October 1, 2009

I support the reading of banned and challenged books

Posted in Books, Censorship, Current events, Literature, Musings at 2:31 pm by The Lizard Queen

(Yes, I’m way more entertained than I have any reason to be by finding a way to title each blog entry this week with “I support…”  Alternate titles for this post are “Thoughts on Banned Books Week” (*yawn*) and “Fear of a Gay Penguin,” which of course I keep accidentally mis-typing as “Fear of a Black Penguin,” though that works, too, I suppose…)

Here we are again: Banned Books Week.  I support the goals of this week as traditionally stated, because I’m a big fan of the First Amendment, and I think more often than not people challenge books not because those books would truly be damaging to children/adolescents or the general public, but because they make them uncomfortable in some way.  It’s intolerance, or it’s fear.  I love the way commenter adipocere over at MetaFilter put it:

I love the thought processes behind banned books. “I find this offensive; I want you to remove this from my reality and everyone else’s.” It’s at once passive and blustery. MY FEATHERS ARE ALL PUFFED OUT; DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

That said, though, it seems like the momentum for Banned Books Week isn’t there this year the way it’s been in past years.  And I think, maybe that’s just me, I’ve been sick, I’ve been travelling, I’m tired — but then I see it reflected elsewhere on the web.  Read the rest of this entry »


October 14, 2008

The National Enquirer, wingnuttery, and “autobiographies”

Posted in Books, Literature, Politics, Wingnuts at 3:32 pm by The Lizard Queen

The newest Obama-related scandal that the right wing is trying to push is the fact that a mentor referenced in Obama’s 1995 memoir, Dreams from My Father, is actually Frank Marshall Davis, who was a poet and writer, was accused by HUAC of being involved with communist organizations, and authored, pseudonymously, a book titled Sex Rebel: BlackThe National Enquirer (…I know…) describes Sex Rebel: Black as a “hard-core pornographic autobiography” and a “shocking tell-all” in which “Davis admits to seducing a thirteen year-old girl, voyeurism, exhibitionism, bisexuality, rape and sadomasochism.”  Erick Erickson at Red State translates this information into wingnut for us in a post called “Obama’s Special Relationship”:

The National Enquirer now suggests Barack Obama had an underage, gay affair with a pedophile. Yup. That Frank Marshall Davis guy Barry says was his good friend? Turns out he was a perv of the first order and liked young boys.

Liss over at Shakesville takes on that nonsense quite well:

How many things are wrong with that single paragraph? There’s no such thing as an “underage affair with a pedophile.” Affair connotes consent, something a child cannot provide. Calling it a “gay affair with a pedophile” conflates pedophilia with homosexuality, one of the oldest smears in the book. Davis was one of Obama’s childhood mentors, not his “good friend.” There’s nothing in the Enquirer article that suggests Davis “liked young boys,” which doesn’t mean he didn’t, but, to come to that conclusion, one must connect “pedophilia” with “bisexuality,” without regard for the former being an aberrant criminal proclivity and the latter being a healthy sexuality. It is a true clusterfucktastrophe of erroneous conclusions and fucked-up (possibly deliberate) misunderstandings about sexuality and sexual assault.

But most awful is the breathless reporting which implies that the possibility Obama was sexually assaulted somehow reflects badly on him. What terrible judgment he has, to have had “an underage, gay affair with a pedophile” at 10 years old! It’s a sentiment similarly proffered by another prominent rightwing blogger (to whom you can get via Brad) who wants to know: “When is someone going to question how these associations must have warped Obama’s views and render him unstable, and unsuitable for the Presidency?”

That’s all well and admirably said.  Those issues aside, however, I still have questions.

A brief tangent: One of my academic interests when I was in graduate school (and currently) was (is) the area where fiction and nonfiction overlap: books like W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants and Gertrude Stein’s Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, the roman a clef and memoirs of fictional characters, and so on.  I find it interesting that we decide whether or not a book is true based on where it’s shelved in a library or bookstore, when it seems to me that the issue is so much more nuanced than that.

That said, then, by what criteria is the National Enquirer deciding the veracity of Sex Rebel: Black?  I can imagine it’s written in the first person, but so are many novels, especially those written in the 20th and 21st centuries.  Someone at the National Enquirer has purportedly read the book, while I’d never even heard of it before today, but I still wonder why they’ve decided that it’s the true story of Davis’s life, rather than the fictional life story of a character named Bob Greene (under whose name the book was published).  Would these same people (both the folks at the NE and the wingnuts who are writhing in glee at this new information) believe that Humbert Humbert was actually a stand-in for Vladimir Nabokov, that Humbert’s life story was actually that of Nabokov?  (I probably don’t actually want to know the answer to that question, do I?)  Might it not be possible that Davis was attempting something in a similar vein?

The whole thing just frustrates me.  And to be honest, I feel like a bit of a tool now for dignifying this rubbish with a response.  Is this really what American political discourse has come to?

ETA: By following various links I came across this Telegraph article from August, which is apparently where the whole thing came up in the first place.  It contains more information about Sex Rebel: Black, with the following passage probably being the most relevant (emphasis added):

In a surviving portion of an autobiographical manuscript, Mr Davis confirms that he was the author of Sex Rebel: Black after a reader had noticed the “similarities in style and phraseology” between the pornographic work and his poetry.

“I could not then truthfully deny that this book, which came out in 1968 as a Greenleaf Classic, was mine.” In the introduction to Sex Rebel, Mr Davis (writing as Greene) explains that although he has “changed names and identities…all incidents I have described have been taken from actual experiences”.

Now, I could be completely wrong on this.  Sex Rebel could be the gospel truth of Davis’s life, and Davis might have published the book as Bob Greene for strictly practical purposes.  But I remain unconvinced that this is not a situation wherein the author is being conflated with a character he created.

October 3, 2008

Banned/Challenged Book Profile: Speak

Posted in Books, Censorship, Children and adolescents, Literature at 6:08 pm by The Lizard Queen

The publisher’s blurb for Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel Speak reads as follows:

Melinda Sordino busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. Now her old friends won’t talk to her, and people she doesn’t even know hate her from a distance. The safest place to be is alone, inside her own head. But even that’s not safe. Because there’s something she’s trying not to think about, something about the night of the party that, if she let it in, would blow her carefully constructed disguise to smithereens. And then she would have to speak the truth. This extraordinary first novel has captured the imaginations of teenagers and adults across the country.

The “something” Melinda is trying not to think about is the fact that she was raped at that end-of-summer party, which is also the real reason she called the police.*  The rape, the way Melinda is treated by her classmates (including the rapist), and her reactions to both are a big part of why the book is assigned so widely in schools — for example, one summer (2002) when I was working at a bookstore the book was assigned as summer reading to a large number of local high school students.  Of course, that content is also why the book is frequently objected to (a line from a one-star review on Amazon.com (the last review on the page): “This book should be for mature readers because of offensive language and adult subject matter”) and challenged (one such challenge is discussed by the author here). Read the rest of this entry »

May 2, 2008

106 Books (pretension optional)

Posted in Books, Literature, Memes at 5:38 pm by The Lizard Queen

Snagged this from Evil Bender:

Via Stranger Fruit, I learn about an interesting book meme: “106 Books of Pretension,” which is really “the top 106 books most often marked as ‘unread’ by LibraryThing’s users.” I don’t think these books, as a group, are particularly pretentious.  There is a surprisingly wide range represented . . .

So, here we go — books I’ve read are in italics, books I began and never finished are struck through, and books in standard type I haven’t (yet) bothered with:

* Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
* Anna Karenina
* Crime and Punishment (I really enjoyed this book.  In other news, I’m a huge book nerd.)
* Catch-22
* One Hundred Years of Solitude (very much want to read this)
* Wuthering Heights
* The Silmarillion
* Life of Pi : a novel
* The Name of the Rose (another to-read)
* Don Quixote
* Moby Dick (I also enjoyed this one more than I expected to.)
* Ulysses (someday…)
* Madame Bovary (I was supposed to read this the summer before 12th grade.  Not so much.)
* The Odyssey
* Pride and Prejudice
* Jane Eyre
* The Tale of Two Cities
* The Brothers Karamazov (I made it through the first 300 pages.  That’s only a third of the book.)
* Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
* War and Peace
* Vanity Fair
* The Time Traveler’s Wife
* The Iliad
* Emma
* The Blind Assassin
* The Kite Runner
* Mrs. Dalloway
* Great Expectations
* American Gods (I loves me some Neil Gaiman)
* A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
* Atlas Shrugged
* Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
* Memoirs of a Geisha
* Middlesex
* Quicksilver
* Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West (I want to read this, or at least I like the idea, but on more than one occasion I’ve picked it up at the bookstore, then put it down again…)
* The Canterbury tales (I can’t quite remember if I’ve definitely read all of the Tales, but I’m counting it anyway.)
* The Historian : a novel
* A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
* Love in the Time of Cholera
* Brave New World
* The Fountainhead
* Foucault’s Pendulum
* Middlemarch (I’d like to read this)
* Frankenstein
* The Count of Monte Cristo
* Dracula
* A Clockwork Orange
* Anansi Boys
* The Once and Future King
* The Grapes of Wrath (Had to read this in high school and found it dreadfully dull; had to read it in grad school and loved it.)
* The Poisonwood Bible : a novel
* 1984
* Angels & Demons
* The Inferno
* The Satanic Verses (would very much like to read this)
* Sense and Sensibility
* The Picture of Dorian Gray (ditto)
* Mansfield Park (dude, what’s with all the Jane Austen on this list?)
* One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
* To the Lighthouse (the trouble with stream-of-consciousness prose, for me, is that it’s so easy to put down and forget to pick up again…)
* Tess of the D’Urbervilles
* Oliver Twist
* Gulliver’s Travels
* Les Misérables (I’d like to get around to this someday.  I’ve poked at the beginning a few times, but never really started in on it.)
* The Corrections (on my shelf, just waiting for me!)
* The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
* The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
* Dune
* The Prince
* The Sound and the Fury (Yeah, another nerdy love of mine…)
* Angela’s Ashes : a memoir
* The God of Small Things
* A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present (currently reading — okay, maybe I’ve paused for a little while.  But I’ll finish it!)
* Cryptonomicon
* Neverwhere
* A Confederacy of Dunces
* A Short History of Nearly Everything
* Dubliners
* The Unbearable Lightness of Being
* Beloved
* Slaughterhouse-five
* The Scarlet Letter
* Eats, Shoots & Leaves
* The Mists of Avalon
* Oryx and Crake : a novel (also want to read)
* Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
* Cloud Atlas
* The Confusion
* Lolita (seriously, Nabokov’s prose is amazing)
* Persuasion
* Northanger Abbey
* The Catcher in the Rye
* On the Road
* The Hunchback of Notre Dame
* Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
* Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values (kinda curious about this one)
* The Aeneid
* Watership Down (I seem to recall reading something in high school from the point of view of rabbits, which points to Watership Down, but… I just really don’t remember.)
* Gravity’s Rainbow
* The Hobbit
* In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences (on the shelf!)
* White Teeth
* Treasure Island
* David Copperfield
* The Three Musketeers

Good grief, I think my total is 34.  Maybe I’m not as much of a book nerd as I claim to be…

April 1, 2008

National Poetry Month, and my quest for the month

Posted in Literature, Musings, Poetry, Politics at 7:37 pm by The Lizard Queen

I decided I wanted to post (part of) T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” to kick off National Poetry Month, less because I love the poem (I don’t, particularly, though it has a great opening line) than because it’s referenced in the FAQ for the month at Poets. org: “T. S. Eliot wrote, ‘April is the cruelest month.’ It is our hope that National Poetry Month lessens that effect.”

I’m not a big Eliot fan, really. (I’m not nearly as anti-Eliot as Evil Bender, though, who this morning referred to Eliot as a “reactionary fuck.”) I love “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and I appreciate some of the thoughts Eliot had on writing, but much of his personal life and behavior troubles me, from his treatment of his first wife to his anti-Semitism. As I poked around the internet looking for more information about the latter, I came across a reference to Emanuel Litvinoff and his poem “To T.S. Eliot.” He tells the story of the poem in this Museum of London interview: Read the rest of this entry »

November 9, 2007

Apparently “inspired by” means “not at all related to,” at least in this case

Posted in Literature, Movies at 12:03 pm by The Lizard Queen

Can somebody tell me what the hell happened to Ridley Scott?

A film inspired by Edgar Allen [sic] Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” produced by Tony and Ridley Scott and starring Josh Lucas, doesn’t sound too bad, right? These guys are all at least marginally talented, and the source material is strong, so this could be one to keep an eye on.

Except, as you’ll soon learn, “inspired by” can often mean “only vaguely resembling in any way.” Such as just using the idea of a heart and a murder…

Inspired by the classic Edgar Allan Poe story “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the contemporized adaptation sees Lucas starring as a single father whose recently transplanted heart leads him on a frantic search to find the donor’s killer before a similar fate befalls him.

More info here, if you haven’t already lost your will to live.  *whimper*

October 23, 2007

Marc Acito discusses Dumbledore on All Things Considered

Posted in Children and adolescents, Education, GLBT issues, Literature at 5:22 pm by The Lizard Queen

On my way home yesterday I heard Marc Acito, author of How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship & Musical Theater and the upcoming Attack of the Theater People, discuss on All Things Considered the most recent Harry Potter scandal: J.K. Rowling’s revelation this past weekend of the fact that Dumbledore is gay. You can listen to his commentary here, and there’s a transcript (transcribed by yours truly, so I take full responsibility for any mistakes or glitches) below the fold. I very much appreciated Acito’s take on the situation — he summarizes a number of the reactions people have had to the news (mine: “Huh. That makes sense. Cool.”), then connects it to his own experience as a teacher and a homosexual. I think he’s right: “In a world where sexual orientation is still headline news, too many real gay people lead fictitious lives.” Mustang Bobby of Shakesville puts perhaps a finer point on it: “It also makes it clear that a gay man such as a teacher can be a mentor and a friend without any of the lurid overtones of pedophilia that is never far from the fevered imaginings of the Christian conservatives and their perpetual adolescent fixation with sex.”

That idea connects to a post of Melissa’s from yesterday, the So-Called Public School Plague, which discusses an Associated Press report on sexual predators in public schools. She takes the AP to task — and rightly so — for playing fast and loose with the numbers. But in the context of LGBTQ teachers having to keep their sexuality or gender identity quiet in the classroom, I couldn’t help but notice another aspect of the article. It refers to a handful of incidents:

  • One male teacher stands accused of, among other things, fondling a fifth-grader’s breast and forcing the hand of another girl onto the zipper of his pants.
  • “DNA evidence in a civil case determined that [a male principal] impregnated a 14-year-old student.”
  • Another male teacher’s “bosses warned him not to meet with female students behind closed doors. . . . Police later found pornography and condoms in his office and alleged that he was about to have sex with a female student.”
  • A female teacher “conceived a child with a 16-year-old former student.”
  • Another male teacher victimized a young girl, and wasn’t taken to task for it until it happened with a second young girl.
  • A male teacher in Pennsylvania developed a romantic and sexual relationship with a 12-year-old girl.

Notice a pattern? The majority of abuse cited is male-on-female or female-on-male. Now, I’ve said before (and I’m sure I’ll say it again) that pedophilia is an entity entirely separate from normal (if you will), healthy adult sexuality. However, religious fundamentalists continue using the “homosexuality = pedophilia” talking point as if I hadn’t said anything at all (which rather makes me want to take my well-thought-out arguments and go home, except they’re out there trying to influence public policy, so I have to keep trying), so I thought this was worth pointing out. Conclusion: A GAY TEACHER IS NO MORE LIKELY TO ABUSE A CHILD THAN A STRAIGHT TEACHER IS. Thank you, and goodnight. Read the rest of this entry »

October 3, 2007

ZOMG! They be killing Shakespeare OH NOES!!

Posted in Education, Literature, Wingnuts at 8:31 pm by The Lizard Queen

(Post title adapted from this post by Michael Bérubé.)

So, on the one hand we have an administrator halting the performance of a play that could easily pique students’ interest in Shakespeare. On the other, though, we have Phyllis Schlafly complaining that “Shakespeare has disappeared from required courses in English departments at more than three-fourths of the top 25 U.S. universities” (see Evil Bender for an analysis of Schlafly’s problematic composition skills, of which her citing statistics without evidence is merely one example).

My guess as to why English departments are likely to offer courses that “deconstruct” (according to Schlafly — I wouldn’t necessarily use that word) Shakespeare and other Medieval or Renaissance writers is that most English majors have already read Shakespeare. They got the basics in high school, and are now ready to delve deeper, examining sexuality across the comedies, say (and anyone who thinks sex and sexuality aren’t an issue in Shakespeare’s plays is fooling themselves). Personally, I read Romeo & Juliet in 9th grade, Hamlet in 10th, Macbeth in 11th, and King Lear in 12th.  (And then I read King Lear in Proseminar in Literature my freshman year of college.  And then I read King Lear in Brit Lit I my sophomore year.  It’s a wonderful play, but man, was I ready to get away from it for a while.)  Also, I was sound tech for our drama department’s performance of Much Ado About Nothing.  If anything can be taken from my experience, it’s that English majors have plenty of experience with the classics.  What, then, is so wrong with both students and professors wanting to expand the canon to include more women, more writers of color, more outsiders, more queers?

Oh, wait.  I forgot who I was talking about.

[h/t Sadly, No! via Shakesville]

Oh, please: school district official stops parodic Shakespeare performance

Posted in Censorship, Children and adolescents, Humor, Literature at 1:06 pm by The Lizard Queen

Some of you may have heard of, or even seen, The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged). I personally have a videotape of the Reduced Shakespeare Company performing it that I’m afraid I’m going to wear out. Here’s a clip — The Comedies:

It’s silly, complicated, a bit bawdy, even potentially offensive at points — rather a lot like Shakespeare, in fact.

Recently a theater company from New York was performing the play in Arizona. 700 students from the Higley Unified School District’s sixth through twelfth grades paid five dollars each to go on a voluntary field trip to see the play. 40 minutes into the performance, the district’s director of visual and performing arts, Tara Kissane, stopped the show. Read the rest of this entry »

September 7, 2007

Another great voice moves beyond the veil

Posted in Books, Literature, News at 2:16 pm by The Lizard Queen

In this case it’s someone famous not for a literal voice, but for her writing:

Madeleine L’Engle, who in writing more than 60 books, including childhood fables, religious meditations and science fiction, weaved emotional tapestries transcending genre and generation, died Thursday in Connecticut. She was 88.

It’s been entirely too long since I re-read A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels.  Ms. L’Engle will be missed.

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