Banned Book Week – Day 4: Beulah Land by Lonnie Coleman

I had no idea this book was still around but I’m so glad that it is!! When I was 15 years old, I was reading this book at the suggestion of a US history buff (I wanted to go to university and major in history – and did) who said it was the antithesis of Gone With the Wind; that Beulah Land was the real version of the “old south.” They were correct – to an extent. The book centers on the Kendrick family, a wealthy southern family who owned hundreds of slaves. What I remember most about the book is the Kendrick sons who repeatedly either raped or had non-violent but non-consensual sex with the young female slaves. Certainly Scarlett Ohara never talked about that, did she? Can you imagine Rhett Butler raping a slave girl? Well, yes, yes I can! But, of course, we never see that in Martha Mitchell’s rose colored tale. The Kendrick family’s saga is typical of the old south: the gentrified white plantation owner barely hanging on to his land, wealthy sons who think they can take whatever they want, hardworking African Americans – some treated decently while others are whipped to death. If you’re going to read a book about the “old south” this is the one to read.

I’m highlighting this book during banned book week – not because it was banned by a community but because it was “banned” by my parents. When my mother caught me reading the sex scenes in this book, she promptly threw the book in the trash. That is what well-meaning parents do, right? Not so fast…. first, I went to my local library, checked out the book and read it in secret! I now OWN the book and my kids have read it. My mother did the same thing with the book, “Go Ask Alice.” I own a copy of that one, too, and my kids read it as well. Parents are not going to stop kids from reading books with which the parent disagrees. Wouldn’t it be better to discuss the book like intelligent human beings rather than “banning” the books in question? The sex scenes in Beulah Land are not so different from the biblical account of Solomon and his lover (whom we now know was Ethiopian) but parents don’t throw away the Bible to keep their child from reading the Songs of Solomon, now do they? Or the stories of David who “took” Bathsheba and had her husband killed so that he could marry her. “Took” being the Catholic monk version of rape.

My point of today’s post to shine a little light on the ways we “ban” books without banning them at all and the hypocrisy of those who do choose to ban books. Censorship is just another form of ignorance – don’t pass this on to your children, please.

Banned Book Week Day Three – Children’s Books

When I began researching for Banned Book Week I naturally assumed that the majority of the banned or challenged books would those that many adults find “subversive.” You know, Mein Kampf, The Anarchist Cookbook, even some of the existential writings of Satre or Camus. I was so wrong. The MOST OFTEN challenged and banned books in the US are children’s books and the most challenged of all writers is be the beloved Judy Blume. WTH!? I had to read further to understand because clearly I was a “bad” parent. My kids read ALL of the books – LOL! Below are a few of the books that have been banned by certain school libraries in the US:

In 1986, the West Allis Milwaukee School District banned this particular poetry collection because of “drug reference, suicide, death and a disrespect for truth and authority.” Shortly after, a school district in Pennsylvania did the same.
Harriet, it seems, was too smart for her own good. This book was banned because parents were concerned it was teaching kids to “lie, spy, talk back and curse.”  I have news for you – kids are learning to lie, back talk and curse from their parents, peers and president, not from Harriet the Spy
The addition of this book to the list breaks my heart. Have you ever read a more wonderful story or seen more beautifully illustrated pages? A favorite of children all over the world, this book was banned by many southern states for depicting child abuse (the no-go supper for Max), it’s also been challenged for being “too dark” and showing supernatural elements. Hey, I was raised in the south. Going without supper was the least abusive form of child abuse I encountered!

However, the most challenged author of all, including “adult books” is Judy Blume, the author of “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret.” I’m not sure I would have made it through the tween/early teen years with this book. My parents were of the ultra conservative bordering on cult religion and we did not speak of anything remotely dealing with our bodies. Nope. Books like this were a resource for me more than just enjoyable reading. But let’s look at another of Blume’s banned books: Blubber. Have you or kids read Blubber?

Blubber is about bullying – really serious bullying. It revolves around a group of girls who bully another group, then that group gets more girls together and they torture the original group of girls who re-groups with different girls and torture the second group and on and on and on. You know, real life stuff here. Seriously! The reason the book was banned was because parents didn’t agree with the fact that none of the girls were punished. HELLO!?! Bullies seldom are punished – in our schools, in our neighborhoods, in our politics or in our presidency!! I was 4 foot 11 inches tall. To say that I got bullied is an understatement. Add to that the aforementioned religious aspect and I was tortured. No one ever got punished – EXCEPT FOR ME!! Geesh. Do parents live in some kind or drug induced bubble that they do not realize this!?! (sigh) I could rant on for ages but I think Judy Blume, herself, explains this perfectly:

“When I started to write, it was the ’70s, and throughout that decade, we didn’t have any problems with book challenges or censorship. It all started really in a big way in 1980 … It came with the election, the presidential election of 1980, and the next day, I’ve been told, the censors were crawling out of the woodwork and challenging, like, ‘It’s our turn now, and we’re going to say what we don’t want our children to read.,” Blume says. “”But I think it’s more than that. It’s what we don’t want our children to know, what we don’t want to talk to our children about; and if they read it, they’ll know it, or they’ll question it.”

Well. Isn’t that the purpose behind ALL bannings and censorship: We don’t want you to know because then you’ll know and you will question it.

READ BANNED BOOKS!!! Be the one who knows!

Banned Book Week, Day 2: The oh-so-very obscene “Ulysses” by James Jones

It’s rare that a book is banned before it’s even published, Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller comes to mind, but that is what happened to Ulysses by James Jones. Banned in both England and the US to protect the “delicate sensibilities of women”, publishers took their case to court and won! Seriously, the delicate sensibilities of women!? Aren’t we, as women, all tired of people deciding for us what might offend our sensibilities!?

So what exactly is Ulysses? An amazingly long book, Ulysses tells the story in great detail of one day in the life of Dubliners in the early 20th century. It is a stream of consciousness centering on the life of Leopold Bloom and his friends. Critics have complained for over a century that Joyce’s lack of punctuation, run on sentences, interior monologues, etc., made this one of the worst, not best, pieces of literature. Thankfully, people all over the world disagree.

I first read Ulysses in HIGH SCHOOL – apparently one of my literature teachers was well ahead of her time since I also read Vonnegut, Camus, Sartre and more in her class which is unheard of in today’s high school programs. At the time, Ulysses was enigma to me. I wasn’t mature enough or well read enough to fully comprehend it but I still am appreciative of that early introduction. I re-read it at University and again as a homeschool mother teaching my own kids. Yes, there is profound cursing. Yes, there is masturbation. Oh, hello? Because “delicate sensibilities” don’t curse or hear it daily? Teenagers don’t masturbate – as do adults? Please. If you’re going to do it then you should read it as well! Ulysses was and is a marvelous piece of literature and, hopefully, you have read it. If not, why not? It will take you FOREVER to read but it is worth it!!

So that you know, Ulysses also has been burned in the United States, England, Canada and Ireland. Whew, so glad we are nothing like those Nazis, aren’t you?

Banned Book Week 2020: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

The last week in September is the week set aside by readers in the US to emphasize and even celebrate those books that have been “banned” or challenged in the US. While the First Amendment of our US Constitution, soon to be a useless piece of paper that is no longer relevant thanks to the new SCOTUS, does not allow for the outright banning of books, there are challenges each year to withhold books from school and community libraries throughout the US – and the world. Although, let’s face it, the First Amendment certainly isn’t what it used to be in the US and schools are effectively banning books when they willingly no longer have their students read them and when Boards of Education vote to delete important information from their textbooks ala Thomas Jefferson and The Enlightenment as was done in Texas. Banning by omission is alive and well in the good ole USA. In my home town the local librarian selects books solely based on the local “readership,” meaning that subversive, challenging, thought provoking books never will see the light of day in her library. But hey, if you want a good Amish romance you will be in luck!

So, let’s look at some of the most “banned” or challenged books for 2020, shall we? Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” is always in the Top Ten as is “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck. I read all of Steinbeck’s books and short stories in junior high, age 13-15. He still is my favorite writer, most likely always will be, and, Of Mice and Men is my most recommended book to those who rarely read. It’s quick, easy and profound. To ban a work like this is disgraceful. No, it’s ignorance. It should be no surprise that 1984, Brave New World and Animal Farm made the list this year. After all, we wouldn’t want to see any resemblances to the current administration, now would we? And it goes without saying that the majority of school boards no longer allow books like Albert Camus’ The Stranger, anything by Kurt Vonnegut or ever A People’s History of Us by Howard Zinn to see the light of day in our precious public or parochial schools. Hell, is it any wonder that I homeschooled all of children? I couldn’t bear the thought of them being culturally or politically illiterate which is exactly what we are facing in today’s version of “America.”

With that said, I had the pleasure of re-reading several banned books and adding a few new ones to my collection. I’ll share my thoughts about them this week beginning with Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.

Because I absolutely adore Kurt Vonnegut and always have, I’ve been teased that I moved to Indianapolis simply because that is where Vonnegut was from. His family played an integral part in the development of the Indianapolis area and their contributions were intelligent and long-lasting. However, from the moment I first read Breakfast of Champions – for literature class in HIGH SCHOOL – I’ve been hooked on his pacifism, brilliance and humor.

Slaughterhouse Five is an anti-war novel that withstands the test of time. The narrator is Billy Pilgrim, a WWII veteran who survived the bombing of Dresden (ask how many high school graduates in the US know what the bombing of Dresden was – you’ll be amazed at their ignorance.) Billy becomes “unstuck in time” and travels to another planet where he finds peace. While the earth wants Billy to talk about Dresden, all he wants to do is talk about Tralfamadore. Brutalism meets Sci-Fi in this cult classic which allows readers of nearly all ages to read and comprehend the horrors that Billy witnessed and understand that it is those horrors that must be avoided at all cost. It is a MUST READ for everyone.

This book has been challenged in many communities and in most schools but it was actually BURNED in Drake, ND. And you thought only the Nazis burned books…well, yes, they still do.

Oh, and for the record, I am writing this review because I want to. No publisher has given me a book and no media consultant is telling me I cannot speak about religion or politics or drugs or war or anything else which might offend. If you ARE offended by this, well, I won’t apologize. There is too much at stake in today’s world to continue to remain silent!

#TopTenTuesday for #BannedBookWeek

It’s Tuesday and many book bloggers are participating in the fun Top Ten Tuesday post. I thought I would put a little twist on it this week by posting the <b>Top Ten Banned Books for 2017</b>. It is astounding to me that in the 21st century there still are banned or challenged books. Sadly, nearly all of the books are challenged due to race and sex. I’m unsure why parents feel the need to shelter children from knowing about people who might be different from oneself but it is still perfectly acceptable to subject those same children to copious amounts of violence on television, in books and, especially, in video games. Perhaps if we as a people concerned ourselves more about gratuitous violence harming our children, the world would not be in the shape it is in today.

Save the World and read a @BannedBook this week.

Howard Zinn’s Southern Diary- Banned Book Week

It’s banned book week – a week in the US where we celebrate the beauty and truth in the books that others found controversial. There are few American authors, in recent years, who has been questioned and banned more often in our schools than Howard Zinn.

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Howard Zinn’s Southern Diary is a compilation of entries from Zinn’s journal  that he wrote while he was teaching at Spelman College in Georgia during the winter/spring of 1963-64. This is, of course, during the rising strength of the Civil Rights Movement with Georgia being at the hub of the student activism. Being an activist himself, his years at the college allowed him a closeness to the student activists across Georgia and, ultimately, the south. While Zinn wrote about his time at Spelman in a previous publication, it was only after his death when his papers were opened and released that his journal was discovered. Through his writings, one can see how Zinn was instrumental in bringing about legal social change that he had hoped would lead to a different mindset regarding racial interaction and racism as a whole.

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In truth, Howard Zinn is one of my favorite authors. There are few of his works that I haven’t read. His book, A People’s History of US, was and still is a mainstay in our home and was used to teach US history in our homeschool. It is often banned in schools when parents discover that it is a truthful account of this nation’s very sordid history rather than simply perpetuating the  myths with which Americans have been indoctrinated by the white elite. His writings always are an unvarnished, well documented commentary on our nation and its people and this diary certainly is no different. It is a tough, truthful look at the deep south and the struggle for African Americans to gain the freedoms that all Americans should enjoy without question. It is a personal account of the protests, marches and sit-ins that were occurring during this time. Having lived through this period and later as a protestor who has campaigned for equal rights for all, it was especially interesting to see our experiences retold. However, the message throughout his book is this: the struggle has not ended, racism in America still is rampant and, sadly, it is growing in fervor once again.

If there is one point that I want to convey in this review it is this: this is not your average non-fiction book, none of Zinn’s books are that. They are written with the average person in mind, they are readable and always they are eye opening and enlightening.

I highly encourage you to read Howard Zinn’s Southern Diary and afterward to pick up a copy of A People’s History of the US. I guarantee you that you will be shocked and will understand why educators are fighting to have it taught in their schools and, conversely, whey the anti-intellectuals do not want it there at all. It is a great read for Banned Book Week 2018.

Huge appreciation to the University of Georgia Press, #RobertCohen and #Edelweiss for my review copy of this amazing book!