Friday, September 28, 2012

As Banned Books Week approaches...

...I give you the ALA's list of the most frequently challenged books last year.

A few observations:

It's not an entirely comfortable list. It's easy to expect that books only get challenged for being too progressive, too sexy, too full of bad words, and in those cases, the counterarguments flow smoothly. Kids (and adults) have the right to think for themselves and to explore new ideas in a safe environment, they're seeing it all on the Internet anyway, et cetera, et cetera. But three books in the top ten were challenged for racism. A book in question may aim to show that racism is wrong, but who am I to say that no one should feel uncomfortable with the way a race is discussed or portrayed, for any purpose?

But that's sort of the point of Banned Books Week and the movement against censorship. Books get to be here even if someone doesn't like them, no matter who that someone is. Censorship is not always a neat liberal/conservative issue, and defending the right to write and to read can mean defending books we don't agree with. Yes, this might mean defending Gossip Girl or something like it. (Defending does not necessarily mean praising.)

Item 3, the Hunger Games trilogy, highlights for me how individual these cases are, and how silly it is to ask whether a book is appropriate for an audience at large. I've been asked pretty frequently whether these books are appropriate for a(n) [eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen]-year-old, and my response is to explain the premise and then say, "You probably know better than I do whether that's something (s)he can handle." (Interestingly, when I add, "There is a lot of violence, but there's no sexual content," a lot of these parents seem reassured enough to seriously consider the books.)

I haven't read any of the ttyl books, but now I want to. In the meantime, Alice in the Know has been on my to-read shelf for a good while; thanks, would-be censors, for the excuse to read it between September 30 and October 6.


I'll be at the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, still blown away by Code Name Verity. Hope I'll see some of you there!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

An informal poll

For any of you who tend to read while surrounded by strangers, i.e. on public transportation:

A) How often, if ever, do you get comments or questions from strangers about what you're reading?

B) Would most of your reading material generally be categorized as adult, or as children's and/or young adult? (Bonus question: Are you generally categorized as an adult, an adolescent, or a child?)

C) Do you have an e-reader?

I ask because it's been brought to my attention that A is more dependent on B than I thought. (I've added C because I'm sure it plays a role, though I personally find that seeing an e-reader makes me curious about what someone's reading.) In a bookstore and in many of the other book-centric environments where I've spent time, it's not terribly unusual to jump into someone's conversation about a book. So I didn't think it was that strange when the passenger next to me remarked, in an ostensibly friendly way, on how few words The One and Only Ivan had per page.  Another non-cover-based conversation about the open copy of Jake and Lily on my lap ended nonsensically with, "At least it's not a bad Shakespeare novel" (huh?), but still, friendly. The guy who wondered if I thought the war-centered Dear Blue Sky was "too jejune" clearly had a chip on his shoulder, so I shrugged him off mine. There was also a Fourth of July encounter based more on the fact that I was reading, but even I'll admit that that was a little unusual amidst that evening's revelry. And The Diviners is noticeably huge.

But I mentioned one or two of these stories to a few friends--also very frequent readers, also women around my age--and the response was that they've never had a similar encounter, or that it's happened once in five years in Boston. The above list of my own encounters comes from about the past six months. The only first-glance difference between the friends I questioned and myself? They primarily read adult books, and I'd say about eighty percent of my reading is kids' and YA books.

I'm not sure what to take from this obviously anecdotal observation. Are people just reacting to the incongruity of an adult reading children's books? Does my reading material make me seem more approachable? "Too jejune" guy aside, it hasn't seemed like my fellow passengers were trying to make themselves feel superior, but were they?

In any case, I'd be curious to hear what others have experienced.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Reading Ramona en Espanol

Ramona la chinche, the 1984 Spanish translation of Ramona the Pest, made a good novelty gift for a children's lit geek who studied and enjoyed Spanish through high school and slightly into college. I probably wouldn't have sought it out, but since I had it in hand, I read it out of curiosity. What would it be like to read a familiar text in a language that's mostly been dormant in my head for about a decade? How would a story whose most memorable parts in my mind had to do with misunderstanding of language handle translation?

It turned out to be a lot of fun. If I hadn't already known the story, it would've been much harder to get my bearings, but as it was, I only turned to the dictionary a few times, and most of those times were more out of curiosity than out of a sense that I was lost. At the beginning, I found myself saying the English meaning of each sentence in my head, but once I got into the flow of reading in Spanish, I rarely did that. The reading obviously took much longer than it would've taken to read a similar book in English, but every time the meaning of a funny line became clear, I had a visceral laugh reaction, I guess because I had to work harder to get to the joke. It's been a long time since I was a new reader, but this experience reminded me a bit of that one. Being fairly sure but not certain that conejo means rabbit, and then turning the page and seeing one pictured, lends a satisfaction similar to what many new readers must experience as they tentatively sound out words.

The translation follows the original almost completely, at least as far as I could tell. The only story difference I noticed, beyond changes in example words Srta. Binney uses to teach phonics, was that the tooth fairy became "el ratoncito que se lleva los dientes" (the mouse who takes the teeth). Some small moments in the story felt slightly old-fashioned to me (the original was first published in 1968), and I'm sure there are bits that might seem strange to someone from a different culture, but basically, starting school is starting school.

And in answer to my biggest questions, "Sit here for the present" translates directly. "Dawnzer lee light" does not, obviously, but footnotes can do anything.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

I must, I must... Ms. Blume or bust!

Judy Blume posted yesterday about her experience with breast cancer. Her post handles this very adult subject, this sensitive and scary subject, the same way  her books have always handled subjects that were sensitive and possibly scary for kids and teens. She's open. She's funny. She conveys that the disease, not the body, is the frightening part.

Judy also emphasizes that her responses and decisions thus far were right for her. The role she's played in so many people's understanding of their physicality doesn't make her own any less personal or individual. I'm impressed to realize that her diagnosis was fairly fresh news when I heard her joyful Clemens Lecture; I, at least, saw nary a sign that anything was wrong.

Unsurprising statement 1: Cancer sucks.

Unsurprising statement 2: Judy Blume rocks.