Banned Books Week

Here’s the list for 2016. Far from being worthy of suppression, It looks like they reflect varied aspects of contemporary life.

Earlier lists included books  that the ban seekers almost certainly never read. (Grapes of Wrath, Joyce’s Ulysses). One can only hope based on the number of illustrated books, that the censors actually read them. I doubt it. That “disgusting and all around offensive” comment for Make Something Up could apply to White House pronouncements and news conferences. Also, I really hope that the challenges were not based on the non-Anglo names of the authors and illustrators.

The only one that maybe shouldn’t have seen print was Little Bill, but we can’t judge books on the moral stature of the author. In that case we’d ban Mein Kampf. Other people may choose not to read these works, but don’t interfere with my right to do so.

  • This One Summer, written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki Reasons: challenged because it includes LGBT characters, drug use and profanity, and it was considered sexually explicit with mature themes.
  • Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier Reasons: challenged because it includes LGBT characters, was deemed sexually explicit, and was considered to have an offensive political viewpoint
  • George written by Alex Gino Reasons: challenged because it includes a transgender child, and the “sexuality was not appropriate at elementary levels”
  • I Am Jazz written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas Reasons: challenged because it portrays a transgender child and because of language, sex education, and offensive viewpoints
  • Two Boys Kissing written by David Levithan Reasons: challenged because its cover has an image of two boys kissing, and it was considered to include sexually explicit LGBT content
  • Looking for Alaska written by John Green Reasons: challenged for a sexually explicit scene that may lead a student to “sexual experimentation”
  • Big Hard Sex Criminals written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Chip Zdarsky Reason: challenged because it was considered sexually explicit
  • Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread written by Chuck Palahniuk Reasons: challenged for profanity, sexual explicitness, and being “disgusting and all around offensive”
  • Little Bill (series) written by Bill Cosby and  illustrated by Varnette P. Honeywood Reason: challenged because of criminal sexual allegations against the author
  • Eleanor & Park written by Rainbow Rowell Reason: challenged for offensive language

Paragon of Blindness

No, it’s not your eyes…

It looks like the company that makes my contacts wants me to go blind. I picked up a new pair of lenses yesterday. That endless blah blah blah of uses, side effects, contra-indications, etc. known as the package insert caught my eye. Maybe I should say it distressed my eyes. One glance and I became convinced that Paragon Vision Sciences wants me to lose what little eyesight I have. The type was so small that I couldn’t read beyond the FP or PFP, the words “package insert,” the name of the company, and some weird looking graph. That’s with or without lenses. All that type was much larger than the rest of the content. In the address line, the “P” in “Paragon” measured less than four points on the line gauge, so the rest must be two or maybe one. I can’t replicate the type here because the point size option on the computer only goes down to eight.

An online search only produced endless promotion of curing the epidemic of myopia.

A little thought might suggest that putting an obstacle in the way of my reading would be a terrible plan since they could lose a customer who earns them $600 per pair.

Ruin a Book

Google “Ruin a Book in One Letter” and a number of options surface from the Facebook beginnings. Christy brought the fun to the veterans’ writing group tonight. A lot of laughs and break from the serious business of writing memoirs. Here is my list, more or less in order with an expansion to magazines, TV, and movies:

  • As I Lay Lying
  • New Porker
  • I Know Why the Caged Bard Sings
  • Paws
  • The Sin Also Rises/Native Sin
  • The Nuked and the Dead
  • The Art of the Meal
  • Madame Ovary
  • The  Man in the Gray Flannel Shit
  • How Win Fiends and Influence People
  • Gin Smoke
  • Around the World in 800 Days
  • Gorillas in the Fist
  • Midsummer Night’s Dram
  • Paradise List/Paradise Last
  • The Kong and I
  • Ten Years Before the Mist
  • Moby Duck
  • The Great Gutsby
  • Muddlemarch

What I’m Reading Now (Invisible History of the Human Race)

Another in the series. And one I read and wrote about  months ago but never posted.

The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures bears no relationship to what it promised. The publishers tout Christine Kenneally’s work as a study of DNA, but the early pages contain a history of genealogy, full of anecdotes about the author’s family. The big issue it avoids because no one has answered is why? Why do people find digging into their past so intriguing, addictive even?

Kenneally does answer her question about how DNA and history shape us. As the descendant of a man deported to Australia from Ireland for stealing a handkerchief, she delves into the mystery about her ancestor. Who wouldn’t want to know more?

My personal answer to the larger question is because my ancestors are there, and they’re a mystery that needs solving to round out who I am. My mother wrote some excellent fiction around both sides of her family. We have the Lanes arriving in Hartford by boat from “Jersey” and the patriarch jumping to the dock, yelling, “Throw the baby down to me” when he thinks the boat is about to head back down river; there’s Bill Hod (Willis Howard James) who smuggled Chinese immigrants from Canada and ensured his own safety by wrapping them up and tying rocks to their feet in the event his boat was stopped. Who wouldn’t want to know more? So I dug in. Can Anything Beat White?: A Black Family’s Letters was the result.

On the other hand, my father’s story remains a mystery. Like Kenneally, he didn’t know who his grandfather was – well, he claimed not to know. I think he did but wasn’t allowed to speak of it. The mystery has yet to be solved. In the meantime, read Invisible History.

What I’m Reading Now

As regular readers know, John McPhee remains one of my favorite authors. He combines the best of subject matter and exploration of how he structures his work.

The descriptions in The Pine Barrens rival the best fiction while leading the reader on an edifying journey with the indomitable Fred Brown at the center of the constellation of friends and relatives. “A Roomful of Hovings” interlaces the story of the man who ran the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a stroll through the places where he lived and worked.

Now Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process combines earlier work with some excellent additions. The explanation for how he constructed Encounters with the Archdruid bears re-reading, if only to enjoy seeing the archdruid (the high priest of the Sierra Club) announce, “I’m chicken.”

The new material appears immediately, and it is worth the price of the book to read of McPhee’s experience working in an office next door to a massage parlor.

As solace to any writer struggling just the title Draft No. 4 offers hope. If the great Mr. McPhee has to go (at least) that long, why should the rest of us complain?

Miranda’s Sampler

Please forgive errors. My eyes still have traces of dilation drops from today’s visit to the eye doc.

The mail brought an enlightening piece of history over the weekend. To raise funds, the Connecticut Historical Society included an image of a sampler made by an eight-year-old African American girl. I recognized it immediately.

Miranda Robinson of Saybrook sewed it in 1839. She gave it to my grandmother, Bertha James Lane. It eventually landed in  my mother’s collection of antiques.

CHS name-checked both Anna Louise James and Ann Petry in discussing the provenance of the work. Mother and CHS genealogist Judith Johnson unearthed more history.

CHS acquired the sampler in 1990, and I wrote a story for the Middletown Press about it.  I remember searching for her grave in hip-deep weeds at the Upper Cemetery with photographer Cathy Avalone. She took a stellar picture of Miranda R. Anderson’s grave, surrounded by weeds. The story ran, and a week or so later I paid a return visit. The entire area had been mowed and tidied. Wish all photos produced such quick results.

CHS says, “This sampler is not just an example of a young girl’s needlework skills. It is a lens through which we can better understand our fascinating past.”

In digging around for more information, I found a note in Mother’s journal that my grandmother’s autograph collection included a signature from “Aunt Rannie.” Sure enough, it was the first one in the blue velveteen book.

The image falls short as a reproduction but looks good for age 132.


What I’m Watching Now (Fed Up)

Another in the series. Fed Up should do for the sugar industrial complex what earlier investigations did for tobacco and now are doing for the oil companies’ lies about their understanding of global warming.

The logline says, “An examination of America’s obesity epidemic and the food industry’s role in aggravating it.“ It’s a blockbuster collection of the evidence against sugar. It should be required watching for every parent, healthcare provider, and educator. There are wrenching stories here with images of children, ages 14 and 15, and some much younger. They each weigh more than 200 pounds and feel helpless to do anything about it. A look at their daily diets should inspire despair, except for the one family that committed to cooking meals at home. The entire family grew healthier.

Katie Couric and her team lay out the evidence in chilling detail: The campaign started to reduce fat in processed food because of its link to coronary artery disease. As one of the experts says food without fat tastes like crap, so the companies increased the sugar content. At the same time, the sugar lobby succeeded in preventing labels from listing daily value for sugar as it does for carbohydrates, proteins, and so forth. As often as I read labels, I’ve never noticed the blank following the designation of grams. The industry succeeded.

There is also an analysis of how the industry cultivates lawmakers to subsidize sugar beets, cane, and most especially corn. High fructose corn syrup is being demonized, but as the experts point out sugar is sugar is sugar. The body metabolizes it the same way, even the fake stuff. And it all contributes to unhealthy cravings for more – hence weight gain, diabetes, etc.

Two frightening pieces. No children had Type II diabetes in 1980. That’s why it was called “adult onset.” No wonder it’s described as an epidemic. The lobby got to Michelle Obama so that she backed off the message to cut sugar in her Let’s Move campaign and subbed in more exercise.

Most telling is the list of companies that declined interviews. It scrolls for what seems like many minutes. Credits from the merchants of death.

USPS Sloth

Another consumer complaint. An organization in central Connecticut mailed a first-class letter to California on August 10. It arrived on September 5. This journey of nearly a month is a clear indication that the infrastructure in this country is collapsing.

When I lived in Philadelphia in the 1980s, my parents and I would compare notes on how long it took a letter to arrive. Theirs almost always arrived within three to four days. Mine could take anywhere from two days to a week depending on where I mailed it. For whatever weird reason mailing it from the main post office seemed to add extra time. On occasion it would take more than a week but usually only during blizzards or other natural disasters. I do remember Mother writing a nasty letter, as only she could, to the postmaster general complaining about a letter that arrived mangled and much delayed. I think she received an abject letter of apology, which arrived promptly.

Regarding that letter to California, normal delivery now takes four or five days. The distance is about 3,000 miles. Trains take about three days. Leisurely driving a week, plus. I can only assume that USPS has reinstated the pony express and that  the horses collapsed.

From now on it’s FedEx even if it means driving twenty minutes to the office.

Gas Gouge

I bought gas the day the owners of the drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico announced shutdowns in anticipation of Harvey. This was days before the storm got anywhere near Texas, I paid $2.34 per gallon for regular, the same as a few weeks before.

On Sept. 1, the price around the area was plus or minus $2.60, compared to $2.51 nationally. That day I saw one station at $2.71 and an Exxon station gouging for $2.99.

The price at my station on Labor Day was $2.75, still below the Connecticut average of $2.84 but above the $2.64 nationally.

The stations raised their prices in anticipation of the shutdown, since the gas sitting in the Gulf could not possibly have gotten to Connecticut over night. Plus it would have been at the pre-Harvey price.

Can’t wait to see if prices drop, and if they do, how long it takes.