s an experience to read through the list of authors. I’m awed by the amount of awards and fellowships represented. And, I’m reminded about the number of books I want to list my GoodReads page as “to-read.”

If you’re lucky enough to live in one of the other statewide areas offering their own piece of the festival pie, you might still get a chance to see great authors in action. I’m checking the schedule, and I’m running through my list of babysitters (hoping for one free of charge). With a quarter tank of gas, I can make it to at least one of those events!

What are you hiding under your pillow this week?

This week (September 26th-Oct 3rd) marks  the 28th annual celebration of Banned Books Week.

bannedbooks_readout.lg_horizInterested in knowing what books have been challenged this year? Check out Robert P. Doyle’s Books Challenged & Banned in 2008-2009: Speak Read Know. Doyle compiled the list based on reports from the Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom, and you might be surprised at what some parents and schools are willing to consider unfit for adolescent eyes.

Among the list are classics, like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird. Other titles are new to me, but surprising just the same. Take Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, a book about a young boy who leaves his Indian reservation to attend an all-white school. A host of awards supports the book as credible and critical for young adults (2007 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the National Parenting Publication Gold Winner 2007 to name just two), but the book was challenged because it mentions masturbation.

Okay, fine. But I’m curious if those same parents who challenged many of the award winning books on Doyle’s list are the same parents who dropped their 12 or 13 year old off at the cinema to watch Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (PG-13 for sexual material) or rented Step Up 2 for their 14 year old’s slumber party (PG-13 for “suggestive material” and really skimpy outfits)?

Then, there are the books I wish I’d read when I was young, like Esther Drill’s Deal With It!: A Whole New Approach
to Your Body, Brain, and Life as a gURL
This book reveals everything every girl wants to know, and needs to know, about her body’s evolution into womanhood. At sixteen years old, my high school friend innocently misinformed me (and embarrassed me) about the natural workings of my own body. She had no idea what she was talking about. I doubted her information, but I felt too ashamed to ask anyone else, until I was well into my thirties.  Esther Drill’s book was challenged at a Community Library close to my home. The book was thought to be “worse than an R-rated movie,” as if educating young girls about their own biology is obscene.

I don’t want my daughter to grow up in the dark.

Read the list. Find out what books have been challenged in your area, and why. If the library won’t let you borrow it, then buy it. The book they ban is most likely the best book on the shelf.