Banned Books Week-Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

What is Banned Books Week anyway? “Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information.” *

To this day, “don’t ever laugh as a hearse goes by for you may be the next to die…” still dances in my brain at random moments.  Having grown up in a funeral home, I knew this held no validity but still felt that thrill of the forbidden, the unknown.  Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark was a staple in my and my family’s collective experience during childhood, and may also be the reason we’re all extremely morbid adults.  Who knows?

The American Library Association conducted a study from 1990-1999** of the most commonly challenged books–guess who was #1 for a decade?

Why the most frequent challenges?  My guess is that Schwartz’s lighthearted treatment towards death and all that nitty-gritty, such as rot (specifically humans), worms, corpses, et al, commonly introduced to younger audiences is a lot for the general public to welcome, especially given our pervasive avoidance of the topic of death.  More specifically, according to the Intellectual Freedom Blog via The Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association*** by way of the Banned Books Resource Guide, the reasons are commonly cited as:

  • “too scary and violent”
  • “too morbid for children”
  • “shows the dark side of religion through the occult, the devil, and satanism”
  • “cannibalism”
  • “unrealistic view of death”
  • “cause children to fear the dark”
  • “cause children to have nightmares”

You know what?  All of the above is true!  The stories are morbid, they do discuss death, and who didn’t fear the dark as a child?  Luckily, parents have the choice as to whether or not to allow their small children to read them, but do not have the right to make that decision for everyone else who patronizes their local library.

*https://bannedbooksweek.org/about/
**http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/100-most-frequently-challenged-books-1990%E2%80%931999
***https://www.oif.ala.org/oif/?p=7631

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Banned Books Week-Charles Bukowski

What is Banned Books Week anyway? “Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information.”*

In 1985, Charles Bukowski’s book, “Tales of Ordinary Madness” was challenged and asked to be removed from a public library due to it being, “‘very sadistic, occasionally fascist and discriminatory against certain groups (including homosexuals).'”  Who is in the right?  How does one, or one group, deem art to be worthy or unworthy?  How does one group decide the level public exposure?  Does one person’s subjective resistance to a topic deem it suitable for termination?  Have you ever wanted to challenge a piece of film or literature?  Below is Bukowski’s response, which holds true today, over 30 years later.

Dear Hans van den Broek [journalist]:

Thank you for your letter telling me of the removal of one of my books from the Nijmegen library. And that it is accused of discrimination against black people, homosexuals and women. And that it is sadism because of the sadism.

The thing that I fear discriminating against is humor and truth.

If I write badly about blacks, homosexuals and women it is because of these who I met were that. There are many “bads”–bad dogs, bad censorship; there are even “bad” white males. Only when you write about “bad” white males they don’t complain about it. And need I say that there are “good” blacks, “good” homosexuals and “good” women?

In my work, as a writer, I only photograph, in words, what I see. If I write of “sadism” it is because it exists, I didn’t invent it, and if some terrible act occurs in my work it is because such things happen in our lives. I am not on the side of evil, if such a thing as evil abounds. In my writing I do not always agree with what occurs, nor do I linger in the mud for the sheer sake of it. Also, it is curious that the people who rail against my work seem to overlook the sections of it which entail joy and love and hope, and there are such sections. My days, my years, my life has seen up and downs, lights and darknesses. If I wrote only and continually of the “light” and never mentioned the other, then as an artist I would be a liar.

Censorship is the tool of those who have the need to hide actualities from themselves and from others. Their fear is only their inability to face what is real, and I can’t vent any anger against them. I only feel this appalling sadness. Somewhere, in their upbringing, they were shielded against the total facts of our existence. They were only taught to look one way when many ways exist.

I am not dismayed that one of my books has been hunted down and dislodged from the shelves of a local library. In a sense, I am honored that I have written something that has awakened these from their non-ponderous depths. But I am hurt, yes, when somebody else’s book is censored, for that book, usually is a great book and there are few of those, and throughout the ages that type of book has often generated into a classic, and what was once thought shocking and immoral is now required reading at many of our universities.

I am not saying that my book is one of those, but I am saying that in our time, at this moment when any moment may be the last for many of us, it’s damned galling and impossibly sad that we still have among us the small, bitter people, the witch-hunters and the declaimers against reality. Yet, these too belong with us, they are part of the whole, and if I haven’t written about them, I should, maybe have here, and that’s enough.

may we all get better together,
yrs,

(Signed)
Charles Bukowski

7-22-85**

*https://bannedbooksweek.org/about/
**http://www.lettersofnote.com/search?q=+charles+bukowski

In Memory of W.B. Yeats by W.H. Auden, a Tribute to the First Week in June

A poignant poem by W.H. Auden concerning the death of Irish poet W.B. Yeats, appreciating  both the heartache and joy of a person’s life and death.  Appropriate for all days, but especially this past week.

In Memory of W. B. Yeats
W. H. Auden, 1907 – 1973

I

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.

But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the
Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly
accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his
freedom,
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.

What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

II

You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

III

Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden, renewed by the Estate of W. H. Auden.

Librarian’s Pick of the Week: I Know a Woman Like That

Library patrons are always asking me, “what have you read (or seen) lately that you loved?”  This is what I loved this week.

I Know a Woman Like That directed by Elaine Madsen 

Why: Elaine Madsen, mother of actress Virginia Madsen interviews a variety of influential women spanning the length of the country with daughter in tow.

In this wonderfully touching, honest and heartening documentary, Madsen spotlights a range of women from ages 60-90+ who are powerful, altruistic, driven, spunky, and kind, otherwise known as “women like that.” The interviews include former mayor of Evanston, IL, Lorraine Morton, Gloria Steinem, Eartha Kitt, author Maxine Hong Kingston, and other incredibly strong women of grit.  Madsen’s impressive interview skills warm the interviewee into genuine responses as she asks them where they are now.  What is life like at that current moment, resisting the urge to wax poetic about the subjects’ youth as so many films tend to idealize.  What is so fascinating about those being interviewed is their nearly universal responses about sex, confidence, and wisdom, thereby defying how those of “a certain age” behave behind closed doors, and what they think about their bodies.  All of the participants expressed a feeling of calm, or as Lauren Hutton explains, when you’re younger you have higher highs and lower lows, and it evens out as you age; you get smarter and more comfortable with who you are (paraphrasing).  All expressed, whether in their 70s or 90s, that they feel that they’ve finally gotten to know themselves and are just starting a new, exciting phase in their lives.  Given how the U.S. treats and views senior citizens, this reality defies common conception, bordering on revolutionary.

The Madsen duo have created a piece of art that seems could only have been accomplished by a closely bonded mother/daughter team, relating their personal and familial experiences to their subjects and the screen.  The phrase “youth is wasted on the young” springs to mind as the subjects in the documentary make a compelling case for the vivaciousness and security that often accompany later years, the best kept secret of women like that.

I Know a Woman Like That is currently available on Hoopla through most libraries and on DVD.

Watchalikes: Faces Places (Varda & JR)
Advanced Style (Cohen)
Out Late (Alda & Brooke)
The September Issue (Cutler)

Librarian’s Pick of the Week: Inquiring Nuns

Library patrons are always asking me, “what have you read (sometimes seen) lately that you loved?”  This is what I loved this week.

Inquiring Nuns directed by Gordon Quinn

Why: In the late 1960s, two nuns traveled around Chicago asking people if they were happy, what lead to happiness, and what would make them less happy.  There are several remarkable aspects of this film, including the visual details and the responses of the subjects.

The footage of 1960s Chicago architecture, the street signs, the Art Institute, the fashion, and even the subjects’ manner of speaking seem to become their own characters as each possesses such distinct style and depth.  As the nuns approach the interviewees, they gingerly ask, “are you happy?” and the subjects responses show us an extraordinary glimpse into human nature.  It reminds us that there is no us/them depending on when you were born; personality types transcend, and a penchant for peace is a large part of the human condition (the documentary takes place during the Vietnam War).  There’s always that one person who is perpetually happy, sometimes making you doubt their sanity.  The depressive who attempts to hide their anxiety with humor; the self-involved; those who live in the moment, and those who live in the future.

The best part of this documentary is its subtly–it resists dramatic music, closeups, or editing that could manipulate the viewer into a prescribed emotion.  It’s a straightforward film where the subjects are asked a question and its their answers, their surrounding environment and the climate of the era that packs a restrained punch.

Last Five Books

The last five books that I’ve read-typically independent and off the beaten path.

Zero Day by Ezekiel Boone (2018)

(3rd and final of the Hatching Trilogy.  ancient & hungry spiders are unearthed and eat their way across the globe in terrifying & amusing ways. well-written, fun, smart, well-developed characters.  highly recommend the audio version.)

The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford (2017)

(a highly enjoyable shorter novel detailing three friends post-high school tangling with the darker forces of nature, the past, skeletons, and haunted people and places.  humorous, compulsively readable and original.  great novel to throw in your bag before a flight.)

No Excuses Detox: 100 Recipes to Help You Eat Healthy Every Day by Megan Gilmore (2017)

(accessible clean-eating.  appetizing, whole food recipes with everyday ingredients.  the spaghetti squash pad thai is heaven.  muffins made with cashew butter & no flour of any kind-it can only be sneaky sorcery that makes them so GD delicious.)

Self-Care for the Real World by Nadia Narain & Katia Narain Phillips (2018)

(down-to-earth life lessons & suggestions on how to discover what self-care means to the individual reader.  a book you buy and leave next to your bed.)

The Undesired by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir  (2017)

(icelandic thriller weaving two stories from decades apart.  unconventional story, unexpected twists, & engrossing characters.  shocking, unpredictable ending.  the audio narration is wonderful.)

 

 

Librarian’s Pick of the Week: The Unrepentant Cinephile by Jason Coffman

Library patrons are always asking me, “what have you read (sometimes seen) lately that you loved?”  This is what I loved this week.

The Unrepentant Cinephile: Collected Reviews of Cult,                                                   Exploitation, Horror and Independent Films by Jason Coffman

Why:  When this substantial book arrived in the mail, I was surprised by its impressive size due to the healthy amount of reviews contained therein, especially given the modest price of $15.99 on Amazon.com.  With a decade of film criticism under his belt, local (to my neck of the woods) Chicago critic and filmmaker Jason Coffman has complied a truly impressive tome of reviews from the 1960s (or even earlier, there are a lot of reviews) to present day.  Coffman’s reviews will speak to even the lay audience to the titled cinephile as he discusses such films as the most recent Ghostbusters, Jack Frost, Let the Right One In, Scott Pilgram v. the World to more independent films such as Mercury in Retrograde, Nude Nuns with Big Guns (definitely on my list), to my favorite indie horror flick, Basket Case.  The charm of the book lies within both the variety of reviews coupled with the author’s laid-back and warm affection for all his subjects, even if they are “complete trash,” prefaced by an endearing, “Goodness me” (The Nail Gun Massacre).  Coffman also includes a hilariously entertaining chapter entitled “Bad Movie Night” of the best of the worst films which scream to be viewed.  I’d recommend this book (it would also be a wonderful gift) to anyone who loves film, whether it be a penchant for Steel Magnolias to Un Chien Andalou.  Fingers crossed for Frankenhooker in the second printing.