Last week was National Banned Book Week, when the American Library Association basically celebrates the books that people have tried (with varying degrees of success) to get banned from either local or school libraries. The whole idea is, in a nutshell, to poke fun of those who try to ban books, especially classics, and to promote literature and reading in general.
In the back of my mind, I’ve been trying to connect the idea of Banned Book Week to the Free-range kids movement, to the consternation of my conscious self. The ideas aren’t so dissimilar, but I couldn’t quite figure out what my brain was trying to tell me.
Of course, last week was a horrible, stressful time. I think I’ve got it figured out now.
So, here’s the thing; I’m a reader. I’ve been a reader ever since I was four years old. I consider myself lucky—my parent’s are both readers, and Mom was a school teacher growing up. There were always books in the house, and there was nothing quite as exciting as a trip to the bookmobile or the library, or when we took the Scholastic catalogs home.
Mom told me a story the other day; she ran into a woman who taught the first dance classes that Sis and I took, more than twenty years ago, now. She remembered Mom had two daughters, and asked about us, even if she couldn’t remember our names, she knew that one of us (Sis) could dance, and the other one (me) always had her nose in a book. Talking to my elementary school teachers, this was my defining characteristic. I loved (and still do) to read.
The time came, eventually when my parents grew concerned with my reading—but not so much what I was reading, but how much I was reading. I’d spend recesses in the library with a novel rather than going out and running around and interacting with other people. I never had a book taken away from me because it wasn’t “age appropriate” or contained foul language or violence or sex or any of the other excuses that people use when they’re complaining about books. That’s not to say my parents had no influence over what I read, but it was more in the vein of putting good books in my hands, rather than taking bad books out.
Now, here’s the thing. Even though I never had anyone tell me what was appropriate to read, I figured it out on my own. I’d read enough that I could tell what was good and what was bad. For instance, I remember, when I was in middle school, I briefly developed an obsession with a series of cheesy romance novels set against various historic backgrounds. They all followed the same basic plot of a love triangle—terribly romantic when you’re 12, until you realize you can tell who the heroine is going to end up with by the illustrations on the front cover.I remember taking books back to the library unfinished because I knew I shouldn’t be reading them. My parents taught me right from wrong—and then let me act according to what I’d been taught. Insanity, I know.
I don’t know how old I was when I read books like “Fahrenheit 451”, or “To Kill a Mockingbird”, or “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” for the first time—but I know for all three books I was younger than the intended audience. Crazy thing—jumping into these worlds that explore difficult and painful topics didn’t scar me for life, instead, they helped me understand these difficult topics, and why I should care about them. To put it another way—reading books like “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Huck Finn” taught me more about why racism is wrong than—well, pretty much anything else until the day my sister adopted an African-American child. What would I have missed out on if my parents or teachers had freaked out because I was reading a book that used the “n” word repeatedly?
The whole idea behind the Free-range kids movement is that kids grow up eventually. And, in order to be responsible, capable adults, kids need to learn to do things, figure things out, and think for themselves. When kids are coddled, or prevented from any sort of failure, or told how or what to think, how can they manage to become well-rounded adults? We learn from experience, and just like denying kids the experience of making friends and interacting with strangers and failing will inevitably lead to stunted adults, so too, I think, by denying kids the opportunity to decide for themselves the difference between a good book and a bad book only leads kids to stop reading.
So, the B-I-L wasn’t able to fix everything that was wrong with my computer, but fortunately, his friend Jon was. And so, my computer has been returned to me, with instructions to be very careful with where the power cord plugs into the computer.
I’m a bit chagrined, I have to admit. I missed the computer in the days I didn’t have it, but it wasn’t the internet or the word processor I missed–it was the stupid games. I was suffering Sim withdrawal.
I did get a lot of reading done–but before I get any further, I need to share a clip. This is Steven King talking to students at Yale in 2003:
I found that book that I put down and said “This really sucked. I can write better than that.” And not only had the book in question been published, it was an international best seller.
I guess I better back up a bit. A month or so ago, I was wandering through the book section of a local thrift store. I found a hardback copy of “The DaVinci Code” in nearly perfect condition for $2. I hadn’t read it, I haven’t seen the movie, and decided to see what all the fuss was about. Yes, I realize I’m a few years late to the party.
Long story short, Dan Brown can tell a story, and apparently, he is an amazing researcher, but the man can’t write. The characters were flat and uninteresting. The first scene Langdon looks in a mirror and describes what he sees–a huge no-no. Superfluous adjectives abounded. Brown wrote paragraphs like “Sophie quickly explained that her grandfather had made puzzles like this for her when she was a little girl” rather than “Sophie smiled. ‘My grandfather made puzzles like this for me when I was a little girl.’ she said.”
I’m glad that I didn’t waste more than one day of my life on “The DaVinici Code.” But, the more I think about it, the angrier I get. How did this man, this book get to be so popular and famous?
Okay, I’m done. And I know not to read anything by Dan Brown ever again. And that I’m a better writer than an international best-seller. That’s a very good thing to know.
I’ve been stuck pretty close to the toilet all day. But, on the other hand, the lemon pancakes they have right now are delicious. I have a goal to find/invent a recipe duplicating them.
Montaigne and I have been becoming good friends, to the point where I found a used copy of the book I checked out of the library on Amazon for a song. I’m excited to have a copy that I can highlight and make notes in.
While reading Montaigne is slow going, I’m enjoying it. His essays came about because, after a lifetime of public service, he did what all proper French Noblemen did in the 15oo’s. He set about to write a book. The problem was, he didn’t know what to write about, so he wrote about being Michel Montaigne. (That sounds familiar, somehow…) It really is like the 16th century version of a blog.
I’m only about 30 pages into the essays, but what I’ve gleaned of his philosophy so far (and what the program that got me interested in reading them in the first place) can be summed up as: “Life is tough. You’re not perfect. Get over it.” Good advice, no?
I need to decide quickly what I’m going to do for the 4th. Probably nothing. Sis is going camping with the folks, but, after driving to her house only to be ignored by G yesterday, I’ve decided that I need to give myself some space from her family.
I could go to my hometown, for the cheesy little parade that the citified B-I-L laughs at (Really, the cheesiness is part of the charm), then stick around for the fireworks, but, I have a gun shy little dog. Right now, I’m listening to thunder and having my shoulder massaged because Lulu curled around my neck and is just shivering.
Between the seasonal thunderstorms and the fireworks that won’t stop throughout the month of July, it’s a bad time of year at my house.
I’ve been listening to an audio book as I’ve been shuttling back and forth between Midway and Provo this week, specifically, Marisa Silver’s “The God of War“.
Several things struck me about this novel, first, I think it solves the mystery of me randomly narrating my life (“There was a print of a slightly impressionistic acrylic painting hung off center on the wall, divided into three sections. A yellow-blue sky hovering over green ball-like trees, with a green field streaked with gold in the foreground. It was utterly like every single piece of hotel-room art she had ever seen in her life. She wondered about the artist; what would it be like to have your work viewed, ignored and then forgotten by so many people?”)
For the next two things this novel had me thinking of, I guess I need to do a brief synopsis. The protagonist and narrator is a 12-year-old boy named Ares. He lives with his mother and mentally handicapped brother, Malcolm, in Bombay Beach, on the shores of the Salton Sea.
Ares and Malcolm’s mother is a free-spirited hippy type, who doesn’t give either boy the care they need or deserve, so much of Malcolm’s care and protection falls to Ares. He doesn’t have many friends, and frankly, doesn’t realize how different his life is from those around him.
Okay, so as the book is drawing to a close, (I can’t give a page count because I had an audio book) the fish in the Salton Sea die because of pollution or an algae bloom, or some other cause–it’s not explained why, and the birds eat the dead fish and then fall ill themselves.
Malcolm, who is obsessed with birds, finds an injured pelican and refuses to leave it. In a fit of desperation, Ares takes Malcolm and the bird to the ranger station where a man Ares is only casually acquainted with works. Malcolm refuses to hand the bird over, but the man, Mr. Poole, knows about Malcolm’s problems, and helps him care for the bird. It’s a very touching scene, but as I was listening to it, the only thing I could think was. “This is very symbolic. I wonder what it’s symbolic of.” I could imagine the book-club version of “The God of War”, and the questions directed at this scene tucked in the back.
It got me thinking about symbolism, something I hadn’t much considered before. Symbolism, to me, is more the product of the reader than the author. (And if TV Tropes page, “Everyone is Jesus in Purgatory” this is a view shared by many artists and authors.) But at the same time, this scene with the pelican didn’t really further the story, it didn’t expand the characters at all (except Mr. Poole, and that was the last time we saw him in the book) but it still managed to be, for me, anyway, the most memorable scene in the book.
The other thing this book had me thinking about was the concept of place as character. Ares’ story could have been set against any backdrop–and not lost much for it. But the desert and the sea took on a life of their own, and Silver did such a good job of bringing them to life that it made me understand the idea of place more than any other book I can remember reading.
I’ve often heard it said that you should write what you know–write where you know, something I’ve rejected because where I know is small-town Utah, and books set in small-town Utah tend to be Mormon literature (The Great Brain notwithstanding), and I dislike Mormon literature.
The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that that doesn’t have to be the case. Yes, along with place I’d have to include Mormon culture into the story–because, frankly, whatever your religious denomination or how often you go to church, in small-town Utah, Mormonism is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. It dominates life. But that’s okay, storywise, anyway.
It made me think about how different people view the church, those who hate and deride, those who are indifferent, and those who embrace. I can write about them. I can write about the farmers who gather in the coffee house on Sunday morning (for those who don’t know, coffee is expressly forbidden by the Church) while their wives (one wife each) and children attend church.
I know about the heat and dust and wind, and the cold winters. I know about the black volcanic rock on white alkali soil. I know about the plants–the sagebrush and rabbit brush, the cedar and juniper and pinyon pine, the invasive plants like tamaracks and cheat grass. I know the animals, the coyotes and jackrabbits, the mormon crickets that come in cycles. I know the birds, I know the geography, I know that land.
There is nothing wrong with using the Great Basin of Utah as a character, even as using Mormon culture as a character. I don’t have to write like Jack Wayland.
I feel like a new world has opened up to me. I can’t wait to explore.
On the scale of good day/bad day, I’m gonna call yesterday a draw. It was interesting, though.
I woke up yesterday morning to the sounds of a little dog retching–and me yelling “Get of the bed!” which, of course, she never does. Yes, this has happened before. Count this as one of the things no one told me about owning an inside dog. And that whole thing about dogs eating their vomit–yeah, that doesn’t happen at my house. Fortunately for Lulu, she threw up on the cheap comforter that I use as an extra blanket, not on the beautiful quilt my mom made.
So, I started a load of laundry, then off to the library. I love libraries in general–just not the Orem City Library. Don’t get me wrong, it has a fantastic collection of books, but the layout is quite literally disjointed. It consists of three stories in two different buildings, connected by a sky-walk on the main floor, and a grassy park-like area in the basement. It took me a long time to figure out what was where–and I still haven’t entirely figured out the alphabetizing system in the fiction wing.
I was quite proud of myself for walking through the non-fiction section, past my beloved popular science books, and the biographies–I’ve been trying to read more fiction, with the hope of inspiring my writing. I was even proud of myself for picking up an interesting looking fantasy book, then putting it down. Again, I wanted something to help inspire my writing.
I found myself looking at books whose authors names started with “Mil”, and I remembered a certain author. I’ve read everything he’s published so far, and had enjoyed all of his books. I remembered that the last I heard of him, he had a new novel scheduled for 2010, and I wondered if it was out yet, and if the library carried it. The problem was, I couldn’t remember his name. I knew his first name was David, and the last two letters of his last name were the same, but I had no idea where to look for his books. I went to the library catalogue computer, with the intent of looking up the title of one of his books, whose name I could remember, but unfortunately, the catalogue was down. Oh well, no harm, no foul. I ended up checking out four novels.
On the way home, I stopped at the Wal-Mart to get my oil changed. For future reference–10 am is a good time to get your oil changed at Wal-Mart, they weren’t busy, they were able to get me right in, and they were done with my car in less than 20 minutes. Monday is not such a good day to do it though–weekly shipments of goods usually come on Tuesdays, so they didn’t have an air filter for my car, or a few other things that they claimed I needed. The whole time, I was trying to remember the name of the author.
So, back home to two very excited dogs. I was in the middle of making lunch, and suddenly shouted “MITCHELL” at the top of my lungs. I just remembered the name of my author–David Mitchell. And no, his new book isn’t out yet. It’s a good thing my next door and downstairs neighbors work, and aren’t home in the middle of the day…
I spent most of the day reading, then, when 4:00 rolled around, I headed down to the church where they were doing a blood drive.
Now, if you haven’t picked this up from my blog thus far, I am a crazy person. And, as a crazy person, I’m scared of all sorts of things. One of the things I’m scared of is needles and blood. Especially when the blood in question is my own. (I count that as one thing, because what I’m scared of is a foreign object entering my body, and losing blood as a result of it. The most experience I’ve had with this type of thing is needles.) I’m also not a big fan of seeing blood that belongs to other people or animals.
Now, despite this fear, I’ve donated blood in the past. The first time, I passed out. The second time, I threw up. The third time was without incident, as was the fourth and fifth, so I figured I was past any sort of medical drama involved with taking blood. My body disagreed. I got as far as the part where they prick your finger to check blood type and haematocrit levels before I started to feel light headed. I complained about it, and put my head against the wall to try to steady myself.
I guess I must have then passed out, because I remember the phlebotomist asking if I was going to. I mumbled that I might, then it was like I was hearing things through a tunnel, with all the noises far away. The next thing I knew, someone was talking about throwing up, and telling me that it was okay if I needed to. I’ve decided that “phlebotomist” doesn’t mean “someone who draws blood” as much as it means, “crazy health profession wizard”, because I didn’t need to throw up until it was suggested to me. I came to with my head in a garbage can full of vomit, and an ice pack on my neck, and no knowledge of how either got there. Needless to say, they didn’t let me donate blood.
They were, however, kind enough to
force me to let me lie down, on the bus, next to the people who were able to successfully donate blood, until I was steady on my feet. I swear they were reading my mind–they could tell when I was starting to feel like I could sit up, and suggest it to me just as the thought was entering my mind. They handed me water when I was thirsty–even though I didn’t ask for it, and they could even tell when I was ready to get up and leave, without me suggesting it. They also suggested that I take an ice pack with me–which has since disappeared. It’ll be a fun little surprise for me when it shows up again in about four months.
On the plus side of this adventure, I met a guy who’s lung collapsed 6 years ago, and he’s had the hiccups ever since. “I don’t mind,” he said. “I got use to it after the first year.” The rest of us, not so much. His hiccups were the kind that sounded like small screams. He claimed they were worse after eating, drinking, or when he was stressed. Well, this was also his first time donating blood–so guess who was stressed?
I spent the rest of the day resting and recovering, and having my sister calling me a wimp on Facebook. I’m embarrassed about the whole thing, but I’m not going to give up donating blood–even if my body is begging me to. My family has had too much of a need in the past.
While I was laying in bed last night, trying to go to sleep, I realized that I didn’t turn the TV on at all yesterday. With everything that happened, I guess I didn’t need to. My goal, now, for the rest of the week, is not to watch any television.
Hulu so totally doesn’t count. I watch it on my computer, not my TV screen. That’s totally different.