Banned Books Week (Sept 27 – Oct 3)

BBW-logoWe are in the midst of Banned Book Week, that time each year when readers and authors alike scan articles and essays about attempts to ban books from libraries and schools over the last year and wonder “What the heck is going on here?”

I’ve had the pleasure for the last three years of doing the book reviews for my local NPR station (WKAR) as part of their show Current State, and each year I try to take on another book that has faced the always surreal argument for censorship.

  • This year I reviewed The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. You can listen to my discussion or read my review via this page.
  • Last year, I reviewed Mark Twain’s classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. You can check that our here.
  • During my first year as part of Current State, I discussed the importance of this holiday and why we need to reflect on it via this audio essay.

I’ve also snuck in over the years other authors that have faced censorship, including (with links) Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Judy Blume, Harper Lee, and J.K. Rowling. In the future, I will be reviewing Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie, so this is not slowing down for me anytime soon.

I hope you enjoy checking out some of these book reviews and try to read something a little controversial this week.

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Banned Books Week 2014

Books! Everywhere! Books!Wouldn’t it be neat if we had a week to celebrate Shakespeare? A week when everyone was to read Charles Dickens or Mark Twain? A day even when everyone was supposed to talk like a character in a Jane Austen novel (as compared to a pirate)?

Nah, we book lovers get Banned Books Week. Where all of us book readers get to shake our heads collectively and wonder what others are thinking. The funny thing is most people that try to ban a book don’t actually read the book in question. A few years ago there was one protestor who strived to get Harry Potter banned from her school library. It made national news. She was discussed on all the Potter forums. What we discovered later is that she had never read Harry Potter and was worried it would drive kids to Satanism.

I don’t even know where I would start if I was to have an argument with such a perspective.

My grandmother used to be a member of her local library board. The reason she would give for being on the board was to fight people trying to ban books from the shelves. She was the voice of reason in a very conservative community and she kept up her end of the battle long after Parkinson’s made her life difficult. She will always be one of my heroes.

Last year on WKAR, I gave a commentary on their daily radio show Current State about Banned Books Week. Here is an excerpt from the beginning:

The playwright Anton Chekov has this great rule for writing a play. To summarize it, if a gun appears in the first act, it has to go off by the last act.

What Chekov is tapping into is that a gun is threatening, a gun can kill. An audience remembers it is there, and each and every playgoer expects that sooner or later, for better or worse it will be fired. I remember once I saw a production of “Hamlet” by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and they showed Hamlet with a gun in the first act. He carried it in his coat wherever he went on that stage, his concealed weapon, and we always knew it was there, expecting it sooner or later to cause destruction. Because a gun will always be fired, fictional or real, and there are always consequences for one being around.

The funny thing is, there are pockets in our country where people feel more at ease with guns than books.

You can listen to my complete thoughts (or read them) via this link.  I will be appearing on the show again this week, but this time to discuss the importance of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, another fighter in this literary battle. I hope you will check it out.

Well, if this is the only holiday people will give us book lovers, we might as well make the most out of it. Decorate your books shelves with garland, start a book club, pick up that classic you never got around to finishing, turn off the TV, and… most importantly… read, everyone, read.

Happy Holiday!

On WKAR: Talking About Banned Books Week

Current StateI did something a little different this week in my appearance on WKAR’s Current State. Instead of sharing a new book review, I decided to take on the idea of Banned Books Week. I try to explain both sides of the issue, and offer my option for tackling “unwanted” books.  I’m pretty proud of this piece, I hope you will check it out.

You can listen to my discussion via this link- http://wkar.org/post/book-review-banned-books-week

If you would rather read my commentary, you can do so below after the jump. And you can learn more about Banned Books Week via a site by the American Library Association (here). Continue reading

New WKAR Book Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

Current StateI have a new book review on WKAR’s Current State this week! This time it is for the new J.K. Rowling novel The Cuckoo’s Calling, which she wrote under the pen name of Robert Galbraith.

You can listen to my radio review via this link- http://wkar.org/post/book-review-jk-rowlings-cuckoos-calling

If you would like to purchase a copy of The Cuckoo’s Calling or learn more about it, you can do so on Amazon here.

A transcript of my review is included as well below. Continue reading

The Writing Rule I Hate

Broken PencilI need to begin with Diane Rehm.

See, one of my little obsessions is The Diane Rehm Show and I listen to her about four to five hours a week. I even get the podcast, and when I am helping one of my children to fall asleep, usually I am listening to her take a caller on my phone’s headphones. And, to let you in on a secret, when I play “interview” in my mind she or Terry Gross are the ones asking the questions. I’m not the only person who does this, right? You are out someplace and suddenly an interview forms in your head. Before you know it, you are saying aloud: “Well, Diane, when I first came up with the idea…”

Okay, that might have been too much information. Moving on!

Anyway, a few years ago she had on a popular writer. I can’t remember who the author was, but this author’s ego was proudly on the march. You would’ve thought she had written the next Ulysses and to add to the size of her enlarging head a caller called her, praised her, talked about how much she loves her books and then asked her what her advice would be for a new writer.

The author replied that the golden rule of writing is “Write what you know.” She then went on to explain why this rule is so important and as I began to roll my eyes and prepared to finally turn off the episode, Diane did something utterly amazing.

The grand Mrs. Rehm interrupted the author and debated the author on that rule. She asked how could that be true. JK Rowling, for example, doesn’t know any wizards and has never been to Hogwarts or have magic (Yes, Diane referenced Harry Potter!). If Rowling only wrote what she knew we wouldn’t have that wonderful series, Diane argued.

If I was in the studio that day I would have given her a hug and a kiss. Continue reading

To Watch or Not to Watch: The Conundrum of Season 3 of Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones_Season ThreeMassive spoilers are ahead the size of the dragon Drogon for those who have not read the series by George R.R. Martin or watched the HBO series. You’ve been warned.

I am fan of the shadow of Game of Thrones.

What that means is I love the show and books in spirit, but in actual execution it is all a little bit more… well… shadowy. Imagine me as Peter Pan racing up the wall trying to get me hands on my shadow but it is just out of my reach and very dark. But I have to have it! It might complete me!

Now before you judge me, I’ve paid my Westeros dues (in Gold Dragons, of course). I’ve read all the books, I’ve seen the first two seasons of the show. Heck, I even own the first two seasons of the show on Blu-Ray (ordering both before they were actually released)! I am even guilty of driving others to the series. Regretfully, I’ve not only bought my dad the books and Blu-Rays, but also a shirt and calendar.

(Yeah, I said regretfully, and here is why: while I was finishing up book five, my dad was still back in book three and he happily told me that he felt a strong connection to Jon Snow. Considering the end of A Dance With Dragons, I couldn’t help but blush and mumble under my breath, “Sorry.”)

The thing is that all of this, for me, it may be coming to end soon.

I’m actually debating whether I need to say goodbye to my secret direwolf, hang up my sword made of Valyrian steel, and take the first boat out of there like Sansa from King’s Landing. Yes, I may have actually reached my goodbye with the show and the books, because… honestly… it was in the third book (A Storm of Swords) that I felt like everything fell apart. That third book is tragically where the HBO series is at; and two books later George R.R. Martin, in my opinion, has yet to clean up the mess he made at a certain wedding.

He needs a really big mop. Continue reading

Welcome to the World of Writing: My Advice for New Writers

What a weird pictureI wrote my first collection of short stories at age 16. I have always loved writing. My mom still tells the tale about how on a car ride home at age 6 I made up an entire story (it involved a ghost watching his grieving wife, I believe) that she felt she had to write down when she immediately got home. For good, and many, many times bad, there was little else I saw myself doing with my life.

And when I was young and new to the field, I had hundreds of questions. For example, there was the time I met this professor at my undergrad college at orientation; well, he was a published writer (I read some of his books before going), and I pretty much stalked him, asking him question after question that afternoon. Embarrassingly, I believe I might’ve followed him all the way back to his office.

Recently, I got a comment on my site from someone calling herself a newbie novelist, and through the comment she asked me a series of questions regarding how to break through and what to do, reminding me of myself when I met that professor. But this time I was the professor, expecting to have the answers, the secrets to the castle, the path to Oz.

The fact is today, if I was that professor, I would’ve taken a different approach. While agents and publishers and the debate over publishing vs. self-publishing are all important, some other things get missed in the excitement around the idea of just finishing a book. Below are the six pieces of advice I would give to any new writer first. Continue reading

Starting School

“Can you believe our firstborn is starting school?” My wife asked me this question a few days ago, her eyes going wide as she said it, and it ridiculously enough took me completely by surprise.

My son is about to start Begindergarten, which is a cute way of saying an “Early Fives” class. He is going to attend it in an elementary and he will be there all day just like all of the bigger kids, using their same cafeteria and their playground (not at the same time, of course). My wife and I were so focused on getting him into the right school in our area for the last eight months that I didn’t realize until recently how much this change meant for all of us in our little family and for him.

This was about to be something new…

In preparation of this first day over the weekend we drove him to his new school and allowed him to play in the playground for about an hour. While he loved playing in the playground (trying everything he could), I kept noticing things, my parental eye kicking in.

  • Who was it that left these empty beer cans here on the playset? Will these people who would drink at a kids’ playground be around the school? Heaven forbid, or will they actually be attending?
  • Why are there so many weeds?
  • And are those soccer nets going to be fixed?
  • Is that rust?

Yes, while this playground is better than anything I had growing up (and this is a great school district), I still was catching everything I possibly could. This could be a super power of mine. A lame super power, but still a power. You can call me “Protective Dad.” And I am here to shake my head and wag my finger at others! Irresponsible people of the world be warned! Protective Dad is among you now! Continue reading

The Bottom of the Pile: The Lost Blog Editorials

On Friday, I made the mistake of looking at my number of unique views by posts.

This may not seem like a big deal to some, but to me it was eye opening in many regards. And while there are definitely things to cheer (my page for my novel A Jane Austen Daydream gets really, really great numbers), there were others that brought me down. (My comedy radio scripts for Time Out Of Mind sadly did not inspire a lot of readers, once again emphasizing to me the loss of radio drama, ’cause it can’t be my writing. No, not at all.) That is life though, you win some and you lose some.

Earlier this month, I wrote about how I finally passed 10,000 unique views on my site (I wrote about it here and while I know it is not a big deal for many, it means a lot to me; I’m over 11,200 now), and I realized over this weekend it might be fun to share and write a bit about some of my past posts… but in a way different than most would.

Today, let’s look at the most unpopular things I have ever written on my site… heeheehee… Would that make this the anti-victory lap? Continue reading

Why Dan Harmon Being Fired From Community Really, Really Bothers Me

I am a fan of Community. Let’s get that out of the way first, so I can wave my bias flag freely while trying to make one or two incredibly important points (And a few minor little tidbits)… Hell, this is a rant, really.

Community is one of the few shows on TV that can make me laugh out loud… actually, let me correct that- it is one of the few things anywhere that can make me laugh out loud at all. It surprises me, it can be unpredictable, and I cannot think of anything else like it on TV today. And for that point alone, it is refreshing and a highlight of my week.

To catch up, for those that don’t know, the creator of the series was pretty much fired from the show on Friday night, the day after the season finale. Oh, the people in power said he would still consult; but Dan Harmon, the creator, doesn’t see it that way, and vocally shared with the masses his experience being ousted (you can read his post here).

The funny thing is a lot of what I was seeing TV bloggers and the like write about the incident over this weekend (and I read them like drinking water, since I wanted someone to say what I was thinking, which they didn’t) was not about how Harmon was treated and what it says about the culture around writing and creating for TV, but more of a “Gee, will the show seem different with his departure?”

Yes, the show will be different!

What a stupid thing to ponder. Continue reading