April- an uneasy season- ripe with poetry

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Mr. Dog Bites on June 10

Amidst the cacophony of derivative, dystopian YA fiction emerges a unique and original tale in When Mr. Dog Bites, a forthcoming YA novel by Brian Conaghan. The hero of the tale is sixteen year-old Dylan Mint, a boy who attends Drumhill, or as he calls it, the ‘school for spazzies.’ His best friend, Amir suffers from mild Asperger’s and a stutter, and because he is Pakistani, is often a bully target. Dylan himself has Tourette’s, and his outbursts often get him into trouble. At the outset of the story Dylan believes he has only months to live after he overhears a conversation between his mother and a doctor, when the doc says,” life as he knows it will end in March.” Dylan begins a quest of “Cool things to do before I cack it,” which include having sex with a girl named Michele Malloy, finding a new best friend for Amir, and helping get his dad back from the war. Given these herculean tasks, Dylan’s odyssey is often funny, and ultimately transformative.

Dylan’s voice is engaging, and the diction and interior dialogue are inventive and reminiscent of Kerouac, such as “I was better off taking the hind arms off a brick wall”, [the teacher] “sometimes … treated us like a mad shower of window lickers,” [his mom’s eyes] “were like a butter knife to my heart,” and “I want to Usain Bolt out of here.” A large chunk of the book is in dialogue, and while I found most of it engaging, I missed Dylan’s interior voice.  Conaghan skillfully creates a likable, realistic character in Dylan without forcing the reader to feel sorry for him and his situation.

As an adult, and a secondary school librarian/teacher of many years, the profanity did not bother me, but this book may have a hard time finding shelf space in school libraries, which is unfortunate.  The words Dylan yells are nothing kids don’t hear in the hallways any given day, and all kids need to live inside the head of a character whose thought patterns may differ, yet still has the same human desires of love and belonging. Besides, part of Tourette’s includes involuntary eruptions of swear words. If Congahan, who acknowledges he too has Tourette’s, had sanitized Dylan’s tics and outbursts, he would lose credibility as a writer. This book can do much to clarify Tourette’s as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night did for Autism. YA fans of John Green, David Levithan and Kody Keplinger will enjoy When Mr. Dog Bites.

Happy Reading.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

“Write every day and always have a good alibi.” Les Edgerton

I sit here at a local cafe, under the guise of working as my Facebook page looms to my left on my I Pad.  Right now I’m stuck between scenes. Like a giant wad of gum has cemented my shoes to cracked concrete. It’s not writers block. That's a myth. Anyone can write every day by just putting words on the page or the keyboard. I can repeatedly write ‘see Jane run, see spot run, see Dick and Jane run after spot’ if I have to. At least my brain is connecting to the act of writing. It might be shit, but it’s written. When whatever crisis that keeps me in writing crap phase flames out, I will go back and excise the messy parts. Which is what I am doing with this failed novel, a wretched story that pushes me toward Facebook and twitter rather than engages me.

I have a litany of excuses
“I’m Bringing Sexy Back” is playing in my ears and I would rather dance
Twelve more inches of snow are headed this way
I have a nearly endless supply of student papers to grade.
I’m tired.

All of these are valid reasons not to write, but what worries me most is I may have lost interest in my novel. I am rewriting a failed (truly failed) manuscript that would not even rate a 1 on Goodreads.

I have reordered scenes, changed the focus to the more likable character, introduced more scenes and characters, yet I’m still not doing this book any favors.

My BFF and editor Elizabeth tells me I am my worst critic. Maybe I need to hire her to read this draft. But it’s so bad I don’t to subject anyone else to the horrors within.

So I will keep writing. And eventually I will find the solution to this books, or, worse case scenario, abandon it. A relationship with one of your stories is like a love interest. Sometimes the best thing to do is break up.  Yes, we've been together for years, and we know one another well. But do we still love one another? Yes, I cheated on you with another novel, but that story yelled louder. It shoved you down to the basement and it took you more than a year to crawl back up those steps. Both of us changed, took on new interests, and met new people. We may be over one another. Stop whining, okay? Why don’t we date for awhile and decide if we can commit fully to one another? Meanwhile, some of my Facebook friends require my attention. You will find me there.

Hope your writing is going better than mine.
Happy Writing.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Weight of Blood: Gone Girl Meets Winter's Bone

The tale opens with a body, or rather body parts, of a young woman found in a tree. The victim, Cheri Stoddard, friend of protagonist Lucy Dane, had been missing for a year. Where Cheri spent her last few months and how she ended up dead becomes an obsession for Lucy because the circumstances of Cheri’s disappearance echo how Lucy's own mother Lila vanished more than a decade ago. Orphaned Lila, a relative stranger to the small Ozark community of Henbane Missouri, comes to town to work as a farm worker for Crete Dane. Crete has paid for her journey from Iowa and provides room and board on his farm where she is supervised by Ransome Crowley, a weathered woman who maintains a cool distance from the lovely Lila. Meanwhile Lila quickly falls for Crete’s younger brother Carl, but Crete has other plans for lovely Lila. Even though Carl and Lila marry and produce Lucy, Crete maintains a looming presence in her life. One afternoon when Lucy is still a toddler, Lila leaves her child with her friend gabby to run an errand and is never seen again.

Lucy Dane believes there is a connection to Cheri’s murder and her mother’s disappearance, and in her free time from working in her uncle Crete’s cafe and general store, she initiates help from Daniel, her secret crush who is now her co-worker, to help find out what happened to her murdered friend and missing mother. Henbane is a small community, so someone has to know. The narrative weaves between Lucy, Lila, Ransome and other characters' viewpoints, and the reader gradually learns the whole story through their eyes.

The taut, elegant writing and well paced narrative kept me engaged all the way through. The Weight of Blood reinforces the notion that every community and family, no matter how small and seemingly benign, contains dark secrets.

This is Laura McHugh’s first novel, and I hope she is working on a second one.

Look for the book in bookstores on March 11, 2014. Happy Reading

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Beware of the Font Snob

I recently finished the third draft of my latest YA, and have asked several folks to read it and provide feedback. Logan, one of my AP students he said overall he liked the story, but he was horrified by the chapter in comic sans font.
“Really? why?”
“Comic sans is the white trash of fonts.”

The book is, written in Arial, is narrated by a male protagonist’s in first person, and I wanted his passages to physically differ from the woman’s journal he discovers. I thought Comic Sans had a feminine look to it.

I told my friend and fellow writer Elizabeth about Logan’s reaction, and she agreed with him. “Comic sans is awful,” she said. “You have to change it.” I sent her an electronic copy of my novel, and she admitted she changed the font on her copy before she could read the chapter in question. “When I started to read the character’s journal, it was like Minnie Mouse and Daffy Duck were screeching in my head,” she said. “It was unreadable.”

This led me to an investigation of font snobs. There are 125,000 pages linked to the term ‘font snob,’ and one can download 20,000 different fonts from a single site. There is even a blog called The Font snob blog. http://fontsnob.blogspot.com/

The banner at the top reads: Hi. My name is Justin, and I'm a graphic designer. Most people don't give typefaces a second thought. They shamelessly use Comic Sans, Hobo, or Papyrus. It's time to get oriented about the beauty of the letterform. This is my passion. This is my disease. This is The Font Snob Blog

Some people need lives.

I admit a preference to san serif fonts because as an art student, when I had to hand letter my work with an old fashioned quill pen, serifs were the bane of my existence. One slip of the pen when I filled in those damn serifs and the work was ruined. Serifs were a pain in the ass, so I gravitate to using fonts like Arial, Calibri and other san serif typefaces. Comic sans is a member of that group.

“Why is there a problem with comic sans?” I asked.
“comic sans is like an undesirable body shape,” Elizabeth said. “It needs to go on a diet.”

I typed lines in Arial, Verdana and Comic Sans to compare.
See how comic sans is squat compared to the others It’s like someone stepped on it.?”
“So the reason I don't mind the typeface is it’s an endomorph like me?”
Logan and Elizabeth are both Ectomorphs, those stick figure body types who can eat anything they want (and we secretly hate them for it) and never gain weight. The soft sided Endomorphs like me just think about food and gain five pounds.  Neither of those fonts is heavily muscled, though.  Apparently the Verdana font has six pack abs.

“It’s a matter of taste, Elizabeth said. She used to do newspaper ad layouts, and fonts were like their personal signature.

Here are a few fonts. This one is Tempus itc. Not bad. Maybe a little spindly.
 Lucida is rather pleasant, but I used it in another section of the novel.
what does this one look like? No.
palatino italciced MAYBE
euphemia is leaner. This could work.
calibri Is this like comic sans on a diet ?
fzshyuti font. I like the name of it.
kalinga font. Another maybe
batang che- too much like courrier
gulim font is an ectomoroph on steroids
trebuchet is probably too much like comic sans
but at least I didn’t write the chapter in wingdings:

i cant write it in wing dings
or wing dings do
and here is wing dings 3

Sorry, but I still like comic sans. It’s a fat bottomed girl like me.
What are some of your favorite fonts?Happy Writing.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Might as Well Face It I'm Addicted to Words.

Those of you with children know your toddlers won’t leave the house empty handed. They have favorite toys and blankets that seem glued to them like a new appendage. Since I was a kid, I have suffered from a similar affliction that affects millions of other bibliophiles; I cannot leave the house without a book.

Next time you go to a party, you’ll spot me. I am the odd duck in the corner of the room, scanning the bookshelves for a new friend, more at home in confluence with fictional characters than the chatter of strangers and acquaintances in the room. What is wrong with me? And is there a cure?

There is a term for my condition: Abibliophobia.- n. Fear of not having reading materials.
I feel vindicated knowing there’s a name for it, but alas, there is no cure. The only treatment is having a book in my hands.

In addition to this disorder, I also suffer from logolepsy, a Greek term meaning an obsession with words. It literally means ‘to seize words.’ I love that. It’s as if words float above me and all I have to do is reach up and grab them. All writers have this condition. The decent ones anyway. We suffer over the right word, and revel when a new word adopts us.

Words claim us, and we hear learn them when the time is right for us to know. Prior to tenth grade, the word bombastic escaped me, but my best friend at the time was the epitome of bombastic; she entered a room and sparks flew.

One Look Dictionary labeled logolepsy as a Worthless Word for the day. Irony. I like that.

High Vocabulary defines it as a ‘severe fascination, making the condition sound terminal, which, as long as we remember our words,  it is.

Linguist Steve Pinker said in his TED talk,
“Language is the stuff of thought- the more we know about it, the better we understand ourselves.”  In effect, those of us who possess language skills are obsessed, whether consciously or unconsciously. It’s a communication reflex, one that is perhaps uniquely human. (The jury is still out on that given dolphin and chimpanzee modes of communication.)

Many writers have written about the reflected upon the most heartbreaking aspect of degenerative brain disorders like Alzheimer’s in losing their words. For a writer and reader, losing one’s words is akin to starving to death.

As a logoleptic, you would think I look forward to conversing at parties. And sometimes I do. But inane chatter about the Kardashians  or The Bachelor is not a love of words. Engaging with a good book is the best conversation.

If you want to write, hone an addiction to words. Read everything. learn new words.

Happy Reading and Writing.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Apologies to All Except Those Who Key Bombed Me

I recently read a memoir called Heads on Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-called Hospitality by Jacob Tomsky. While this is an engaging tale, complete with crisp dialogue and admirable reflection, ultimately this book changed my perspective on hotel stays.
Hotels are wonderful places; they offer shelter, make your bed, clean up after you, bring you food, provide entertainment, and accommodate your myriad quirks. If I had enough money, I’d live in one. I’ve stayed in thousands of them over the years. As a kid in h sixties and seventies I grew up in a mobile family who enjoyed world travel in some first class hotels, such as The Mandarin in Hong Kong where a console next to the bed controlled the drapes, the TV, the music and the lights. There were phone extensions in the bathroom.
When we lived overseas, my family, along with many Americans in the community hung out at the Hotel Intercontinental. We paid for membership to use the pool, and often dined poolside, where my brothers and I signed the check to our account. We used the conference rooms for school dances and weddings, shopped at the hotel patisserie, pharmacy and gift shops, and made this hotel a western respite from living in a Third World country. This hotel was the ultimate comfort zone.
But the rate for an overnight stay reaches far beyond the list price. I always knew to tip the bellmen, the luggage guys, and the maids. What I did not know is it’s also crucial to tip the front desk clerk.
How could I, a world traveler who had circled the globe twice before her junior year in high school, not know this? There are thousands of front desk clerks out there drawing skull and cross bones next to my name. My apologies to all of you, except those of you who key bombed me. Key bombing, according to Tomsky, is where the front desk person makes you a set of electronic keys but only one of which these works. If you inadvertently slide the dead key in the slot, it will deactivate the working key. Thus, if you are traveling alone, you must shlep your crap all the way back down to check in and get a working key. The clerk will smile broadly and apologize profusely, all the time typing a note about what a cheap jerk you are.
I’m not a fussy guest. I am pleasant to whoever checks me in. I’ve worked in service professions, so I know people are high maintenance. I even worked in a hotel dining room while in college, and drunken solitary males often left me a room key as a tip. Waitresses shared tips with the busboys, who kept the dining room clean. We also tipped out to the bell boys who delivered room service, even though a tip was added to the room bill. So I know about tipping.
If you have woken in the middle of the night to a clock radio blaring at two am, your drapes will not stayed closed, the toilet runs after every flush, your pee stream has more water pressure than the shower, or it looks like someone had sex in that bed an hour before, the front desk knew about it before he or she booked you in that room. You were rude on check-in, you slapped your kids, or you stayed on the phone during your entire transaction, and/or you did not tip the desk person. Think about it; the front desk guy is like the ship’s captain. He or she can decide if your journey will be bumpy or smooth. Handing the clerk a ten or twenty along with your credit card will guarantee an upgrade of some sort, be it a quiet room,
It’s so obvious. Why didn’t it occur to me before I read this book?
From now on, all desk clerks can expect a ten or twenty wrapped around my credit card. More when I become a rich and famous author.

I recommend ALL of you who travel to read this book. You will enjoy it for story as well as information. It will change how you perceive your next hotel stay. And by all emans, tip the desk clerk.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Should We Ban Books in School Libraries?

Here is my final installment of my Banned Books Week posting. This post is excerpted from a section of my Master’s thesis on censorship in school libraries from more than twenty years ago. My opinion has not changed. Some content has been edited and updated, but not censored.

Censorship in schools did not begin with Catcher in the Rye. In The Republic, Plato proposed to banish poets and dramatists for the making the Gods look less than God-like. He wrote that fiction had a band moral influence on the young. This ideology laid the groundwork for today’s justification for removing books from school libraries..

During the nineteenth century, Anthony Comstock, a zealous fundamentalist, penned a book entitled Traps for the Young, noting that light literature, newspapers and artistic works, including literature, were traps. He believed anyone who read “dime novels,” today’s equivalent to Young Adult, was doomed to a life of degradation and Hell.

Censors often have not read the materials which they challenge, or have only read isolated passages out of context. An example of a ludicrous dispute is the often challenged Steinbeck novel The Red Pony. In the 1980’s, the Vernon-Verona school District labeled the book as “a filthy and trashy sex novel.” If the challengers had bothered to read the book, they would learn this particular work by Steinbeck is a clean-cut tale of a boy and his horse. Because Steinbeck, who also authored East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath wrote The Red Pony the assumption is made that this, too contained questionable materials, yet this book continues to appear on banned book lists.

Censors believe book have behavioral consequences leading to premarital sex, violence, and questioning authority.  The two most often censored aspects of books are language and sex, the fear being that teenagers will emulate behavior of the characters in the book such as Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye. Teens hear this language every day in the hallways at school, or if they have jobs, out in the real world.

These same censors do not give students enough credit for their ability to discern when language is appropriate or not. Students know literature and real life are different. It doesn’t mean the words themselves should be emulated, and students who use an F-bomb or other curse word in class are usually punished, but colorful vocabulary is a part of life. If authors sanitized their dialogue by substituting expletives with phrases like “Oh, fudge!,” or “Drat and  Sugar” they lose credibility with their readers.  Young adult author Robin Brancato states, “…when I employ ‘bad language’ as you call it, and references to sex, it is not because I think these are needed to sell books or hold the reader’s interest, but because the body functions and the names for them, both polite and impolite, are parts of life, and I am interested in portraying life as it really is.”

Almost no literature is without sex. The Bible, beginning with Adam and Eve, is loaded with sex and sexual references, thus making it also a contested book in many libraries.

A distinction must be made between pornography and literature. Pornography is a Latin term meaning ‘writing about prostitution.’ In modern times, pornography has devolved into sub-literature comprising endless repetition, stilted dialogue and is most often anonymously written. Unlike literature, pornography’s intent is not to evoke realistic emotion or feeling; it is merely designed to titillate.

In the not too distant past librarians themselves were the primary censors. In early volumes of the American Library Journal, censorship was encourages through articles written about the dangers of certain types of books, particularly fiction. It was not until the Library Bill of Rights was adopted in 1939 that a clear cut policy was adopted.

The most ironic challenge is Fahrenheit 451, a book about book burning books. Written in the early Fifties about a futuristic world (which eerily resembles us today with our ear buds and wall sized TVs), fireman are dispatched to homes where the owners are known to have books, in effect, destroying all intellectual knowledge.

The purpose of education is to not only communicate factual information, but to teach young people to be critical thinkers who can devise their own value systems. Censorship undermines the students’ ability to discriminate.

Al school libraries have criteria for selection of new materials. Some might argue that selection is a form of censorship, yet school libraries are constrained by curricular needs and tight budgets. It becomes a problem when librarians either enforce their own narrow fields of interest, or when community or administrators question materials available through the library/media center. A library media specialist’s responsibility is not to impose his or her viewpoints on patrons. A colleague once told she weeded the Negro Almanac because the term ‘negro’ offended her. Granted the title is dated, and if one has the budget to replace this with a suitable, updated source, then go for it. But I will defend keeping a book like this on the shelf for the information and historical perspective it contains. Our culture likes to pretend the Unites States does not have an ugly past.

There are no easy answers for the question of censorship. I consider myself open minded, but, I too have limits. I will not intentionally stock an item on my shelves which encourages or instructs a students on how to kill himself.  Nor will I add blatantly graphic works such as Madonna’s Sex book or Fifty Shades of Gray.  However, there are materials in my library which offend my intellect: the schlocky, badly written vampire romances or the ever popular, badly written child abuse memoir, The Lost Boy. Kids love them, and it’s not my place to judge what students choose to read. My goal is that students read, period. Once the seeds for story are planted, perhaps kids will gravitate towards higher quality literature. In any case, they will have the freedom of choice.

Happy Reading and Writing.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Failure Is a Good Option

A friend of mine recently posted a cartoon which represents America’s schoolchildren as the Trophy generation; everyone wins! Failure is not an option is a popular mantra among educators. Here‘s the thing:not everyone is good at everything.

This same principle applies to writing. Anyone with a third grade education has the ability to write. He or she can form sentences, and pen a basic paragraph.. Pretty much anyone who is literate is capable of writing a letter, a Facebook post or tweet (albeit tons of these are misspelled and grammatically incorrect}, but not everyone should be a writer.

The digital ere has allowed the masses unlimited possibilities to splay one’s opinions (case in point this blog) or to share their Wretched American Novels and market them on Amazon. Granted, many so called “authors” have become successful, selling their uncorrected first drafts online. Fifty Shades of Gray, an abysmal series of soft core porn novel, made E. L. James a millionaire, but James is not an author. She is someone who put words on a page and sold gazillions of books. For those of us who pay attention to our craft, such successes represent a horror story.

Call me a word snob, but real writers pay attention to the craft. They carefully constrict syntax and suffer over using the correct word. Real writers don’t share their writings until they believe the words are right. And I’m not talking about “literary writers, the Virginia Woolfs and Cormac McCarthys; many bestselling authors, such as J.K. Rowling, Carl Hiassen and Elmore Leonard suffer over their syntax.  Even the prolific Stephen King pays attention to his craft. When you read one of these authors’s novels you are not reading first draft materials using an sixth grade vocabulary. I’m not a Dan Brown fan because his sentences give me hives, but even Brown researches his works and takes time to structure a readable, accurate story which engages people in meaningful dialogue about religious history.

I’m also not talking about Pulp fiction and romance. Beach reads. Well crafted stories, entertaining, good for one read, fairly easy to forget. When I was an undergrad, my advisor told me to read trashy novels because I was too absorbed in academic reading and he feared I would grow to hate reading. Every Sunday I read a Harlequin romance. (One of my roommates had scads of them in our apartment.)I don't remember any of them, but each book took me out of myself for awhile. And I can guarantee the words flowed well enough because even as a lowly undergrad I was a syntax snob.

My bone of contention is schlock like Fifty Shades of Gray dilutes the credibility of the book market by letting ‘fast food writing’ become the norm. Yes, we should “give the people what they want,” but don’t readers want more than trash? I worry that our national IQ is dipping to an all time low because this sort of book gets a trophy. This makes it more difficult for the real writers to get their stories published because the market is flooded with cheese, and movie and marketing deals for such debris make piles of money for the ever struggling publishing companies in movie deals

Am I jealous of E.L James? Hell yes. I wish I had her bank account, but I don’t envy her credibility as a “writer”. In fact, I feel sorry for her. What motivation does James have to write something well-crafted? And if she ever writes serious fiction, can critics take her seriously? I want my books to sell, yet I also want my stories to be appreciated for their well developed characters, plausible, memorable plots, well placed diction, and elegant syntax.  If I am ever to win an award for my work, I hope it is for something I am not embarrassed having out there.

If you want to write, write, and don’t be afraid to founder. Fail, and fail again. Real writing comes from learning from your failures..
Happy writing.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Political Correctness or Weeding?

 Another piece from my archive of censorship essays from early in my career.

Moe. L Is it Political Correctness or Weeding? The Book Report March/April 1993

An incident I heard about recently set me to questioning if the motive for removal of a book [in the school’s library] was weeding or censorship. The book in question was published in the early 1970’s when some “research” purported to show blacks were inferior in intelligence to whites. One chapter of the book presented this idea as fact.

A student who was offended by the chapter asked the librarian to remove the book. The librarian refused. Later, after a phone call from a parent, the principal took the book from the shelf and presumably destroyed it.

We all know that removing books in this manner amounts to censorship. Yet, given the date of the publication and inaccurate contents, I have asked myself, would I have weeded this item before it became an object of a challenge?

One could justify keeping the book for historical purposes as an example of ideas representative of the early 1970s. In this case I would have to verify authorship and authenticity. I believe in freedom of information, yet I also feel the information in the school library should be current and accurate.

What would I have done? I don’t know. I didn't see the book, but this incident has given me a push for writing a selection, weeding and reconsideration policy. With such a policy, a challenged book at least has a chance for due process.

Author’s note. Since this piece appeared two decades ago, I have experienced numerous challenges.  In no case was a book permanently removed from the shelves. Some were moved to closed reserve, and others labeled not appropriate for certain age levels books with false information are weeded before they come under question.

Read a banned book/

 Happy Reading and Writing.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Who's Afraid of A Banned Book?

In preparation of Banned Books week(September 22-28)  I am recycling some pieces I wrote early in my career as a Library/Media Specialist concerning censorship. Some things never change. As you read this and wonder about the archaic book references, please keep in mind this article is twenty years old.

The essay originally appeared in :
Moe. L. Who’s Afraid of Judy Blume? The Book Report March/April 1993

Funny thing about fiction: it’s the form of writing most often challenged by censors, yet it’s not true. The author made it up. It’s a lie. Never happened. So why are censors so afraid of it? Because in a way, fiction is true. Not true in the sense the story actually transpired. It could have happened, or parts of the story have occurred, such as the case in historical novels. Overall, the story came out of the writer’s vivid imagination. So why is it considered dangerous? Because good fiction is believable.

Fiction lets you crawl into someone else’s head, exploring their life experiences. Take the nocel Are You There God, It’s me Margaret? Along with Margaret, the reader feels the anguish of being different because unlike her friends, she has yet to develop breasts and her family doesn’t have a religion.

Through Scout’s eyes, To Kill a Mockingbird lets you be prejudiced and judgmental only to, after a sequence of events, make you change your mind about Boo Radley.

Fiction demonstrates that friends will come in strange, even ugly packages, such as in Theodore Taylor’s The Weirdo. Initially a friend may be an adversary like Mars Bar in Maniac Magee, and later become your best ally.

Historical fiction teaches facts and dates, but the lesson doesn’t stop there. In Empire of the Sun, you hear the roar of the Japanese bombers and the screams of people seeking shelter. You are hungry along with Jim in the prison camp as he subsists on one potato a day, and you understand how three years of imprisonment can numb you to the point where you don’t recognize your own parents. A good novel can also take you back in time, letting you live as Alexander the Great’s eunuch in Mary Renault’s Persian Boy.

You can explore another culture, as in Light In the Forest, a beautifully crafted novel where a white boy raised by Indians must choose between two cultures that hate each other and decide for himself his own identity and allegiance. Through good writing you can also learn to forgive, as Lee Botts forgave his parents for not being idea in Dear Mr. Henshaw.

Racism and prejudice are rooted in ignorance. That naiveté can be erased through understanding what makes another person tick. Fiction makes you see the humor, diversity and irony of life.

I’ve heard it said that you never fully understand another person’s culture until you speak his language. Through fiction, you not only speak another man’s tongue, you wear his clothes, eat his food and share his dreams. Through novels and short stories your horizons expand beyond the travelogue version of life.

Why is fiction so scary? Because good fiction is powerful. It can disturb your security, open your eyes to another viewpoint, and change your mind. Fiction also reminds us that we are flawed. Those imperfections make stories interesting.

Censors who challenge fiction are trying to protect you from viewpoints and ideas  that may disturb, upset or change you. Some novels will have bad language or rotten characters. Robert Cormier’s work is often challenged because he doesn’t supply happy endings. Life isn’t always fair or pretty. Good fiction is like real life.

As librarians it is our job to provide all viewpoints so that everyone’s story can be told.
Read a Banned Book. Follow this link for a list.

Happy Reading!