February 3, 2023

My Banned Book Project: Update

 As you may remember, I took on a new project for the new year. The American Library Association has published a book of 52 of the titles that most often provoke an urge to ban those publications. The challenge is to read every book on the list and record your reaction to each.

At the moment, over 2,500 books have appeared on various lists from different sources. Some proponents want to remove these books from school libraries. Others are intent on removing them from public libraries as well. Censorship to enforce someone's beliefs upon everyone is the goal. School and public librarians are under fire. Library board meetings that are usually open to the public have degenerated into shouting matches with threats of shutting down a town's public library not unheard of.

While I believe book banning is a horrific option, I do understand that not everything published is appropriate for everyone. In most cases, we should defer judgment on appropriateness to the parents of a child. When I get my hackles up is when a group of people decides their choices for their offspring must be applied to all, regardless of age or circumstances.

So, I am reading as many of the books on the ALA's list  as I can this year.  I promised to approach each with an open mind, attempting to understand why a listed book would generate such opposition. I am also interested to see how of the 52 books on the list are available at my library. As an additional benefit, the ALA notes that keeping these books in circulation helps deflect attacks and complaints.

A little over one month in, here is a progress report:

* I have read five of the listed books. My reaction to each will be noted below.

* So far, every book has been readily available in my library. That tells me minority pressure has yet to limit everyone's choices.

* The bulk of the books in this challenge are YA, or Young Adult, in orientation. I would select very few of them as a personal choice, not because of their content but because the narrative is not meant to appeal to me. 

* Spoiler alert: none of the first five are so offensive they should be banned. However, age restrictions are reasonable for most.


1) The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

About a native-American boy who grows up on a reservation but decides to go to school in the primarily white community nearby. This a story about building self-confidence, learning about acceptance and community, seeing things from different perspectives, and understanding the need to appreciate one's roots.

There is one paragraph about self-pleasure and a few instances of rather mild teenage boy fantasies. The major complaints are about profanity and the above-mentioned sexual references. 

My thought: Not appropriate for most preteens. Older teens and others would find nothing terribly shocking by today's standards or find it uncomfortable.

2) The House of The Spirits by Isabel Allende

This novel takes some time to find its pace. There are a lot of characters and settings to unravel. This is a rather deep dive into family and generational dynamics in an unnamed South American country. Once the reader understands the who, what, and why, this book is a worthy read and well-written.. There are obvious parallels to today and class divides in society.

There are sections describing rape, spirituality, and conflict. Several of the characters hold unusual religious beliefs and are unpleasant people. This is not a book that would hold much appeal to most under 18. The major complaints are sexually explicit, religious viewpoints, offensive language, occult beliefs, and abortion.

My thought: This is not a book that would appeal to anyone under 16. Making it unavailable without parental approval in elementary or Junior High makes sense. Above that age, it is worthy of consideration and belongs in general circulation.

3) Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

This is a graphic novel autobiography. Yes, it is graphic in some of the language, drawings, and tone. But, graphic also means Fun House is primarily drawings, like a comic strip, with text to explain the context of the depictions.

The focus is on Alison and her family, with the father having an outsized influence on her and her development. Subject matters include lesbianism and homosexuality within the family. While frank in both drawing and text, I did not find the material is meant to shock. Rather, the novel attempts to realistically portray what fractured family relationships look like.

My thought: as a "coming out" story, Fun House feels very realistic to me. For someone going through this situation, there is a frank explanation of both the problems and strengths that come from honesty.

This is inappropriate for most children under 14 or 15 due to content and drawings. Someone who is going through identity issues would probably find this book helpful. Anyone else would likely not find this novel appealing.

4) Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close  by Jonathan Safran Foer

If you have seen the movie of the same name starring Tom Hanks,  the book version is more intense and, frankly, a much more complete tale. The narrative bounces around a lot, making it hard to pick up and put down without getting confused. There are segments I found irritating but stuck with it. In the end, loose ends are tied together.

The lead character, nine-year-old Oskar, lost his father during 9/11; the effect is profound. He is brilliant, inventive, endearing, and sometimes appears to be bipolar in his responses.  There are some descriptions of graphic sex as perceived by a young boy through observations and the Internet.

My thought: Not appropriate for preteens. The story and inventiveness of the character and the plot would require a certain level of maturity, not because of the minor sex scenes but simply to follow the complexity of the story. If a preteen has seen the movie, do not assume he or she would be attracted to this version.

5) Looking For Alaska by John Green

 A television version of this book is available on Hulu; the two are very different. This novel is much more mature in its subject matter and how these events are portrayed. 

Based on the experiences of the author at a boarding school in Alabama, this novel strikes me as realistic in its portrayal of some of the darker episodes of growing up. 

There are descriptions of explicit sex, a possible suicide, the loss of love and innocence, and the effects of poor choices. In the end, the author portrays a sense of what he calls "Radical Hope,"  a belief that in spite of all the problems of life, we have a future and a part of us that continues after we die.

My thought: This is not a novel I would have read except as part of this banned book project. Teenage angst is not normally my choice. However, if a person is mature enough to handle the subject matter, then no restriction seems necessary. I see the plot as supportive and ultimately encouraging.

You thoughts are encouraged!

January 30, 2023

Just Going Through The Motions


Don't we experience times when we are simply going through the motions? Every day is much like the day before. It is safe and predictable. There is a comfortable routine to the day. Nothing really new or interesting happens. 

There are no problems we can't handle without a little effort. Inspiration is taking a break. Life moves forward. But, is that truly living? How can I find new energy for whatever might be next in retirement?

* Pay attention & shake it up

One of my best sources of renewed energy and a fresh direction is to stop long enough to look at the world around me. 

What in my life might give me inspiration if taken in a different direction? Old photos, movies, a play or theater presentation, mementos around the house, the birds in the backyard, actually, just about anything can inspire if my mood is right and I'm open to seeing things in a new way.

Looking for a new angle or use of the every day, meeting a new person or having a new experience, any of these can energize an otherwise mundane day. I might read something in a book or online that changes my perspective. Checking out my favorite bloggers almost always forces me to open my mind to some different idea. Shaking up a routine or attempting to break an unproductive habit can be just the boost I need to get moving again.

* Sometimes you just have to act

There will be times when you must force yourself to take action. It would be easier and more pleasant to avoid whatever it is. But, the problem isn't going away until you confront it. Whether this is a relationship issue, a health concern, a financial upset, or even where to go on vacation you may have to simply grit your teeth and do something. Problems and opportunities don't respond well to inaction.

I dislike the "ready, fire, aim" approach most of the time. But, I have done just that at times when I had a brain-lock and had to simply "do."

* Look for something fresh from others

Inspiration for your life can often comes from an outside source. Interacting with other people may be an effective way to find an answer to a problem. They may not directly address what your need is. But, by simply being with them you may find a new path toward something. Being with a group of people you enjoy can't help but make you feel better.

Joining a new club, organization, or church group may be the spark you need. Volunteering in a setting where you interact with folks who need your help and are different from those you normally spend time with can often do the trick. My stint of prison ministry gave me an entirely fresh perspective on people. I helped out at the Phoenix Rescue Mission several times, serving dinner to hundreds of less fortunate folks. It felt worthwhile and the people were friendly, appreciative, and a joy to serve.

* Maybe you simply need a retread

Reusing or reworking something you have done before is really what retirement is all about. A lifetime of behavior and expectations are up for review. Just because you thought one way while working doesn't mean that line of thought is best for your life now. Was there an interest or hobby you used to love that fell by the wayside? Is it time to bring it back, maybe in a slightly different way? When you were 30 you loved to mountain bike. But, now at 60, maybe trail riding is safer and more suited to your body. You still love to bike, but you change your approach.

Kick-starting your satisfying retirement really is just a case of rejecting the status quo. As our hourglass begins to run lower on sand, waiting for tomorrow to energize yourself today is probably not the wisest course. From the book, Tales of Power, consider this quote 

"The basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge while an ordinary man takes everything either as a blessing or a curse."

A passive approach may not take you where you want to go.

January 26, 2023

I MIss Starting My Day This Way


Like many folks in my generation, a morning paper in the driveway was part of my life for as long as I can remember. My parents subscribed forever, and I developed the same habit. Except while away at college, I started my mornings with a paper and a cup of coffee. At one point, I actually subscribed to two daily papers: the local one and the New York Times.  

I grew up reading the Boston Globe, which has been considered one of the best papers in the country. Later, daily papers in Cedar Rapids, Salt Lake City, Tucson, and Phoenix started my days. I never gave it much thought: papers were just part of the fabric of life. 

Obviously, that is no longer the case. Print newspapers are an endangered species. Each year reveals a growing list of cities and towns without any printed newspapers. Most recently, Birmingham lost its daily paper. 

For those locations that still have a physical paper, it may be delivered only a few days a week. The paper has gotten thinner, the ink smudges more easily, and the desperation of subscription pleas is obvious.

Aware that most of us get our news and information from the Internet, including social media, most newspapers have made a valiant effort to develop and promote a digital version of the paper. Some, like the New York Times, have seen strong growth in this area. Others struggle to make enough money to validate the effort. Regardless of how visually enticing the site might be, it is hard to compete with the likes of TikTok, Instagram, or even Facebook for what passes as news.

As anyone who uses the digital version of their local or national newspaper knows, there are advantages: no folding the pages and no wind to worry about. 

To me, though, reading a story on a tablet or even a laptop isn’t the same as turning pages. It just isn’t. I slow down with a p[hysical paper and enjoy the whole experience.

Ads in the print version are more easily avoidable than videos that suddenly start up online, or ads that crawl across the screen and pop up in the middle of a story. 

Most sites now have some form of paywall. You can get a little of the paper’s content but after a point, you must subscribe to be able to read the rest. If you pay for the print version, the digital version is either a free addition or comes for a small premium. 

Besides the physical decline in the number of published newspapers is the serious drop in quality. In Phoenix, the 6th largest city in the country, our only major newspaper has local news restricted to just a handful of pages. The rest comes from the same source as USA today. Local business news? Maybe a few stories. The arts?  Today that means movies and pop music. Interested in books, paintings and dance, or other forms of artistic expression? Gone.

I am quite aware that all the forms of social connection and information exchange make the traditional form of newspaper news delivery obsolete and much too expensive to produce. With print advertising an afterthought for more companies, the logistics and cost of having a fleet of delivery drivers to toss a diminished version in your driveway or apartment lobby don't make economic sense

That doesn’t mean I can’t be sad I don’t have a high-quality, local, entertaining, and informative alternative waiting for me each morning. Reading a good newspaper allowed me to start the day slowly and at my own pace.

I tilt against the windmill. I am the only home on my block to still get any printed paper: the New York Times arrives three days a week. Even this mainstay of American journalism is not what it once was, both in size and quality. I hold on to this link with my past, more out of habit than anything else.  Local news or sports must come from an app on my smartphone. 

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mean a newspaper. I am holding onto this part of my past as long as someone is willing to go through the effort to produce it.